Cosplaying can be a world of fun. From the intense work that goes into making some of the most imaginative costumes, to the display of said costumes in comic-cons across the globe. What doesn’t always get as much attention is the underlying drama and struggles that can come with pursuing a passion that can often get dismissed as a silly hobby. Especially when one doesn’t fit the “norm” (read: white, thin, “beautiful”) when it comes to being recognized. All this and more is displayed in the hit streaming reality series “The Doll Life,” a show that chronicles the adventures of dolly style fashion designer Cyril Lumboy, and her misfit crew of “dolls” as they put on fashion shows at pop culture and geek conventions around the country.
On the heels of its drama filled season two finale on Myx TV, TBG was able to catch up with two of the stars from the show, Ashphord Jacoway and Stephanie Sandmeier, to discuss the ongoing drama of the series, (no worries, this article isn’t super spoilery), and their continued push for diversity as women of color in the cosplay community, and what it’s REALLY like in the world of cosplay.
TBG: Ashphord, what first made you want to enter the world of cosplay and fashion? Did you feel the industry would be welcoming to a Black woman? How did that determine how you went about pursuing your passions?
Jacoway: My whole life I’ve been sewing and making costumes. I remember seeing people dressed as Sailor Moon in convention centers, so when I got semi-disposable income in college and nerd friends who wanted to go to cons….I started cosplaying. I loved playing a character and dressing the part and geeking out with my peers. The industry today doesn’t always create a space for Black cosplayers, so often those spaces are only created by other Black people. When I first started 10 years ago, people would comment how I was the “Black version” of a character or that I couldn’t cosplay a character because I was Black. I and some fellow cosplayers of color created Chocolate Covered Cosplay, a space dedicated to bringing diversity awareness and open dialogue to the cosplay community through our shared stories. In the past few years, we have done things like Chaka Cumberbatch’s #28daysofblackcosplay which celebrates Black cosplay during Black History Month. I think the industry is welcoming us more now. The world around me doesn’t stop me from living my dreams. It just means you take a different road toward your goal. So even if the community shouts, “We don’t want you!” Imma still do it cause I love it, and even more so now because I know I am not alone.
Sandmeier: For the longest time I thought you had to be a specific shape and color to cosplay and to model, where you had to be tall, skinny, and drop dead gorgeous. Turns out that’s not true at all. As long as you can feel confident and radiate that confidence you can do whatever you want! Certain genres of the fashion industry are very welcoming of women of color; as seen in LA and NY Fashion Week, they do have different ethnicities walk the runway, and the cosplay world has been blowing up with different colors cosplaying whatever they want. I feel like if you can make it work, do it! I am a cosplayer that tries to push out the Asian in myself, so I have been working on Marvel/DC cosplays that are Asian American.
TBG: What do you both hope to achieve by being visible on “The Doll Life” and in the cosplay community?
Jacoway: I hope to show that people of all backgrounds love cosplay and fashion. I hope my presence informs others that cosplay and fashion is for everyone, no matter their size, shape, gender, color, or creed. It’s a place for us all. Hopefully I inspire others to be their truest self.
Sandmeier: Being on “The Doll Life” has put me in the tough position of being the bully and the shame-er, but I hope that people are aware that those are common in the cosplay community and fashion community and that you should always have a support group if you’re not strong enough to bypass the B.S. With so many people in these communities, there will be those who troll and hate for whatever reasons they have. It’s not just the famous cosplayers who get these kinds of people, it’s not just white people or Asian people or Black people, it’s not just straight or gay people; Everyone should be more accepting of the diversity and the beauty behind each individual for putting themselves out there.
TBG: If there was something you could change about cosplay, and geek culture, what would it be?
Jacoway: I’d like to change what it really means to have a “good cosplay.” That a “good cosplay” is more about what the costume looks like versus who is in the costume. That a “good cosplay” is about the care someone has for the character. That a “good cosplay” isn’t about how much you spent, or how many likes a model has on their cosplay photo, or what you look like.
Sandmeier: If I could change something about cosplay and geek culture it would be between the ignorant or the entitled people. The ignorant people who are negative about everything and anything just because they are just negative people. The entitled people who believe that anyone should be at their mercy because of their intense knowledge of all geek things. WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG!!??
TBG: Most people, outside of cosplay look at it as a hobby, and not something one can do to earn a living. Do you agree with that sentiment?
Jacoway: The thing is, you don’t really make money from cosplaying per se. I don’t speak for everyone obviously, but I believe cosplayers make money by hosting, sewing, competitions, booth modeling, reality TV (like “The Doll Life” or “Call to Cosplay”), selling merchandise, photoshoots, acting, commercials…The list goes on, but we rarely get paid to just show up in a costume. To me, the simple and beautiful form of cosplay, where you finish your costume (or it arrives in the mail) and you put it on and walk out to the convention floor and BAM, you have arrived, that is what cosplay really is. In between our promo duties and creating patterns, we do have these moments, but we aren’t really paid for that. That is the blessing of being a “professional cosplayer”.
TBG: There seems to be a lot of drama on “The Doll Life,” especially with the explosive finale. Do you see yourself continuing to work with “The Doll Life,” or is the interpersonal drama too much?
Jacoway: I, for one, am a very pragmatic person when it comes to drama. I don’t have time for it, so if you have a problem, just tell me exactly what’s wrong and why. Honestly, I believe we can work it out. The issue is people allow things to simmer too long and it festers in their heart and then all of a sudden someone blows up and you’re sitting there like, “If you would’ve just come to me and expressed your feeling, I could have made arrangements to not offend you in the future. If I don’t know I am offending you, how will I know to stop?” That’s how I deal with drama.
Sandmeier: I feel like the drama on “The Doll Life” was intense and kept us all on our toes. The cast has received both hate and support. Even with the tension that was built up, we know that we are the core and we care about the well-being of one another. It’s great to know the cast is very caring, and we are willing to be supportive throughout the season and despite the outcome. Business aside, we still talk but the fate of the company is still in the air.
TBG: TV editing can be cruel. Do you feel as though this season portrayed you the way you wanted to be portrayed?
Jacoway: There were times I felt positive and negative about how I was portrayed on the show. I did my best to stay out of drama’s way and it always found me. I just wanted to protect those in its wake. I find it appalling how quick people are to judge your interactions with other humans. It took me all day to make those cookies [referring to the episode where cookies are knocked from her hand] . I really wish I could have known they’d end up on the floor.
Sandmeier: Oh! Tough question! There’s always someone who is an outspoken trouble maker on shows and someone had to play it on this show. I am outspoken, I am very forward, I am confrontational (as we saw in Season 1 with the creepy photographer), and I rarely use a filter. However, I personally discourage childish behavior such as destruction of another person’s belongings. I do apologize off-camera for such behavior as it isn’t me and sometimes offer to replace it. I will treat others how I would like to be treated..
TBG: What do you hope people get to see more of on the next season?
Jacoway: I hope people get to see more of us working together. Whether we are sewing the night before a fashion show, or promoting DollDelight, I hope everyone sees our bonding moments and strength next season.
TBG: What advice would you give to women wanting to pursue a life in the world of cosplay and fashion? What would you tell them to watch out for?
Sandmeier: If any woman wants to pursue a life in the world of cosplay and fashion be prepared to grow thick skin. There are so many people who spend their lives putting others down, but don’t respond to those idiots as they are a waste of time. Always think about what attention you will get. If you are going to cosplay in a suggestive cosplay you will unfortunately get the creepy photographers (there are SO MANY OF THEM!!) and stalkers. Just remember to remain who you are, and don’t let anyone try to use and/or abuse you.
You can catch “The Doll Life” Season 2 Tuesdays at 8/7c on Myx TV and Streaming Online Wednesdays on www.myxtv.com