The author, illustrated in her Rainbow Brite cosplay (Tyrine Carver of Musetap Studios/courtesy of Briana Lawrence)

I’m a cosplayer. A black geek. A black, queer, cosplaying geek in a plus-size body.

I conduct a body-positivity panel at conventions called “Love Your Cosplay Body.” For about an hour, I wax philosophically about accepting yourself and ignoring the randos of the internet who comment on fat-black-girl pics with witty remarks like “whale” or misspelled words that prove they ain’t smarter than any fifth-grader.

When I do this panel, I often retell the story of my own first experience with Tumblr harassment. The year was 2013, and I was dealing with such gems as “Why is Precious cosplaying Princess Peach?” “Princess Whale” and “Go and fry some chicken.”

Much hate. Such wow. Many creativity. (Screenshot courtesy of Briana Lawrence)

It’s at this point in the panel where I like to demonstrate the lack of fucks I had, just to inspire the audience. Because Gabby Sidibe is a plus-size, dark-skinned goddess. Whales are adorable and—fun fact—will team up on sharks and wreck them. As for the fried chicken, weeeeelll ... I fried up a batch and posted pictures all over my Tumblr and Facebook. My partner, to this day, says it’s the best chicken she’s ever had. Rage has never tasted so good, y’all.

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I’ve given this panel many times, but during one particular show, the message hit me right in the feels, as the kids say. Pro tip: Never do a panel with someone who’s been friends with you for over a decade; they’ll dig up all kinds of receipts that you assumed were left in your college textbooks.

The truth is, I usually breeze through any parts that focus on my own insecurities: Yadda, yadda fat girl, weird black kid, and did I mention hella queer? Whatever, let’s get to the part where I slay the trolls, OK?

But my girl Chealsey wasn’t here for it: “You’ve changed a lot over the years. I hadn’t even seen your hair until you started cosplaying.”

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So there I was, feeling all kinds of exposed and thinking, “She’s kidding, right?” But dammit, Facebook had receipts, too, because there are pictures of college me wearing a variety of anime hats to cover my hair. I remembered thinking it was much easier to throw on random shirts, jeans and a hat instead of attempting to be like those flawless television college girls.

But this wasn’t just a college thing. Those ratty old hats came with me after graduation, along with my incredibly drab wardrobe. But I didn’t like shopping to begin with; hell, as long as the clothes fit and covered my fat self, that was—

Oh.

Oh, college me, you’ve grown up so much! (Courtesy of Briana Lawrence)

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While I was growing up, I’d tell my mom time and time again that I hated dresses—and Lord, keep that makeup away from me. But as I sat in the middle of a crowded room, dressed in a friggin’ ball gown while I rocked my natural hair, I wondered if I really did hate the quote-unquote “girly stuff”—or did I just think it’d be unflattering on my fat body?

I remembered the trials and tribulations of navigating the multiple X’s in clothing sizes. They’d either be too tight or so loose that I might as well have been wearing a potato sack. And while there were—and still are—plus-size shops, they rarely have any kind of geek wear, compared with entire T-shirt sections at department stores. And do not insult me by typing Torrid in the comments, as if I don’t already know they exist. That’s one store, y’all, and I’ve already made peace with their geek selection predominantly being online and not heavily in-store like Hot Topic’s.

Suddenly a ball gown appears? (Courtesy of Briana Lawrence)

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Anyone who cosplays will tell you that it’s about the love you have for a character. For me, that love conquered years of self-doubt—to a certain extent. Self-doubt, unfortunately, will always find a way; but cosplay was a chance to be something I thought I wasn’t.

In costume, I could walk around as a princess or a queen who was adored by fans around the world. No one knew who I was beneath the wigs and mascara, and I preferred that over being the fat girl who constantly got unnecessary reminders of her fatness.

But the traits of the characters I portrayed started to become visible outside of my cosplay. Suddenly, dresses weren’t limited to the weekends. My hat collection started to dwindle, and I was gaining a makeup collection. “It’s for cosplay,” I’d say to myself, but the selfies and growing “Feelin’ Myself” folder of pics proved otherwise.

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Preeeeetty sure it stopped being “just for cosplay” a while ago, Bri. (Courtesy of Briana Lawrence)

When I tell my harrowing story of internet attacks, I always say that my snappy 2013 response was due to turning 30. That’s partially true. At that point, my confidence was no longer limited to playing dress-up: it had become a part of who I was, and part of who I strove to be.

But that fateful day, during that one particular show, I ended up crying in the middle of my own panel. I quietly told Cheals that I hated her, but she knew I didn’t mean it, because I’d finally decided to love myself enough to not hide my insecurities.

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Me in normal clothes and in cosplay (Elyse Lavonne Photography/courtesy of Briana Lawrence)

After the convention, I went home and edited my panel presentation. I don’t skim through my insecurities anymore. Instead, I address them head on—and, now, encourage others to do the same.

Editor’s note: This series is in celebration of #28DaysOfBlackCosplay—and of course, Marvel Studio’s upcoming Black Panther.