Meet Erin Kinney, a 22-year-old cosplayer who has a passion for taking on different characters while enjoying the vast challenges and roles that accompany them. Her story begins when she received a Russian Hand-Crank (sewing) machine from her mother at the age of eight and designed her own costumes and accessories for her dolls.

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Kinney’s talent expanded during high school when she created costumes for theatre productions and a few prom dresses. She credits her mother who taught her the basics of sewing, but she knew it was her job to learn the true art of sewing.

Catherine C. J. Baxley: What made you want to start cosplaying?

Erin Kinney:  I was a member of an anime club all four years throughout high school, and I became vice president and president during my junior and senior years. I attempted to bring new lessons to every meeting, and open my club members up to the culture of Japan as well as the anime and manga. There was a very small step from joining the Anime Club to wearing my first pair of cat ears, buying my first wig, and finally, making my first costume, which was Ayame from Fruits Basket. I attended my first convention to Nebraskon 2009, and have cosplayed to varying degrees of professionalism at every con I’ve attended since.

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CCJB: According to your Facebook page, you’ve portrayed numerous Disney characters, but you’ve also cosplayed other non-Disney characters as well. Have you ever thought of doing a crossover?

EM: I actually made a Sailor Belle (Sailor Moon and Beauty and the Beast) to go with a group, however I was the only one of the group to finish. So it sits in a box, and has never seen the flash of a camera. Otherwise, I think about doing crossovers all the time. However, I would really want to do them in a group, but finding a group of people willing to work together can be incredibly difficult. I have had a couple of group costumes so far, but I always seem to be making other people’s costumes for free or just cost of materials.

CCJB: What are you favorite cosplaying experiences?

Erin as Belle and Allen Ryde as Prince Philip at Otakucon 2014 Photographer: Edgar Bonifacio PhotographyEM: During Otakon 2014, I met Allen Ryde while he was dressed as Prince Philip (Sleeping Beauty) and I was Belle (Beauty and the Beast). We stopped to compliment each other on our costumes, and suddenly were surrounded by photographers who wanted us to pose together. They kept saying “cozy up to your prince,” and “Look like you saved her from a dragon!” And we quickly gave up trying to tell them that we were from two separate movies! It was a ton of fun, and I got to meet my cosplay senpai. I looked up to him very much, but had always seen him in dresses! I was floored when he actually introduced himself. His artwork is so beautiful and inspires me so much, getting to not only meet him, but get pictures taken together, was magical!

Charlotte La Bouf from Princess and the Frog at Anime Iowa 2014 (Charlotte 2) Photographer: Jade ThomasAt Anime Iowa 2014, a friend of mine and I dressed as Princess Tiana and Charlotte La Bouff from The Princess and the Frog. I spent all day sashaying and bopping around in character with a loud southern accent. Whenever someone took our picture I would channel my inner Lottie and strut my stuff. It was, and still is, my favorite character I’ve ever done (not costume, character).

One couple came up and asked for a picture, and when I responded with “Course ya can, sugar,” the woman screamed and started gushing. She had named her daughter Charlotte after this character and she wanted to take pictures and a video. She asked if I could say something for her daughter back home, so I said, “Hey there, baby,” and I gasped so big, “Why look at you! Aren’t you just as pretty as a magnolia in May? You know, when a girl is as pretty as you are she’s gotta remember her friends.”

And I pulled my Tiana into the shot and said, “Friends make you happy, they take care of you, and you take care of them. They see the pretty part of you that’s on the inside. You remember, Charlotte, friends come first!” About halfway through, the mom who was recording actually started to cry, and we all got very emotional. She said she was going to take that home and show her little 4-year-old daughter and that we had made her convention for her.

Sometimes I don’t think that most cosplayers understand the effect they can have on people, the good they can actually do, and the joy they can bring people. That high, of bringing that much joy, is what I’m chasing. It’s why cosplay is my drug. It’s why I do mostly princess characters. So I am always ready to make a child or adult’s day more magical.

CCJB: Within the last few years, comic conventions (such as NYCC) started displaying banners promoting the campaign, “Cosplay is not consent.” Have you ever had to deal with sexism or inappropriate comments when in costume? How do you handle those type of situations?

EM: I’m going to tell you a secret, I have never had to actually deal with this anywhere but online. My secret? I never travel alone. Never. There is never a good reason for anyone in a costume to be alone at a convention, and when a cosplayer is alone, they become a target. I don’t believe that they are asking for it, and I wish it wasn’t necessary, but I do believe that you should never put yourself in unnecessary danger. No one needs to walk back to their hotel room alone, no one needs to go to a dance alone. We are a nation, and when you are one of us, you are with us.

I want people to know that they can ask for assistance at ANY TIME and no one will tell them no. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, if someone looks like they’re being taken advantage of, or are uncomfortable, I am ready to help them leave the situation.

Dark Magician Girl at Katsucon 2015 Photographer: Ken AD PhotographyI honestly believe that “cosplay is not consent” isn’t working. We need to focus less on telling creepers not to creep, because they are not listening, and spend more time making sure that people know what to do in bad situations. At conventions you find a lot of 13-16 year olds away from their parents, maybe with only the supervision of an older sibling or friend, who are testing the waters. They’re wearing skimpier costumes, because it’s exciting. They’re making new friends that maybe aren’t very good people, and making bad decisions. It’s easy to get alcohol from room parties without an ID.

Conventions offer a lot of older situations that maybe this younger crowd isn’t ready for. Passiveness is the calling card of many nerds/geeks/otakus/gamers/con-goers of all ages, and they get themselves into situations that they don’t need to be in, and no one has told them how to get out of it.

CCJB: Do you have a cosplaying role model? If so, why are they special to you?

EM: I’m sorry to disappoint, but I do not have a cosplay role model. I am inspired by the creativity and invention of the community as a whole, but I think we all can improve. We must improve. In art, when you think you’re done, you’ve simply given up. Cosplay is art. Don’t give up.

CCJB: Can you see yourself cosplaying professionally, internationally?

EM: Becoming a professional cosplayer is my ultimate goal. I would like to open up my own princess company someday, to hire seamstresses to help me with commissions, and to have an artist’s booth at conventions and renaissance fairs. It is a life of hard work, but it’s my dream and dreams are never easy.

CCJB: What’s your dream cosplay?

EM: I keep making my dream cosplays! I’d say my next dream cosplay is Ashe from League of Legends. She’s one of my top three champions, and she has a beautiful bow prop that would be breathtaking to be able to make and wield. Someday I will learn prop-making and be able to create such a beautiful piece. But for now, it’s just a dream.

Erin as Merida and her mom (Queen Elinor) from Brave Photographer: Laura Powers

CCJB: What advice can you give to womyn who are interested in cosplaying and have no idea where to start?

EM: Identify your favorite part of yourself, and feature it! A big part of cosplay, whether you create or consume, is feeling comfortable in your costume. I love my hands, and I know that sounds silly, but I do! In most of my pictures you will find that I have big arm gestures and posed hands. All of my favorite pictures feature my hands. And that makes me confident! I am not likely, however, to wear a costume that bares my midriff and be happy about it. I will always wear shapewear. My tummy and I are not friends. And no matter how much weight I lose, no matter how many compliments I may receive, I will most likely never be truly comfortable with my midriff.

The best advice I can give, is to be realistic with yourself. Do you love your legs? Show them off! Do you hate your arm fat? Don’t wear tank tops! You may love a character, but remember, they’re not real. They don’t have real insecurities, or have to deal with physics in their world. A big part of every costume is the confidence of the wearer. If you are not happy with it, if you don’t feel confident, you won’t have a good time. And if you’re not having fun, why are you here?

CCJB: Anything else you’d like to add?

EM: Thank you so much for this opportunity to talk about my favorite pastime! This has been cathartic. I would like to say that my main points are:

  • We are a nation, and when you are one of us, you are with us.
  • No one is better or worse than anyone else, just at different points in their lives.
  • Once you’ve started to compare yourself to others, you’ve lost the battle. Be “cos-positive” about yourself, as well as others.
  • Cosplay is art. Don’t give up. It’s a work in progress.
  • If you’re not having fun, why are you here?

And finally, know when to step away. I have seen a number of people in the community boast of the stress they undergo, and the horrors they have faced in the name of cosplay. As if “the more stress you are under, the more professional you are. The more you love the craft.” That’s not a healthy mentality to take.

Cosplay, for most people, is a hobby. If you don’t rely on it to pay rent and survive, then it’s not worth your mental health. If you find cosplay to be more important than anything else in your life, I think you need to take a step back and evaluate what you want in life, and what you need. I have been guilty of unnecessarily stressing out over conventions, there is a certain amount of stress that goes with it. You are putting yourself out there, and that’s difficult. But if you are struggling through a mental issue, or with debt, take a break! We’ll be here for you when you get back.

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