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My Shield

Before I begin, I feel the need to address an elephant that is often in the room when I cosplay or when I talk about my cosplay.  I am well aware that I am judged for being a grown adult playing dress-up.  I do not need to defend or explain what I do.  However . . .  I donate my time to various charities and community events, as Wonder Woman.  Believe it or not, I can tell when people judge me, because it’s written on their faces.  Because female superheroes have been overtly sexualized for most of their existence, most men can’t help but view me through a sexual lens.  And it’s NOT the gaze I wish to be receiving!  Most men can’t see a strong woman who could kick their ass without seeing a woman they’d like to bed.  From women, I get a disdainful look.  They think I’m selfishly bringing attention to myself.  They misunderstand (in their own insecurity) my look as self-important and self-absorbed.  The Double Hitter is when I experience both of these judgements from a couple.  

I donate my time to bring smiles and joy to anyone who is a fan of the character I am representing (children and adults alike).  I give back to my community and to organizations where I can make a difference.  No matter how small.  So before you look at me as a sexual object or judge me because of your insecurities, try visiting a children’s hospital or a homeless shelter out of the goodness of your heart.  Then we can talk.

Now, on to the point . . .

I grew up in an alcoholic home where I was not protected.  My childhood was spent in a home where I was frequently under attack.  On numerous occasions I also watched as those in my home attacked each other.  I had no voice.  I was often, invisible.  I developed defense mechanisms to survive and protect myself the best I could.  I built armor around myself and stood behind a silent shield of anger.

In grade school, I was bullied (let’s be honest, most of us were).  For the most part, I told the bullies to piss off.  I also stood up for others that were bullied and made fun of.  Yet, no one stood up for me.  

The ballet studio quickly became my refuge, it was something I held on to for many years.  I took my anger and channeled it into a tireless work ethic.  With minimal natural ability, I became a decent dancer through sheer will and drive.  I continued to dance in college, because I had little desire for anything else.  After college, I taught dance and continued to thrive in my safe place.  

Jump ahead many years.  I began my cosplay journey, choosing to represent Wonder Woman from the record-breaking 2017 film.  This was the first time I saw a solo female driven film that was given all the ingredients to be a success.  Ingredients that are usually only reserved for male stories.  I deeply resonated with this movie.  The film was in her voice, and from her perspective.  I saw a female character stand up to sexism.  She was not victimized, or sexualized.  I saw a female character not only fight and defend herself, but defend others as well.  She didn’t take shit from anyone.  She lifted up the women around her.  Even though she was on her heroes journey, still figuring out her own powers, she was confident, and strong.  She was compassionate, kind and understanding.  She helped others, especially those who had less or who needed help. 

Through cosplay, I have found a fun and enriching “hobby” I can enjoy with my husband and friends.  In addition, I give back to charities and my community.  

Not long ago, I decided to add another character to my cosplay repertoire.  She too is a strong, female Superhero.  Captain Carter is not as well known as Wonder Woman, but they share many similarities.  I mention her, because both characters are often shown carrying a shield.

Recently, I was working in a personal growth session.  We were focusing on getting rid of past pain and anger, particularly regarding my late father.  I was asked to close my eyes, clear my mind and visualize being in an empty room with him.  Immediately, my eyes began to well up.  I was asked, what do you feel?  

Anger, I said.  

Is there anything in the space between you and your father?  

Yes, I said.  I’m behind a wall of anger.  I’m shielding myself.  

What does the shield look like?  

It looks . . . . not that different from what I carry as Wonder Woman, I said.  But perhaps a little bigger.

That moment was an epiphany for me.  From years and years of feeling unprotected, defenseless and under attack as a child, it makes perfect sense that as an adult I would choose to represent the most iconic female Superhero of all time.  Every time I suit up, I subconsciously vow that no one will ever be unprotected while I am around. 

As an adult, I usually feel pretty strong, confident and fearless.  But in costume, it’s like those feelings are magnified.  Even though my sword is resin and my shield is foam (however, I do have an 8 lb. metal shield) the power of this character surges through me.  Being in full costume feels so natural, so at home, it’s almost like something within me, something that’s always been there, is reawakening.  

This all may seem obvious to those reading this now or even to those who know the environment I grew up in, but this discovery was extremely powerful and meaningful to me.  From the painful chaos I experienced as a child, this realization has helped me to see with more clarity that the tapestry of who I am is continuing to evolve.

I realize the experiences of my childhood, helped shape me into who I am (for better or worse).  However, now I have the power to choose what I hold onto and what I let go of.    

I choose to hold on to

My strength – of mind, of body, of will

My voice

My determination 

Compassion

The core values I hold dear

The strong woman I am.  

I choose to let go of

The fear

The pain and anger (my armor and shield) 

The fearful little girl I was.

We are never too old, or too adult to grow.  We should strive to continue to better ourselves.  To evolve past our old pain and traumas.  To emerge like a butterfly or a phoenix, reborn, and anew.  If resonating with a Superhero or playing dress up helps me get there, then I’m all for it.  

Try not to judge others.  You have no idea what dragons they’ve had to fight to get here.  And we are all fighting our own battles! 

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