Newhouse MVJ 2018

A Hero’s Triumph

For Christina Lavinski, a costume is more than just clothing. Although the motivation for costume play, or “cosplay,” differs from person to person, Christina dresses up as superheroes, female or male, to overcome her own personal supervillain — anxiety. Since first discovering her form of self-therapy five years ago, she relishes transforming from everyday woman to iconic hero. Although her anxiety continues to haunt her, Christina hopes her boots and cape keep her inner demon at bay.

Normally my name is Christina,” said a young woman standing in a convention center turned comic book convention. She then glided her fingers through a head of pure blonde hair, placed her hands on her hips, and exclaimed — “Today, I’m Supergirl.”

Christina Lavinski, a 29-year-old from Syracuse, New York, is known as a “cosplayer”, which is short for costume player.  Costuming as fantasy characters began at science fiction conventions in the United States back in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, people wear costumes from comic books, anime, video games, movies and TV series. For Lavinski, she typically dresses as either Supergirl or Power Girl (an alternate Earth version of Supergirl in the comics).

For the many people who partake in this nerdism, cosplay offers a sanctuary where people can geek out and meet each other. For cosplayers like Lavinski, they relish in sharing the experience of transforming themselves not only physically, but mentally, into someone, or something, else.

“Do not be fooled,” said Lavinski. “This is not a mere game of dress-up.” And she’s right. The costumes she chooses to wear bring out something inside her — an inner hero. For her, that means choosing characters that she identifies with or admires — and the clothing is a conduit to those traits.

“Both Supergirl and Power Girl are strong, fierce, independent women,” she said. “Every time I don my cape, I become that person.”

But this “woman of steel” has her ups and downs. Being a hero is the easy part. What’s difficult sometimes for Lavinski is simply being normal.

“As a typical human being, I’m nervous and withdrawn,” she said. “Because of that, people just think I’m weird. But there’s so much more to it. Deep down, I live in a perpetual fear that my world is going to end. Like Supergirl, I too have a supervillain that I battle every day.”

However, unlike Supergirl who battles physical bad guys, Lavinski’s villain is one that is not tangible or visible. Day after day, Lavinski is plagued by her inner demon — anxiety.

“Before I found cosplay, I thought my life was going nowhere,” she said. “Therapy was okay, but I felt like I was missing something in my life.” At that time, where Lavinski was at her lowest five years ago, she discovered a love for sewing. And over time she was able to heal from her general anxiety disorder in a unique way.

“I realized that threading needles, cutting fabric and patterns, and keeping my hands busy put me at ease,” she said. “When I do cosplay, my anxiety just kind of drops and it’s completely calming for me.”

At a fundamental level, Lavinski says that cosplaying is about embodying the characters you love. She went on to say, however, that it’s not only about her. Heroes, after all, spread hope to other people.

“Just showing up in costume brightens people’s day, like Supergirl and Power Girl do in the comics,” she said. “For me to put smiles on faces, that’s what it’s really all about. Especially when little girls see me, because they do look up to me. It’s important for them to know that every little girl can be Supergirl, as long as they think and act like a hero.”

For Lavinski, cosplay saved her life and set her down the right path. rough cosplay she has become not only a hero, but an inspiration. She now gets to help people, just like her heroes.

And if she ever finds herself in need of strength, she has her tights and cape waiting in her closet.