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.)

Hana cosplaying as Erika (Art by 模索)

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. ;)

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About TWWK

TWWK, known to outlaws and lawmen alike as Charles, lives deep in the heart of Texas, where he drives cattle and boot scoots (not really - though he does sport a pair of rattlesnake boots). Somehow in this frontier, he also finds time for his wife, children, and church. Oh, and anime, too.

Posted on 01.04.2012, in Aniblogger Testimony, cosplay, Islam and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 54 Comments.

  1. Another character you might like to try out is Amira of Otoyomegatari. It’s a slice-of-life nomad story. She is almost always fully dressed, and thus the rare times she lets her hair down (or occasionally unclothed) are striking and refreshing!

    …Of course, this being a Kaoru Mori manga, the art detail is insane. >_>;;;

    • Gosh, she would’ve been really good too. Unfortunately, I haven’t begun Otoyomegatari yet, even though I’ve heard it’s awesome – guess I’ll have to do something about that soon…

  2. Reminds me of when I was trying to figure out cosplay ideas for a friend of mine who’s Pentacostal (meaning she never cuts her hair and must wear mid-calf length skirts all the time). When you have even decently conservative rules for dressing up, your choices become very limited. I’m glad you were able to think of such an awesome character!

    • Oh, who did she end up cosplaying as? And tell me about it, lol. Thanks, I’m glad too – not least for having such awesome fellow cosplayers with me.

      • No one, unfortunately! Life happened, and her money went into several emergency expenditures. And now that she’s saving money to go overseas, she can’t afford to go to conventions! But we had narrowed the list down to Saber from Fate/Stay Night (in fighting gear) and Amri from the manga A Bride’s Story.

        • Oh, that’s a shame! I like the idea of a dress with armour/ fighting gear over it, and did you mean the same character that Chibinium mentions above? I really must read that manga… I hope she still gets to do it one day, if she still wants to – perhaps with you?! ;)

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s certainly a perspective that most people likely don’t consider, so it’s great to have it out there.

    • You’re welcome. To be honest, I wasn’t sure about it at first (thought it might seem too personal/ detailed), but I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  4. This was fun, also your outfit turned out really well. I think mentioned it before before, but I thought you were wearing a wig! And it’s interesting that you are able to take conscious effort in your lifestyle. My own religious upbringing left me with either disconnect between belief and lifestyle or subconscious perspective I found vapid after reflecting on the societal imprinting from childhood… in short, my supposed beliefs felt entirely separate from the life lived. I hadn’t thought about it, so it’s great you are able to integrate it all into your lifestyle.

    • Thanks, Ryan (I’ll take the wig comment to mean that you assumed that my hair was covered, as opposed to looking fake, haha). Hmm, maybe things would have turned out differently had I experienced a different up-bringing (for better or worse, it was a pretty happy/ sheltered one), as I’ve never really had any major doubts regarding my religious beliefs. My belief in people has wavered, but I see that as separate to my wider beliefs, if that makes sense. Thus, lifestyle-wise, that side of things has been pretty smooth on the whole, since my mid-20s. Either way, no matter how negative some experiences can seem at the time, I believe they happen for a reason and I just try and learn from them as best as I can.

  5. So that’s what you’re obsessed with bakerboy hats. I’ll keep on the lookout for more characters with them, but with all the characters these days having hair in their eyes, I can’t guarantee I’ll find anything.

    • The (not-so-secret) secret is out! Thanks, Baka-san. It’s always fun for me to see characters wearing that particular style, irregardless of whether they have some of their hair in their eyes or not, haha.

  6. Wow, thanks for the rather personal account, it was certainly an eye-opener. I actually browsed through my MAL account to see if there were any suitable candidates for future cosplaying: you know there’s something seriously wrong when the loli-nun from Index (errr… no) became a possible option. The closest I found was Taki from Nastume, which again needs a wig (but who is awesome and rocks a baker-boy hat!). I mean I knew that hair was important in anime, but this post really hammered the point home. I suddenly feel like an ass for complaining in the past that cosplay was too difficult to bother with.

    Out of curiosity, do you find your beliefs sometimes reflect on what type of anime/manga you feel you should watch, or is that solely based on personal tastes? Apologies if this comes across as a rather ignorant question, but I suppose I am in this regard.

    Ps. You avoid free-huggers? Booo!

    • No probs, fb. And lol at the searching/ head-scratching – thank you, but I doubt I’ll be cosplaying again any time soon, certainly not on my own. I did think of Taki though (I think she and her Madara love are great too!), but couldn’t be bothered to faff about with wigs. My experiences aside, I guess hair(style) is significant in anime; certainly for identifying (with) character types. The bishie vs. the GAR blokes certainly come to mind, as do all those girls and the awesome variety you get with their hairstyles and colours, hmm…

      And nothing to apologize about. It’s a good question; I’m fine with trying most things if I’ve heard it’s good, as long as it’s not hentai or NSFW. Or mecha. *Shudders*

      • Piggybacking on this, have you ever watched anything that you found personally offensive to your religious beliefs? I know sometimes Christians are offended by some anime, though I think that has mostly to do with the flippant use of Christian symbols in some shows.

        • I honestly can’t recall anything right now, perhaps because I mainly watch shoujo/ josei/ slice of life, as opposed to anything even remotely ecchi. I’m sure I would if it was outright offensive/ blasphemous. fathomlessblue jokingly mentions the loli nun in Index, so I can see why would be irritating to say the least. I definitely wouldn’t like to see such symbols used like that/ fetishized if I were watching a show I otherwise liked… or rather, probably wouldn’t like for very long.

    • Oh, and re: your P.S. – I only hug special people. ;)

  7. Charles, I love this series! Thank you Hana for sharing your fascinating story. Ever since I started seeing My Little Pony fanart of Fluttershy wearing a hijab, I wondered how other characters could serve as cosplays for people of different faiths. I’m glad you had a positive experience.

    • Thank you, though I’ll officially add my thanks to the wonderful and generous Charles for allowing me to do so. I’m usually wary of talking about religion (well, as mainly a fangirling episodic blogger on THAT, it doesn’t usually come up, haha), so it was refreshing and fun to do so here.

    • Thanks, Lauren! You were the first one! :)

  8. I really enjoyed this post to the point, I am going to check out her blog. Since I have decided to become more involved in the anime community, this is the second time I have encountered what it must be like to be a Muslim fan. I thought this was fabulously written and I was honestly moved by it. I’m glad she found a way to stay true to her religion and experience cosplay.

    • I should probably warn you that it’s a team blog in which I mainly do episodic reviews, though I also love doing the occasional editorial and I hope to do more this year. And that’s interesting, where did you have the first encounter? (The only other Muslim ani bloggers I know of/ follow are Klux (http://kluxorious.blogspot.com/) and Kyokai (http://metanorn.net/), not that they talk about religious stuff in their blogs, but it’s fun conversing on Twitter too.) Thanks very much for the kind words.

  9. D’awwww Hana! One day I will have to meet you! Well…not anytime soon ahaha but thanks for sharing your first con experiences and cosplay! Wow good work <3 I have no idea who I would go as…lots of choices but so little experience xD

    Great post! Again thanks for sharing xD

    • Aw – agreed, and I’ll look forward to it! <3 I'll certainly let you know if I'm ever near your neck of the woods. I think if you really want to do it, you'll find/ adapt a character that works for you. And, if you do, I defo recommend doing so with others. Thanks, foshi!

  10. Good choice with Erika, she’s all class.

  11. Would it be inappropriate to cosplay as a male character?

    Otherwise, the easiest cosplay to do Gundam pilots wearing a helmet.

    • Hmm, I don’t think so – I did consider reverse-trapping it up, but couldn’t think of anyone. (Also, I’m short, so I didn’t fancy being a boy, lol).

      It would be inappropriate for me to be a Gundamtard, though. :P

  12. I enjoyed reading this! I always like seeing different perspectives on things – I never would have thought about trying to find a character to cosplay as while keeping your hair covered.

    On another note, I don’t remember Erika at all, and that is rather bothering me at the moment. I might have to re-watch Durarara! sometime soon…

    • Haha – she’s one of the otaku group that ride around with Kadota (a.k.a. ‘Dotachiiin!’) in that van of theirs. I’d like to rewatch it again someday too; the ending was a bit weak, but I loved the way that intricate, multi-perspective plot was used, really intriguing and clever. Not to mention re-living all those awesome Shizuo moments. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  13. as you may have known, I am a muslim myself and as you might have known as well, I don’t wear hijab. I know it’s considered a sin but I believe that action in which how I live my life day by day in accordance to Islam defines more of who I am instead of the hijab. I’ve seen people wearing hijab and yet do immoral things in public. I think that was fucked up.

    I’m not saying I’m a good muslim, but I do abide by all the general rules except when it comes to aurat. Orz

    As for being an anime fan and a muslim, it is sort of contradictory, especially when it comes to yaoi. At the end of the day, it’s just an entertainment and as long as it doesn’t affect my faith, it shouldn’t be a big deal :)

    • Oh, I’d rather those people didn’t wear it at all, it just makes a mockery of the whole thing. Good point, it’s just an outward symbol of a person’s character and how they think and behave. Obviously, I think there are benefits to wearing it, but it should be a woman’s choice to wear it or not. Nuff said.

      Yes, it can be contradictory, but, as you suggest, so can most forms of entertainment/ storytelling, so I have no problem with enjoying such media for what it is and would never judge others for doing so (unless it’s outrightly offensive, but I think it’s pretty obvious when that’s going on).

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective, Klux. :)

  14. Am glad you were able to participate without having to compromise your beliefs! Thanks for sharing.
    For future cosplay, you could try Kino from Kino’s Journey. She has a hat she wears, though she does have some hair hanging out, but it’s pretty similar to the Erika you cosplayed.

    • Ooh, I’ve heard of the anime, but not yet seen it… *quick Google image search ensues* …and yay, another hat-girl with normal looking clothes, haha! (We’ll see, I guess!) And you’re welcome, I was really glad of that too.

  15. @Hana,

    oh so thats why you wear hats.. i remember you saying on twitter that you have tons of hats.

    nice cosplay btw!

  16. Pocahontas has beautiful hair. :)

  17. You are the most adorable thing. Seriously.

  18. I’m really not a crafty person by any means, but if you your character had hair hanging down from her hat (as with Erika), could you cut some from a wig and then attach it to the inside of the hat? Just an idea that might open up more possibilities in the future.

  19. Nice post, the technicalities of dress rules and such are always fascinating. If wearing a wig was acceptable that would be relatively easy to get around (long green hair etc become options, which widens your choices considerably!) – assuming you have the time/resources/contacts to get hold of such a wig. If your wig is obviously ridiculous anime hair there’d be no mistaking it for loose hair, anyway.

    The part I’d never considered is the covered arms and legs. That would be remarkably hard to do with anime characters! Even when not going for fanservice, most female character designs show some skin (if not, er, a LOT of skin). Funny the things you don’t notice until they become problematic…

    Plenty of other females considering cosplay get stuck on modesty issues (and males as well actually, I know some guys who’ll hesitate at bare-chested characters), but I guess the non-religious aren’t compromising as much if they decide to just go ahead and try and get over the discomfort, heh.

    • Actually, I did consider a ‘wig [that] is obviously ridiculous anime hair’ because at one point we were discussing going as characters from Shiki. LOL. The covered limbs were certainly an obstacle too, though I wear short sleeves in the summer, so that wasn’t such an issue. And that’s interesting what you say about the options for (more hesitant) male cosplayers, I saw several guys in fitted superhero costumes too and I wondered if/ how uncomfortable in general they felt. I guess the downside to wearing the more low-key/ confortable outfits, is that you might go to so much trouble to acquire the items and yet people might not even realise you were in cosplay at all, lol/ groan. Thanks for your suggestions and thoughts.

  20. I hope that I’m not too late to comment (and that Hana might see this D: ).
    I’m really happy to hear that there are fellow Muslim-anime-lovers-weaboos-even-anibloggers out there. Like you don’t know how happy that makes me. I’m also Muslim and my family isn’t all that tolerant of anime or Japanese culture at all for some reason. My mother half way understands but only to a point. Whenever I go to cons or to get togethers with friends who like animes my dad usually makes fun of them or calls them something along the lines of freaks. I’ve had a bad experience with Muslims/Anime together so I just thought that there was a severe lack of Muslims who actually were all weaboo-ish. This is also a reason why I joined the aniblogosphere relatively recently. I was acutely unaware of the existence of this blogosphere until around 5 months ago so I decided to give it a shot and see if I could find any friends. And I’d like to thank beneaththetangles for giving the opportunity to bring people together like this. This way we get to learn more about the people behind the keyboards diligently typing away for their audiences.

    • Wow, thanks so much for sharing! I’m glad that I could do just a bit to help you.

      The blogosphere is a really accepting place for most. It’s really a model in some ways of how to be open, honest, and engaging with one another. I hope to achieve those ideas with this blog.

      I was surprised, actually, at the number of Muslim bloggers out there. There aren’t too many, but there are a few. Besides you and Hana, I also know of Naru (http://oromywhat.wordpress.com/). There are others I can’t recall at this moment. Also, you can do a google search and find a number, I think. For instance, I searched for something like “fasting in anime” for a future post, and a number of anime websites came up which focused on fasting during Ramadan.

      Anyway, welcome to the blog! I hope you’ll stick around! ;)

  21. I was previously an avid cosplayer but I recently decided to wear the hijab and I faced the exact same problem on deciding who to cosplay as! I might just give up the whole cosplaying thing and end up dressing up my younger sister instead x) But I don’t think I’d give up dressing up peculiarly to a cosplay event, though! Haha.

  22. If I was still wearing hijab, I would be facing the same dilemma of never cosplaying as Shiki because well, her head is uncovered but her garb is very good (casual kimonos ftw) and sans mini-skirt. I identified with most of your re-telling and I’m sure when I do get around attending a convention, it would be nerve-wracking on my part.

    Thanks for sharing this story and you are hella adorable whatever you wear!

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