This Is An Isabela Appreciation Post
I’ve been selfishly trying to ignore the “boo hiss Izzy pantslessness” dialogue out of sheer frustration with the fact that I’m sick of the damn debate. I’m also sick of the “she was white with red hair in DA:O” because oh my god shut up. I’m sick of her subversiveness, her confident dismissal of people’s judgment, and her comfort with her sexuality and identity being belittled and degraded because she likes sex and isn’t afraid to show her body. Because while I’m sure she gets cold in winter, it’s not about the practicality. It’s a statement. It’s self-expression. It’s awesome. Isabela is awesome.
So let me tell you a story.
In December 2010, I was an emotional wreck. I was spending days in the hospital with my grandfather who had just nearly escaped death, trying to figure out how to take control of my life when I was unemployed and loafing, see-sawing in weight, etc. I felt like I had lost myself, as if my future were completely out of my control. I was six months out of college, but felt weaker and more uncertain than I had been as a bullied high school student, because at least in high school I had hope and purpose, and something to fight for.
During all of that, I saw Isabela’s first render. (The whitewashed one) I remember looking at her face for the first time, her broader jaw and dark, strong eyes, and thinking: “A- She’s not traditionally pretty. Her broad jaw and strong features aren’t media-pretty.”
“B- She kind of looks like me.”
I thought back on Isabela—the sassy, sexy Isabela of DA:O, the one who was strong and self-confident, who challenged people who talked down to her and judged her. I hadn’t even played DA2 at that point, obviously, but even before I got to see more of her and properly fall in love with how awesome and imperfect Isabela is, I knew that Isabela was someone I aspired to be more like.
Curled up in bed at my grandfather’s house during a blizzard, my grandfather experiencing some complications with his stitches, I asked myself if I could be as strong as Isabela. But of course I couldn’t, I said. I was a cry-baby, untalented, not terribly sexy, guarded in my romantic and sexual interactions, and still couldn’t stand up for myself after years of being kicked back down to the floor.
So I picked the second-best solution: I would just dress up as her.
It wasn’t easy. I had to confront a lot of my own self-consciousness while Jennifer and I worked on the costume—people would hate me because I was ugly, mock me for my stretch marks, my flaws, my boobs had to look perfect or my costume would be worthless, I wasn’t curvy enough, didn’t have wide enough hips, I would look stupid without the pants, my butt had to be covered because people would hate it, everything needed to be perfect so people wouldn’t notice what I looked like…. I’ve seen some of those fears realized in my year and a half of cosplaying Izzy, but it seems trivial compared to how much the process grounded me, helped me move forward, allowed me to collaborate artistically with one of my friends (pounding brass rings in Central Park, thinning leather, edging belts, getting yelled at for losing weight when I started dancing again), and do something I thought I’d never do: not wear pants in public.
Cosplaying Isabela ended up being the best decision of my life. The people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, the opportunities I’ve had—they have, are, and will continue to shape the direction of my life just because I had the courage to say: “You know what? Hell yeah I’m going to cosplay Isabela, even if I’m terrified of being pantsless at a convention.” Through it all, I felt a bit of Izzy seeping into me. Her strength. Her self-confidence. Her sassy walk and “I could give fewer shits what you think about me” attitude. When I wore the costume, I thought I was stronger. I wished I could be more her when I wasn’t wearing the bandana and the boots.
I can only imagine what some people (incorrectly) think about me when they see my Isabela (or any of my sexier costumes). I’m sure people make assumptions about who I am, how much sex I have—and, to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if people have, or will as time goes on, make accusations of me performing sexual favors to get ahead. In fact, let this be the moment where I call that shit before it happens, if it hasn’t already.
Spoiler: I don’t care. I remember stepping onto the stage at the BioWare Costume Contest at SDCC 2011 and talking about how awesome Isabela was, how her message, her self-confidence, her “haters gonna hate” attitude was empowering for me. That’s why I do it, why I cosplay Isabela, why I cosplay in general, and why, though I’m not perfect and can still crumble at the hate and not be the best person in the world, I’m still grateful for what Isabela, as a character and a costume, has done for me.
I can’t remember if I said how deeply it all resonated with me. I don’t think it matters if I did or not. If you had asked me then, I would have told you that wearing the costume made me feel like I could be as strong as Isabela.
If you asked me now, I would tell you that it’s shown me that I already was.