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Becoming Mystique: exploring the beauty rituals of a cosplayer

22-year-old British cosplayer and aspiring model Roxanne Manuel shares with us her personal beauty routine as she prepares to embody X-Men’s villainous mutant, Mystique

Rituals is a monthly column that looks at the obscure beauty routines and sacred acts of self care that different professionals practice as they prepare for a typical event. Born on the South Coast, West Sussex, 22-year-old aspiring model Roxanne Manuel has been cosplaying seriously for three years now. From applying her look – which can involve painting her entire body and applying a lot of prosthetic glue – to how she chooses her characters, here she shares her experiences. 

Growing up, I was very much into video games and the occasional comic and loved the idea of dressing up as my favourite characters. I think having an older brother helped. I used to watch him playing video games, eagerly waiting till I was able to play them myself. 

Like most girls my age, I used to dress up as fairies and mermaids. But I’d always add in a knight’s sword or helmet so that I was a badass, warrior mermaid. Halloween was my favourite time of year – still is – and I would think all year about what costume I’d wear to go trick or treating.

I went to my first Comic Convention with my parents and brother at the 2010 London MCM in the Excel Centre, when I was around 12. Each convention is slightly different but usually there are panels, celebrity guests, cosplay competitions and lots of stalls full of amazing stuff to buy. At this convention there were people dressed as Spiderman and Black Cat – all childhood favourites of mine. I loved it so much I ended up cosplaying at the same event two years later with a friend. I remember throwing together random stuff from my wardrobe. It barely looked like a costume, it was awful. But I enjoyed every minute. When I made my first costume a few years later, based on Lady Sylvanas from World of Warcraft, it was so much more fulfilling. The pride in wearing something I had made completely by myself made the whole experience so much more fun.

Nowadays, every time I get ready it’s a different routine. It totally depends on the character I’m cosplaying. That said, in the cosplay community, we do have a couple of funny ‘guidelines’ for when we go to conventions, such as: use lots of deodorant and a decent wig is everything. I usually use lace front wigs to ensure it’s the most natural looking, which means a lot of time is spent on gluing it to my head. I think the longest it has ever taken me to get ready is when I cosplayed as a character called Widowmaker from the game Overwatch. It took about four to five hours, but that was because I had to do full body paint.

Setting spray or hairspray is also important, so that your makeup doesn’t slide off. The same for using talc powder to set your body paint. The problem with dressing as characters that aren’t real is that the costumes can be very impractical, so there are a lot of clever securing, body taping, and gluing processes that go on behind the scenes. One of my favourite products that I use is Prosaide – a prosthetic glue that I use to stick my wigs on. It lasts all day and night. I also love Eyelure false eyelashes.

Part of the enjoyment I get from making my costumes is making sure they are accurate – the sheer triumph of finishing a costume that you’ve been working so hard on. It’s that moment where you take a step back and look at what you’ve made. It can be really overwhelming, but it’s an amazing feeling, which continues when you wear it for the first time at the convention. The most challenging part is the actual making, where you might be using new techniques and run into obstacles. That can be very frustrating. Getting the makeup right can also be frustrating. Everyone’s face is different, so it can be hard to make yourself look like a character that has been portrayed by an actor or actress. With some characters I like to use my everyday makeup, as it already suits them or else just to feel more comfortable.

Every character I cosplay feels different, but I tend to gravitate towards the badass heroines and powerful female leads. I love the feeling I get when cosplaying them, it’s very empowering. Mystique is one of my favourite characters. She’s sexy, badass and powerful. The first time I wore her was around August 2017. When getting into my Mystique costume, I usually start with the blue face paint as this is my base and takes the longest to do. I then layer on my makeup, eyes and fake eyelashes, make my eyebrows red to match the wig and red lips too. I then prepare my hair ready to put the wig on, tying it into two plaits and pinning to my head. Then I put on my dress, tights, and wig (securing it with pins and sometimes wig glue or tape), followed by my shoes, gloves and accessories.

When I’m in costume I usually feel like myself. But when posing for photos, I channel a little of the character, it’s easier to pose that way. When people scream or shout your character’s name, it feels great. I definitely feel most beautiful at an event when I’m in one of my favourite costumes. I’ve been cosplaying seriously for three years now, and it is my life. It’s pushed me from once being super introverted to now being super extroverted. Cosplaying has given me the biggest confidence boost, I’ve made some of my best friends and dearest loved ones through cosplay and that means everything to me. It's my world.