I blame everything you are about to see and read on Emily Finke.
Not all of it is entirely safe for work.
You have been warned.
Three years ago I dove into the world of genderbent cosplay with a take on Princess Leia’s slave costume from Return of the Jedi. Last year, the aforementioned Emily Finke proposed a new group cosplay, a genderbent Phoenix Five.
The Phoenix Five are a group of superheroes that appeared in the 2012 Avengers Vs. X-Men (AvX) miniseries from Marvel. It consisted of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Magik, and Colossus.
With my prior experience wearing scandalous costumes, I was nominated to the role of Emma Frost, the White Queen. She’s the one in the middle with the gold… body suit isn’t the right word… fetish wear.
This costume was fundamentally different than my Slave Leo. Leo was conceived of, created, and photographed in a little more than a month. I didn’t have time to reflect on what I was doing until after I had done it. At that point, I could just hide under my bed.
This time, though, I had most of a year to plan, design, build, grow anxious, and panic.
Emma Frost is meant to be the embodiment of female sexuality. She is beautiful, elegant, has flawless skin, hair, and figure, and wears lingerie instead of actual clothes pretty much all the time.
I am not the definition of masculine appeal. I’m a kind of skinny dude in my thirties. I do okay for myself, but as far as Canadian Ryans go, I don’t really compete with the Reynolds and Goslings.
So I read the comics. I stared at the pictures, I contemplated my costume, and it started to eat away at me. How could I be a male Emma Frost, an Emmett Frost, if you will?
I’m too old…
I’m not muscular enough…
I’m too hairy…
I’m too fat…
Oh my gods! This is what women keep talking about!
That realization slammed into me pretty hard. In trying to become the impossible ideal that is Emma Frost, I was experiencing what women have to deal with every time they try to pick a costume, hell, every time they try to pick an outfit.
You would think with the curtain pulled back, I could just laugh and get on with it. Put on a silly costume and spend a day or two being ridiculous… but it gets under your skin.
I started hitting the gym. I told myself, and others, that I was doing it to stay healthy, to fight off the slow decline caused by a desk job, to stay strong for summer canoe trips. The thing that actually got me to the gym, though, the thing that had me pushing hard and trying things I’d never done, was the fear of being Frost.
I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t thin enough. I had a little muffin top, like many normal, healthy people do. That wouldn’t do.
I started paying attention to what I ate. Not on purpose, though, I couldn’t help it. Everything that has gone into my mouth since I decided to do this had a quietly tallied calorie count. I wasn’t even trying to lose weight, but the self-doubt became an ever-present specter, making me question every snack and candy that I ingested. For the first time in my life, I understood what feeling guilty about eating felt like.
I have been at this for less than a year, worried only about a single outfit on a single day. I can extrapolate though, to what it would be like to have these worries nibbling away at my sense of self for my entire life. It could drive someone mad.
I have to wonder if this is what women go through.
It didn’t end there, though.
Have you ever worried about body hair? In my life, I’ve barely had to think about it, but most of mine is in the sort of places that men are expected to have some. Mostly.
Booty shorts have a way of exposing bits of oneself that aren’t typically on display. While I elected to not shave my legs, chest, or arms, as that all seemed appropriately manly, a little trimming and waxing was needed.
I have, as many men do, “above the butt” hair. Typically hidden and irrelevant, but rather prominent and exposed in bright white booty shorts. I probably didn’t need to worry about it, but again, irrational fears made me self-conscious to the point that I had a patient acquaintance wax it for me.
Why waxing and not shaving? Two reasons: longevity and journalistic integrity. That is, it would last longer and not have the telltale stubble, and I had started to feel a sense of obligation to carry this through to its fullest. If my more feminine peers had to put themselves through this, and worse, I could do so in solidarity and report on the experience.
It is, unsurprisingly, not pleasant. It’s not terrible. It’s just like removing a bandage, a very large bandage… repeatedly. It was painful, but only in a brief, shocking way, and left me with a dull itch and slightly tender skin. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, but there are several parts of my body on which I would not like to revisit the experience.
In for a penny, in for a pound, at this point. Thong underwear. Not something I planned on, not something I ever wanted to experience. However, at the urging of a few experts, and seeing myself in the mirror without one, I picked up a dance belt. They serve a valuable role of containing and obscuring male paraphernalia when wearing dance tights, or in this case, unreasonably small spandex shorts. They come in a few varieties, but the one that I could find that could be hidden within the confines of those shorts was a thong.
For anyone that hasn’t worn one, they are… unsettling. One acclimatizes to the feeling fairly quickly, like glasses or toe socks. However, much like glasses or toe socks, an unusual movement will bring its presence into sharp focus, and that presence is rather startlingly located. I am not eager to revisit it.
I actually wore the costume in public for the first time at Convergence Con in Minneapolis last weekend. The experience was not quite what I had been dreading. For the most part, it didn’t make waves. It’s a variant costume from a B-list comic character, so it didn’t get a ton of attention, particularly because we, as a group, had trouble getting and staying together. Those I know personally, were both delighted and uncomfortable.
I’m more of collared shirt and vest kind of guy. This exposed a few aspects of my… personality that are rarely, if ever, on display. It left them in giggling fits and unable to figure out where to rest their eyes. While it was fun to watch people actively attempting to engage in polite and courteous behavior while also desperately seeking somewhere to look that didn’t have any part of me in frame, it also made my self-consciousness inescapable.
Regarding those I don’t know, it didn’t horrify any strangers to the point of sending them screaming and parents were not covering the eyes of their children, which was heartening. However, I was constantly hyper-aware of my exposure. Nobody cared, I was only being scrutinized by myself. Even then, I was constantly shifting my posture to minimize my minuscule muffin top, and trying to hide the unhideable package being presented by my tiny shorts.
Overall, the experience was pretty positive. I’m proud of the how costume turned out, I have a better understanding of what many of my fellow cosplayers go through, and can empathize a bit better when the women in my life get anxious about their appearance. I recognize a pretty big difference, though, between my experience and that of many women: now that it’s over, I get to stop.
This has been a demon whispering in my ear for nearly a year, but now I can flick it off my shoulder. I could have done that at any point if I wanted to, and chosen not to do this costume. Trying to look like an impossibly beautiful woman made a mess of my head in less than a year; I worry what it might do to anyone stuck trying to do if for their whole lives.
Enough with the words. I know you just came to see me look silly in a costume.
Pictures below courtesy of Jamie Bernstein.