Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Mendez.
Michelle, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I think I can speak for about 97% of those who have or avidly cosplay when I say that the very first time you put on a costume and step outside in the world not during Halloween on your way to a con or photo shoot, it can be daunting. My entire life I’d keep tabs of every San Diego Comic Con and I remember looking at the cosplayers with awe and thinking, “I could never pull that off. I’m too [insert a very self-critical insult].”
Right after graduating high school, I got into makeup and scored my first job at Ulta, which then lead me to work for higher end makeup brands. Mind you this was before all of the countless gurus on YouTube (think beginning stages of Michelle Phan) who would teach you step by step how everything was done and what the hell a fan brush was used for.
Working with these high-end makeup lines taught me many tricks, but within that time I realized that I liked special effect makeup way more. However, I was too late in the game to go to school for it (at least it felt like I was) and I didn’t have the amount of money to support that kind of hobby. So, I did it at home for fun and would post it here and there on social media.
Nothing big or extra, compared to many, but I was also too self-critical to show people my work. I really was my own worst enemy. It wasn’t until with one of my best friends we decided to attend our first con as our favorite Disney princesses. Disney princesses for a con? Groundbreaking. No, I know, but it was our first real taste of everything. Our photos were taken like crazy, and people really loved how we looked.
I was hooked with the positive feedback, something I didn’t think I’d receive. For each cosplay I did, I felt my confidence grow little by little. It isn’t easy having the guts to go out the house head to toe in a body suit, wig, and eccentric makeup. From there, I took it to Instagram to post side by side of characters and my take on a cosplay of them. I got more courageous with my makeup skills, and I just pushed myself.
Throughout all of this, I’ve encountered some of the kindest people who share the passion of creating a character we love. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been hired to do attend events, do makeup or do photo shoots all in the cosplay realm. Many ask me why I don’t make this my full-time job, but cosplaying will always be a hobby for me, something I do for me, not for money.
Something I try to always enforce is you do not have to be paid to justify cosplaying. I know many people, in general, don’t seem to understand that cosplaying is a hobby for many. Anyway, I’m super excited for the future and what new cosplay ideas/plans lie ahead. With the popularity the cosplay community has reached especially in Los Angeles, I’m stoked to see how others tackle cosplays as well.
Has it been a smooth road?
I mentioned before that many don’t seem to understand that cosplaying can be a hobby. I was fortunate enough to have friends who supported or thought what I did was cool, but I know there were some (if not many) who thought I was some weirdo who had no life and liked to put costumes on for no reason.
What bothered me the most is that when I mentioned that I had been hired for cosplaying, they would justify it. It was a reaction of, “oh okay so at least you’re getting something out of it.” Cosplaying is beyond getting paid for your talents, it comes with positive feedback and a community who share your same interests.
Another big obstacle (and unfortunately a common one) is body image. It’s hard to say anything that hasn’t been said countless times already, but body image can either make or destroy your cosplay. If you don’t feel comfortable with yourself, you can’t expect confidence to exude and portray in photos. Easier said than done, I know.
For someone who still battles with warped body image, it’s hard stepping out in a costume you worked so hard on sometimes! Regardless of all the compliments, you can receive, they don’t mean jack shit if you don’t compliment yourself first and actually believe it.
Lastly, time and money that goes into these costumes. But like any hobby, that’s part of the game — Womp womp. So, no it hasn’t been a smooth road per se. It gets smoother as time goes by and I don’t think it’ll ever be smooth sailing. But it’s a road I’ll take again because the lessons I’ve learned are seriously priceless.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
I try to cosplay all over the place, not just anime (which is usually my go to). I mostly do side by side comparisons and try to emulate video game/cartoon/anime characters exactly how they are in the image.
Proudest moment was getting hired from a company I grew up watching to attend in cosplay for a movie premiere. And they even paid me! Shoot, I would’ve done it for free! Another one was showing up in random newspaper articles or seeing photos of my friends and I in events. But nothing beats the rush you get from the positivity you get after a con. As tired and shitty you feel trying to find something to eat after hours of posing and walking around, you can’t help but smile.
What sets me apart? Dang. I’m really good at making makeup last through eating hot dogs. Haha no, I’m kidding. I like to think that I’m very meticulous about how a cosplay is portrayed. For me, the more canon, the better. I know for many, putting their own flair on a cosplay is their thing, but I like things to look so exact to the smallest details.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Los Angeles has a MASSIVE cosplay community! Thanks to WonderCon, Anime Expo, ALA, hell even Little Tokyo. There are endless meetups, and people plan these photo shoots and group projects way in advance. There are cosplay contests with crazy prices (we’re talking $25k+), there’s a lot of incentive to go out there and give it a shot.
If you wanna see what’s up in LA, Facebook has a ton of groups and events solely dedicated to specific cosplay plans. Instagram is also a big one, those hashtags aren’t playing around. Take a gander on social media, and you’ll find similar minded folk in Los Angeles. But a big one would be to attend a con. You don’t even have to cosplay, just get a feel of how they work. That should be a good start!
- Email: shollendor@Gmail.com
- Instagram: Shollendor
Jocelyn Mancias, Jonathan Northington