Never Give Up, Never Surrender: Cosplay After 40

 

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Posted August 6, 2014 by

My name is Phaedra Cook, I am 46 years old and I’m a cosplayer.  That sounds like some kind of intro to a confession at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, doesn’t it? There are certain types of people who would like me to have a sense of shame about my hobby, but that’s not going to happen. Cosplay has been beneficial and it is my little way of combating ageism.

Cosplay wasn’t a “thing” when I was in my 20s and 30s—at least as far as I knew. For that matter, I was far too busy raising three kids, running my own graphic design and IT businesses and maintaining a marriage to have much in the way of hobbies. The first pop culture convention I ever attended was San Diego Comic-Con in 2009. Talk about starting big! We have been lucky enough to score tickets every year for the past six years.

The first year, I was in awe of the cosplayers running around in elaborate costumes and, quite frankly, a little jealous. My husband’s hobby (and now part-time job), by the way, is photography, so he was having a field day taking photos. (Check out his photos from this year’s SDCC).

The second year, I didn’t want to be left out. I did a half-assed “cosplay” of Death from Sandman which consisted of a black tank top, black jeans and the appropriate squiggle drawn out to the side of my right eye. I thought I looked okay until I saw someone who put some real effort into it and looked 100% better than I did. My ego, at that point, was crushed.

It was 2011 when I did my first actual cosplay: a Dark Phoenix costume. I found a red, one-piece leotard, bought gold stretch spandex and had a friend make the sash, cut out the emblem and sew it to the front. I found gold, elbow-length gloves online, had my friend modify them so they had points at the top and found a pair of thigh-high gold boots. It was a good cosplay and one that I improved upon over the years.

dark-phoenix

2012 was the first Course of the Force, so in addition to my Dark Phoenix costume, I put together a Mara Jade cosplay. It was another success, but I was disappointed in how the fabric for the bodysuit wore thin after just a few wearings. I needed to get more control over the construction of my costumes. It was time to learn how to sew.

In 2013, with no experience under my belt except for a single local sewing class, I embarked on making a new bodysuit out of stretch vinyl for my Mara Jade costume. It was incredibly frustrating, but I kept hammering away at it until I had something that looked good enough to wear. I also made my first green Phoenix costume out of green metallic stretch Spandex. There were some problems there too (who knew that sewing an inset “V” was a geometry exercise?) but I managed to scrape things together again.

That was also the first year that I realized that most professional photographers didn’t have much interest in taking photos of my cosplays, and that hurt. My husband did, of course, and he is an excellent photographer. So did Andreas Schneider, who is absolutely amazing and I was so incredibly flattered when he chose two of my photos for the Cosplayers Canada SDCC magazine that he produces and sells. (Get a copy of the 2014 one for yourself. It showcases Andreas’ stunning work with photos of over 300 cosplayers from San Diego Comic-Con.)

On the other hand, one photographer half-heartedly snapped off a few shots and made it quite clear that he was only interested in shooting hot chicks. Most other photographers didn’t even look at me twice. I was never even up for consideration. They’re looking for young, thin women and I just don’t qualify.

It stings, but something else happened along the way: I was getting an incredible amount of support and positive feedback from women my own age, as well as many younger people, even those who do not cosplay themselves.

I decided that I wanted to have the same kind of support system in my hometown in Houston as many cosplayers based in Los Angeles have. I started Houston Cosplay. We haven’t had many meetings, but we do have a Facebook page where we give each other advice and lend support. We’re still small, but I’m proud of the fact that we’re up to 45 members.

This year, 2014, I have to say I outdid myself. OK, actually, I overdid it. I had a new costume every day and honestly, that’s kind of insane. Even professional cosplayers don’t do that, but I do have to say that I am incredibly proud of what I accomplished. My sewing skills are better now. I remade my green Phoenix costume better and out of a colorfast fabric. (Sadly, the green faded out of the first one in just washing. Hours of work literally went down the drain. (Always wash a sample of your fabric before you make a costume out of it!)

A week ahead of SDCC, I threw together a “Doyouwanna Troi” cosplay from Robot Chicken’s Star Trek: The Next Generation spoof “Night Crew.”

firefly-cosplay

The day before SDCC, my husband and I did our first location shoot of my crossplay Malcolm Reynolds costume. Because I was busy with my other costumes, I commissioned a Lynda Carter-style Wonder Woman costume. My husband and I made the tiara and bracelets from Worbla. Finally, I altered a corset and made a lined cape for my Jean Grey Black Queen costume. (After wearing it at SDCC, I have to say that more of you young people need to read X-men: The Dark Phoenix Saga! I was mistaken for Selene twice, who is a later version of the Black Queen.)

Why go through all this time and expense at my age? Why not just grow up?

Well, being a grown-up is highly overrated, first of all. Grown ups don’t have enough fun, frankly.

Second, cosplay encourages me to work out and take good care of my skin, nails and teeth. I look good for 46 and many people think I’m in my 30s when we first meet.

Third, despite some of the snubs, cosplay has helped me build my self-confidence. It takes a whole lot of guts to stride confidently down a public street to a convention center in costume. The cat calls and jokes I hear along the way aren’t “fun,” but I’ve learned to handle them with grace.

Fourth, I never feel more vital, energetic and young than when I’m in costume. It’s an act of rebellion. There’s a segment of society that discards older women and thinks they should be relegated to a role of caring for others. If you’re a sexy older woman, you’re denigrated as a “cougar,” like there must be some inherent immorality surrounding it. Cosplay is my way of giving the finger to those people.

It’s not just older women who need to get the message of being vital and caring for themselves. I want younger women to know that there should be no fear about getting older. Whether or not you feel confident and sexy has everything to do with how you take care of yourself and whether you assert your right to be the person you want to be.

I still have confidence problems sometimes. There are some amazing group cosplays that I’m never invited to. These are generally groups of younger, female cosplayers and I think I’m never invited to participate because they think I’m too old to fit in or maybe just not good enough. That’s okay. It just means I need to work on putting together my own group, like the Night Crew cosplay that we did this year.

black-queen-cosplay

I’m still too heavy. I have 20 to 40 pounds to lose before I’m going to be entirely happy with myself again. I’m a food writer in Houston and keeping weight off can be challenging. Fat loves to settle on my hips and thighs. But I’ve stepped up my workout program and am enjoying having a trimmer waist, flatter stomach and more toned arms than I’ve had in years.

When I hit 50, I’ll focus on more age-appropriate cosplays. I already have some in mind: Catlyn Stark from Game of Thrones, “Dark Woman” from the Star Wars graphic novels and Molly Weasley from the Harry Potter movies. These women are all badasses and characters I will be proud to emulate. But I’m not quite there yet. For me, it’s Spandex until I’m 50, and if you don’t like it, tough.

 

Be sure to check out more of Phaedra’s amazing cosplay work at her Facebook and Twitter pages.

Photography by Chuck Cook.

 

Written by Guest Contributor: Phaedra Cook

Did you enjoy this article? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. For the latest on all that’s epic in gaming, movies, television and cosplay, follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook!

 


Guest Contributor

 
Guest Contributor


  • Tiffany Shackelford

    As a 27 year old who cosplay 50/60 year olds nothing wrong with cisplaying anything. Also my hubby is 41 looks like hes in his 20s still and cosplays super heroes to. Tjere are more older people cosplaying than some think

  • marna

    You are not alone. 43 year old cosplayer here, been doing it since my late teens. :)

  • Tiana Anderson

    You and your costumes look amazing. I love your Captain Mal. Keep doing what you’re doing. :)

  • Vernon Hampton Jr

    …and the clouds parted, the sun beamed brighter and the universe became that much better when this young lady became Phoenix! Phaedra, don’t EVER stop!

  • Kit Ann Cosplay

    It was great reading this!!! Love your cosplays. I actually just moved to Houston area this year and was looking around for fellow cosplayers! (Request sent to group :) Yay cosplay!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Michael Turner

    Rock on! I’m 39 and I’m dressing up for Fan Expo next week for the first time!

  • Jackie Hill

    I think what you’re doing is great and if you’re having fun and enjoying yourself, who cares what anyone else thinks! I’m the 50 year old mother of a 16 year old cosplayer. My daughter and her friends have been attending SacAnimae for about 3 or 4 years now and it’s addicting!! It’s fun for me to help with ideas and to watch everyone at the shows. It’s also great that cosplay is gaining ground and acceptance with all the exposure it’s been receiving in the past few years. I think there is still a long way to go but with more and more people of all ages ‘coming out of the cosplay closet’, the stigma of ‘weirdness’ is going away. Keep on doing what you love and have fun!!!!!!

  • Lee Ensminger

    I think it’s GREAT! Good for you for doing this. Have fun with it! Best wishes!

  • AmazonRex

    Keep up the great work. So happy to see you doing what you love!

  • Alex Cherry

    Screw what everyone else thinks – be you and be happy!

  • Neferet

    My mom have 55 years old, and she is cosplayer too :)

    • GonzoI

      And she does it well. Sewing all the complexities of that costume is a lot of work. I used to sew when I was young, but am about 20 years out of practice, so I’ve been working more in foam or outfits simple enough to hand-stitch in a couple hours like my PoH cloak.

      • Primula58

        That is amazing! I love it!

  • Meigan Lupal

    I LOVE this! Amazing job girl :)

  • Kurt Brayford

    42 and cosplay as a ubcs trooper

  • Skade

    Yey! Everyone do what they want and everyone be happy :D I hope at least the cosplay community can agree on this ^^

  • Mel_G

    How awesome are you! You Rock It Girl!

  • Veronica

    Love it!!! I’m 51 and love Cosplay, have no intention of stopping either. Do what you love!

  • GonzoI

    As someone who feels left out due to age at 35, this is still good to see. I hate when I go to a con and get odd looks because I’m the only one there whose beard isn’t fake.

  • AuroraPeachy Cosplay

    You go girl!!!

  • Angela Nunes

    WOW you really just helped me out a lot. Im about to be 32 and yeah i know you guys prob dont think thats old but when you’re getting into cosplay and feel the best years are behind you and all the thin beautiful girls are always going to do better than you its tough. Im also working on losing weight and increasing my construction of costume skills. I never even imagined that i would be able to do cosplay after my late 30s if i was lucky but after see this and your amazing work i am so inspired to continue on and work harder. Thank you so much!

  • Dragonempress

    Your costumes are amazing! You look great. I plan on cosplaying till I can’t anymore :)
    I would def be in a group with you. Thanks for being an inspiration :)

  • Alan Irwin

    Great article! I’m a 58 year old cosplayer and we’ve met at Course for the Force (I was Darth Malgus). Your cosplay was impressive to see, and I’m even more impressed with all the other behind the scenes work and organizing you’ve done. And the self reflection. You are, and have been, an inspiration.

  • Vicki Kuhn Dorvall

    Thank you for putting this out there. I’m 60! My husband and I started Cosplaying last year and we are having a blast. I don’t care that I am no longer one of the “hot chicks”. They are awesome, however, we are just as awesome in our own right. No fear Cosplay is here – To STAY!

  • phaedracook

    I wish i had time to response to every single person who has left a comment here individually. The fact that people have read my article and that it resonated in any way has meant the absolute world to me. I’m a food and beverage writer in Houston. I promise you none of those articles has received the number of hits that this one has.

    I appreciate every single person that took the time to read and it has been uplifting beyond measure to hear both from accepting younger cosplayers and others my age–and older–who love this hobby as much as I do.

    I have heard so many cool stories about parents cosplaying with their kids, grandparents who will never let the hobby go, and women my age who almost decided to stop cosplaying because they’re “too old”. They’ve changed their minds. There have also been older people–both men and women–who are going to try to cosplay. They didn’t have the nerve before. And I have seen some amazing cosplay pics… costumes that frankly put mine to shame.

    I shared my experience and received the gift of others for sharing your thoughts and experience with me. Thank you.

    By the way, a very special thanks to Yaya Han who shared this post. Due to her enormous fan base, her sharing it set it alight and spreading throughout the Internet. Thank you, Yaya. I just can’t say it enough.

  • Zelleanna Gliese

    48 year old here. I’ve loved costuming since I was 12, so cosplay came natural to me. You look fabulous and I love your costumes! :)

  • Primula58

    I began cosplaying seriously at age 53. As
    a “mature” cosplayer I can really feel where the author is coming from. It is
    challenging (and sometimes a bit disheartening) to portray characters
    that for the most part are twenty-something or younger. But that
    challenge is also what makes it so much fun!
    For me the challenge is keeping myself in a more comfortable physical
    condition, reviving and honing skills and hobbies that fell by the
    wayside of life, and just the opportunity to “step up my game!” Though I
    will admit, I do keep my eye out for oba-chan characters, for that day
    will come! LOL

  • http://thepinkranger.com Okada Rei

    Great piece! I come from a place it isn’t weird to see older people cosplaying. Maybe over 40′s we don’t have those much cosplayers, but there are a lot of pop culture comic, animation and videogames fans who are on their 30′s and still do cosplay. It wasn’t even a thing 20 years ago, as we didn’t started getting cosplay as it is until my country had its first Japanese manga boom. However, being a place where there are always been comic fans of all sorts, within’ the years, the cosplay movement kept growing until becoming a thing.
    What makes us have more over 20′s cosplayers is exactly this fact, that a lot of comic, anime, etc. fans, when the first conventions and feirs started happened, saw an opportunity to do that thing they always wanted to do but only could once a year (we do celebrate Carnival wearing costumes). Most started around their 20′s, but with time passing by, those people got older, never gave up cosplaying, so it’s something normal to see mothers cosplayed with their babies (now kids) and others, like older men who love stuff such as Star Wars or Star Trek, parade dressed as Starship Troopers, Jedi’s, and such.

    Of course there are younger cosplayers, hot chicks, and younger boys doing their cosplays, but most of the times, here age is also a synonym of more experienced cosplayers. Whether they buy the costumes or they craft those themselves, the whole cosplayer art gets better with the time, and most of those over 20′s cosplayers, had been doing it at least for more than 5 years. And it’s not a matter of body-shapes and wheight either.

    I’ve got major respect for both the Phoenix’s costumes, you probably suffered a lot from heat while wearing those. Not to mention, those fabrics are so tricky to sew.

    • phaedracook

      Okada, thanks so much for reading my article and writing such a great post. I’ve gotten used to working with four-way stretch spandex now, but it was really challenging as a beginning sewer to work with the four-way black vinyl for my Mara Jade costume! I never seem to attempt a beginner project first. “Oh no, let’s just jump in with both feet here! I’m sure I’ll figure it out!” ;) But it worked in the end and I’m better now.

      I think you have an excellent point. The craft of cosplay takes years to get better at and there is always a new thing to learn and master! It would make sense that you come into your prime as a cosplayer once you have a bit of age on you.

      Thank you again!

      Phaedra

      • http://thepinkranger.com Okada Rei

        Thank you so much for your reply! If you ever got the chance to travel to Spain in any of the manga/comic feirs, such as Madrid’s Expomanga or the Japan Weekends (Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona) or both the Comic and the Manga Feir of Barcelona, sure you’ll experience the pleasure to wear your cosplays and feel, maybe, less outcasted than it seems you’ve experienced in the US. And keep expanding this love for cosplay, regardless the age or the body you have. The more, the merrier, they say and it’s true.

  • White__Rabbit

    You rock on SO many levels!

  • Jessica Akida Kennan

    You look awesome!!!

  • fragrantwoods

    Thanks for this! We’re older than you and have been cosplaying a little over a year. Not real challenging as our fandoms feature characters in our age range, but it was definitely *different* the first time we walked down the street in costume ;-) You look great and I love your Mal costume!

  • Nevin

    I am over 40 and haven’t cosplayed except at halloween at the school I teach. I may for the next Phoenix Comicon. Nice work! Also, My Wife’s name is Phaedra and you are the 4th Phaedra we have heard of. Great name! :)

  • Charles S. Couraud

    Almost 50 and a cosplayer! Do what makes you happy, people! Life is too short to get boring or complacent. I support all cosplayers reguardless of age race weight size age gender preference or orientation. Do it for yourself. Cosplay who you want. Have fun!

  • https://www.tumblr.com/blog/schroedingersoreo Belle Benson

    You are my new Hero!!!!!! I too stugle with confidence and jealousy, and rejection and dejection. Inspired by you I have just started (I mean right this very minute) the tumblr Cosplaying at a Certain Age. We are awesome and deserve to be seen and heard. If you want to be in the SDCC masquerade next year let me know.

  • beacon80

    At Comic-Con, I saw a woman dressed as Magneto. She was pretty average sized. Not fat, but I’m sure there were people saying she shouldn’t be wearing spandex.
    All this was an afterthought to me, though, because she walked down the street with comlete confidence in herself. And when you’re confident, none of that other stuff matters.
    Age, body size, gender, race… Do what makes you happy, and hang anyone who tells you otherwise.

  • Deane Geiken

    Huzzah!!!!

  • http://dragongears.com Art Dahm

    I love your Malcolm Reynolds crossplay. I’m 49 years old and I did my first “real” cosplay at Gen Con this year. I crossplayed Kaylee. It would have been fun to get a picture of the two of us together in our costumes.

  • 朔田 流星

    So much love and support!!! Though I started cosplaying while younger (my first cosplay was when I was 19) – I’m 30 now and still going strong. Cosplay shouldn’t be restricted to age at all! If it’s something you love and something that makes you feel good about yourself – do it! Also, I love your costumes ^^ A+ I wish I lived in Houston – I would love to do a group with you ^^

  • Sheryl Nantus

    You GO GIRL! Just got brave enough to cosplay for the first time in decades – went as Rosie the Riveter and loved it! (hit the big 5-0 this year and having a great time!)
    Keep on doing what you do and rocking it!
    (now get those kids off my lawn…)

  • J.z. Belexes

    You look/are awesome!