Aniblogger Testimony – Dressing down while dressing up: on being a Muslim anime fan and a one-time cosplayer
In the Spring of 2011, I asked some of the anime blogosphere’s most noted writers to create posts discussing anime and their own personal faith. Though the main phase of the project is over, I’m always eagerly looking for additional guest posts to add to the series. Today, Hana, a wonderful blogger from the ever-popular T.H.A.T Anime Blog, gives us a wonderful addition to this series.
It wasn’t the first time that I’d been to an anime convention, but it was the first time that I’d cosplayed at one. Needless to say, it was a rather memorable experience.
Not that the M.C.M. London Expo is strictly an anime con, as it’s more like a trade fair for movies, comics, games and related pop culture. Yet, I knew from the previous two times that I’d been, that many attendees cosplayed in outfits that were just as impressive as what I’d seen in photos of American and East Asian cons.
The first time that I attended the Expo was in May 2009, I went with two friends and I dressed how I usually do, in casual trousers with a matching top and headscarf. As a moderately religious Muslim female who wears the hijab (or headscarf), I usually wear western clothes (I’m Bangladeshi by blood, but born and live in London), otherwise whatever I want, as long as I’m dressed modestly. Sometimes, I’ll wear a hat instead of a headscarf, as long as it’s roomy enough to stuff my hair into it. So, comfy outfit in place, my first con was a positive experience, mostly spent walking around with friends, staring at the cosplayers, avoiding the ‘Free Hug’-ers, buying a few anime related items, buying a tonne of Pocky, and generally feeling very cultured and weeabooish.
The second time I went was in May of last year and it was rather different, as it was more of an excuse to meet up with Ame, a fellow anime fan and blogger who I’d met online (and a couple of another ani blogger friends called Scamp and Hanners, as it turned out) and had been friends with for about a year, also around the same time that I had my one year anniversary as an anime blogger. In short, it was slightly nerve-wracking, as it was the first time I’d be meeting people face to face who I’d previously only conversed with online. However, having already shared photos with Ame and Skyped with all three meant that it wasn’t really the first time we’d met, so it wasn’t a big deal in that sense and turned out to be a lot of fun. In terms of the whole what to wear thing, I decided not to wear a headscarf and to wear one of my Bakerboy hats instead, i.e. like the one in my avatar, the same avatar I use when posting/ commenting on anime blogs and on Twitter. Thus, I wouldn’t say that this was a deliberate decision to downplay the fact that I’m a Muslim, in the highly unlikely event that anyone else’s first impression of me face to face would be that of some kind of religious nut. Rather, knowing that at least one of them had already shared pictures with me and knew me fairly well by that point, and that quite frankly all three of them are simply really nice, non-judgemental, ‘normal’ people, I just thought the hat thing would be a fun way for them to make the connection with my online persona and to help recognise me in the crowd.
Moving on to October of last year, and to the main focus/ climax of this post, this was the third and latest time that I went to the London Expo, where I ended up cosplaying as an anime character. Now, cosplay aside, I certainly didn’t think I’d be going back to the Expo again so soon, given that it is pretty much just a massive trade fair and there were no other special guests/ events that I knew of that I was interested in experiencing. However, what happened was that Ame and I intended to meet up again in London at the time anyway, and it just so happened that two other American ani bloggers and mutual friends, ExecutiveOtaku and RyanA, were also thinking of coming to London on holiday around the same time. In short (skipping over the obvious excitement I felt at the prospect of hanging out with all three of them), we decided to go to the Expo together and to do a group cosplay. I say, ‘we decided’, meaning that one of us jokingly suggested it, before the rest of us were persuaded to agree.
Personally, I was up for the idea, having never had the chance to do anything similar before. Says the once painfully shy nerdy girl who always used to avoid attention of any kind while she was at school. So what had changed since I was eighteen years old? Er, a lot of things, but I’m now a fully grown woman in my late twenties who is fairly comfortable with who she is (and, incidentally, been wearing the jihab since the age of eighteen). Don’t get me wrong, I’m still prone to bouts of shyness and insecurity when facing new situations and groups of people. However, knowing that I’d be with likeminded friends made the whole idea sound… completely okay… and fun. Of course, being with three other grown ups with little to no experience of cosplaying and who were equally keen for it not to be troublesome or stand out too much meant that we needed to pick characters that we all liked, would be easy to do, and didn’t look too, well, weird. Also, in my case, I needed to find a character who met all of the above requirements and dressed modestly and had her hair covered…
…Yep, not many of those around in anime, not of the female gender, anyway. Clearly, mini-skirted school uniforms were out of the question. As were maid outfits. And nurses. And magical girls. And cat girls. And girls with guns. And even if said girls were fairly covered up, hardly any of them covered their hair as well. To help widen my worryingly few choices, I considered wigs. I considered really thick tights (to go under short skirts). I considered masks. I considered going as an animal. I considered going as a man. I considered pulling out of the whole thing. However, it turns out I’m more quietly stubborn than I thought; I had agreed to do it, so I would. In the end, Allah works in mysterious ways, and we decided to go as the awesome and awesomely low-key Durarara!! characters. Which turned out almost perfectly for me, as I got to go as Erika.
Of course, I say almost, because then I had to decide if I’d choose to show some of my hair or not, as Erika (in case some of you haven’t got a clue what I’m going on about), even though she wears a long sleeved long dress and a Bakerboy hat, has two locks of hair that frame either side of her face. And I usually wear my headscarves and hats so that none of my hair is visible. Decisions, decisions! In the end, I decided to go with having those two locks of hair visible; if I was going to do it, then I was going to do it properly, and I reminded myself that I wasn’t exactly that orthodox in my clothing for it to be a big deal for me to have so little of my not-very-exciting-anyway-hair visible just this once. (Not that I even had any bangs at the time; my hair was more like Pocahontas than Erika, so I also had to get a haircut. Meaning I thought, How hard can it be to cut some of my own hair so that I get a few bangs? Yes, you can imagine the uneven consequences, but that’s a whole other story.)
So, that finally brings me almost to the end of my rather waffley account of my most memorable experience as a Muslim anime fan adventuring in the world of anime and cosplay. Clearly, some of you might be wondering what all the fuss was about, and I’m not saying that all Muslim hijab-wearing females are anything as habitually neurotic as I am. However, think of it more as an illustration of how my faith is the filter through which I experience the fandom and everything else. For me, it’s an entire lifestyle that affects everything I do, rather than just being a set of beliefs. However, saying that, Islam is pretty easy for me and I usually take it for granted. Like most of you with a particular set of beliefs and values (religious or otherwise), it’s simply the lens through which I see and navigate the world. A world in which I feel blessed to have discovered anime, ani blogs, bloggers, and friends. And readers.