An Interview with Briana Lawrence

This blog post was originally published as part of the Featured Fatty series on PNW Fattitude; cross-posted with permission from the author and interviewer, Kristine Hassell.

 

Greetings readers, it’s new feature time with our fantastic featured fatty, Briana Lawrence, also known as Brichibi Cosplays. Welcome Briana!

Thanks so much for having me!

Let’s begin with an origin story. Tell us a little about yourself so our readers get an idea of who you are and how you got into cosplay.

Let’s dim the lights and have an epic city backdrop as I tell the tale of Brichibi Cosplays! [laughs]

Deal! The lights are dimmed! Let’s do this!

So I’ve been a geek ever since the Nintendo was a thing, and I mean the original NES. I’ve been playing video games since I was six, then I got into anime when I was ten thanks to a little something called Vampire Hunter D. I also grew up with a dad who collected comic books, and a mom who sat me down to watch all the Star Wars movies (episodes 4 – 6 at the time) because she felt I absolutely HAD to know who Luke Skywalker was.

My father was a comics nerd too! We saw all the Star Wars (and Star Trek) movies at the theatres together. Did you have friends that also liked comics and video games?

Growing up, I was one of the weird kids, the “black girls don’t do that sort of thing” kid, because I could beat all the boys in my class in Killer Instinct and I absolutely had to be home in time for Power Rangers. I was also fat, I’ve been fat for a good portion of my life, so I was this ball of “wrong” to some people because I was fat, black, and a geek. I did have friends who, even if we weren’t into the same things, still loved me for being that weird girl who watched Dragonball Z reruns. But as far as having friends who geeked out with me over fanfiction, Gundam Wing, and Sailor Moon? I didn’t have too many of those.

You just hadn’t found them yet!

Exactly! And that brings me to 2001. At this point I was on my way to college—Iowa State University. It was here that I ended up meeting a woman who would pretty much change my life more than I could ever imagine. Her name was Snow Tigra, and we met on a Gundam Wing mailing list where we would chat online, role-play, and write awful fanfiction (it still exists online somewhere…). I had a boyfriend at the time, but we broke up shortly after I went to school, so I started talking to Snow more. I soon realized, “Oh god, I actually liked her!” I liked a girl and I freaked out because, once again, I thought there was something wrong with me. Back at home, all of my friends were straight and had boyfriends. No one really talked about this whole gay thing, and if they did it was either a joke or something whispered about in the background.

Here’s where the cosplay comes in…

I avoided talking to Snow for a while until I finally told her the truth about my feelings. We decided to just be friends until we met in person, which would be at Anime Central, an anime convention in Illinois. While we waited for the convention, we ended up breaking that “waiting” rule and pretty much became girlfriends (unbeknownst to our parents, but that’s another story). Finally, ACEN rolled around. I went back home (since the convention was only an hour and a half away from my dad’s house) and my dad dropped me off at the convention. That’s where I saw it: cosplay.

I saw all of these people in costume, and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. So many geeks, celebrating what they loved, I felt like I belonged there. Finally, after being the “weird” girl, I was among people who got it. I was among people who loved anime, video games, who even dressed up as these characters. Snow was dressed up, too, and explained what cosplay was to me. And in that convention center space, we were girlfriends, out in the open. We held hands while we walked around the hotel and no one batted an eye, we were all too busy having fun being geeks.

Oh wow! So you had never really seen cosplay before or met Snow until the convention! You basically fell for her and cosplay all in one fell swoop. Hopefully that didn’t sound too cheesy!

Not at all, that’s pretty much how it all happened! Thirteen years later, the two of us are still together, cosplaying, doing crafts, writing, and being huge geeky ladies. She’s the one who makes our cosplay, and it’s just been getting more awesome every year.

Couple cuteness at a con! Photo from Briana Lawrence.

Couple cuteness at a con! Photo from Briana Lawrence.

Your cosplay IS definitely awesome and beautifully made, props to you and Snow for being so body-positive! Let’s switch gears for a moment and discuss fat activism: what does that mean to you?

Happiness isn’t a size or a certain appearance. The thing we’re often told is that being thin is the key to happiness. This idea of thin equals happy does more harm than good, not just because it’s ignoring the things that actually do make us happy, but it’s pitting us against each other. If you constantly tell someone that they aren’t good enough because they’re not thin, that’s not going to encourage them. If anything, it’s going to make them resentful toward the thing you’re telling them to be (“fuck them skinny bitches”). I grew up around confident, fat ladies, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t called horrible names, or told things like “you’d be much cuter if you lost weight” and, for a while, I DID hate thin girls. They had what people said I needed to have, and I hated them for it. And, for a while, it felt good to sneer at them, to bash them, because I figured, if I diminish the thing everyone is saying I need to be, then it’s not nearly as appealing anymore.  Why be a “skinny bitch,” they “don’t eat,” “fuck them.” I get how this thought process came to be and, at the time, I clung to it, because it was all I had in regards to thinking that I was fine being my fat self.
That’s not what fat activism is at all, though, and my thought process has changed tremendously over the years – and thank goodness for that! Fat activism, to me, is about accepting yourself, and accepting the others around you. It’s about loving yourself, being happy with yourself, and enjoying all the different sizes around you and seeing them for what they are: beautiful. Today there’s such a rise in the image of the happy, proud, fat person, and it’s amazing, and fat people aren’t the only ones promoting this idea. People in general are starting to realize that if someone can smile despite what society thinks of them, then they can smile, too.

Tiana cosplay. Photo from Briana Lawrence.

Tiana cosplay. Photo from Briana Lawrence.

I agree. When we shake off that detrimental programming, it can give this confidence that can radiate to others. Accepting yourself and others engenders empathy. Folks aren’t judging each other based on their dress sizes. Support happens and maybe society will stop making assumptions based on appearance, reducing people to their dress sizes.

Society says “too fat” and “too thin” in the same breath, but with fat activism and positivity all around, people are seeing the conflicting messages of society and realizing that it’s not worth the stress. Why try and satisfy a structure that doesn’t even know what it wants? One person might say obese, another says curvy and sexy. Someone says fit and perfect, another says anorexic and unhealthy. There’re so many assumptions based on appearance, without even knowing a thing about the person, so fat activism says, “Be yourself. Love Yourself. Period.”

What you do when you’re not rocking that gorgeous cosplay?

I’m actually a freelance writer, an author, and an artist. My partner, Snow, and I go to conventions with our work: cosplay, art, and books. We have an online shop together. Snow does all the sewing (cosplay commissions, plushies, and hats) and I do woodburning and painting. We both write, and have a book series we’ve started together.

What’s the book series?

I have three books published and a handful of gay romance short stories through Dreamspinner Press. My three books are Treat Me Kindly – a supernatural murder mystery, Double Hue – a  gay romance supernatural thriller, and the (first in a) book series with Snow is Seeking the Storyteller which is an urban fantasy adventure. We’re actually re-releasing Storyteller soon and working on the second book right now!

In the past I’ve written articles for different websites like xoJane, and have done anime/manga/video game reviews for different websites. I actually write scripts for WatchMojo right now.  So yeah, I do the whole writing thing, and it’s a blast!

I’ve made a note of those book titles and will have to check them out. Do you both get to make it to conventions?

We usually sell our stuff in artists’ alley when we’re at conventions and we try and travel to different places, especially with our published books, to get our work out there. We actually get to be guests for the first time at two conventions this year (and hopefully more) and we’re both really excited to give panels about cosplay positivity and promote our work. Those two conventions are No Brand Con in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and Anime Iowa in Coralville, Iowa. On top of those two conventions we have about seven more, so far, if I remember right, where we’ll be selling our work.

Excellent! So maybe I’ll get to catch an upcoming appearance. Convention opportunities are thick on the ground here in Seattle. Can you share if you have any future Brichibi Cosplays planned for upcoming conventions?

Snow just finished our Mario and Bowser dresses, and they went over really well!

Bowser and Mario dresses, photo credit: Lavonne Brite.

Bowser and Mario dresses, photo credit: Lavonne Brite.

Those are adorable!

Thanks! Lately we’ve been designing dresses based on characters and Snow makes them, and they’ve been really fun to wear. She also takes commissions on them and we’re both happy to see such a positive response to these dresses. Next up are dresses based on Captain America and the Winter Soldier, hopefully done in time for “Avengers 2.” There’s also some Disney villain pin-up stuff we’re planning on doing with a group this summer. After that, who knows? I recently sketched a Dragonball Z dress that I really want, a Harley Quinn one, a Despicable Me one, and there’s a new Princess and the Frog dress I want, and a new version of Princess Peach… the list goes on! We’ll be rocking all of this stuff at the conventions we go to.

Because I am a geek, I love asking folks what they have been geeking over lately!

For Christmas I got Guilty Gear Xrd and that was my life for a while. As far as upcoming games go, there’s the new Mortal Kombat coming out that I really, really, really, REALLY want to play. I already have it reserved. There’s also Persona 5 but I have a while before that comes out.

That Persona 5 trailer is gorgeous and it will consume my life when it drops! Does Snow play video games also?

Snow’s actually been gaming more than me lately, for once (it’s usually reversed) and she just beat Tomb Raider and is playing the Uncharted games. We’re kind of behind on video games, so we’re slowly catching up… at least until Mortal Kombat X, once that comes out I’ll be gone forever until I unlock everything in the game. [laughs]

Any television?

I’ve been watching Gotham and The Flash, but I need to catch up on episodes. I’ve also been watching Markiplier play Fatal Frame 2, because for some reason I like watching Let’s Play videos on YouTube and Markiplier is one of my favorites. There’s also the Nostalgia Critic, Little Kuriboh, Team Four Star… the list goes on.

Awesome. Let me ask this, have you found that by embracing your fat, you’re happier?

Yes, absolutely! It’s amazing what a positive attitude can do for you. I’m not going to lie and say that the backlash doesn’t bother me, it does, and I think it would bother anyone. I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that if they aren’t 100% sassy and confident, they’re doing something wrong. But that sort of attitude takes time, and even when you reach that confidence, you’ll falter sometimes. It’s just that now I’m at a point where I stop and think before I sink into this headspace of “maybe they’re right, maybe you’re too fat/too black/insert negative remarks here.” When I get hate it stings, yes, but then I remember things like, “Hey, remember when your cosplay pictures got 15,000 likes on Tumblr?” “Remember when Lynda Carter liked your Wonder Woman cosplay?” “Remember that your page has close to 7,000 fans supporting you?” “Remember you have an amazing partner, great friends, and a supportive family.”

Kicking that negativity to the curb! Photo from Briana Lawrence.

Kicking that negativity to the curb! Photo from Briana Lawrence.

It’s fantastic when you get uplifting comments that can buoy you during rougher times. What else helps?

I think by embracing my fat, I’ve embraced who I am. Fat isn’t something that should hold you back and stop you from doing what you want to do. It’s just a size, that’s it. It doesn’t stop me from writing, from doing crafts, from going to conventions, from meeting people, from trying to get my work out there. I’ve stopped looking at it as a hindrance, and most importantly, I’ve stopped listening to people who think I should look at it as a stopping block. The hate I get always comes from people I don’t even know, just random people online who don’t even bother looking at my work, they just see my flabby arms and think, “Yuck,” and I think that’s really sad—for them. To look at someone you don’t know and feel the need to belittle them? That’s pathetic. There’s so much more you can do in this world; if you have time to harass strangers… that’s sad. I realized that the comments I got were never about my cosplay, or my writing. There was no “That costume is poorly constructed,” or, “Your book sucks,” it was just, “You’re fat.” Thanks for telling me something I already know.

I’ve found that people that lash out with negativity and vitriol have poor self-confidence themselves, or they are jealous that you have the gall to be happy in something form-fitting, you know? What words of advice would you have for anyone aspiring to get involved with FA in their communities?

Take it one step at a time. It’s not a race. It’s good to want to speak out, but speak out at your own pace, in your own way. Like I said, some people assume that if they’re not 100% sassy and confident, they’re doing something wrong. Some people look at me and wonder, “How can I be that confident? Why am I not that confident?” You’ll get there, I promise. Everyone deals with things differently. Some people share what others say.  Others speak up. Others brush off the hate. Others shout out a resounding “fuck you.” You’ll find your voice, and it’ll be just as valuable as everyone else’s.

And you’ll find others that have shared experiences, thereby amplifying your own voice and sharing strength.

And that support you gain along the way is amazing. Also, while you’re finding your voice, don’t give others around you a hard time. What I mean is don’t tell others how to react to things. When I wrote my piece for xoJane, I got a comment that told me to stop whining and to “own my fat.” Do not, I repeat, do NOT tell someone that they are whining if they are speaking out. It’s bad enough getting hated on, the last thing anyone needs on top of that is someone telling them that their feelings are “whining.” If you follow the “ignore the haters” mentality, that’s fine, but do not bash someone who is speaking out. We’re all on the same side here, so let’s treat each other with respect.

The most important thing, to me, is to surround yourself with positivity.  I know the internet has a bad reputation, but there is so much good here. There are so many communities, pages, and people to follow for inspiration.  Find them. Follow them. If you’re not ready to speak out that’s fine, but at least join their pages so you can see the good that’s out there and realize that you’re not alone.

Nicely said. So where can our readers find you online?

My pages are listed below along with my partner’s, too. She is also extremely supportive and, well, the one who makes my cosplay, so I always feel like she deserves all the love in the world:

Brichibi Cosplays on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

Snow Cosplays on Facebook and Tumblr.

Our shared Etsy, Facebook, and website.

Briana6

Snow and Brichibi. Photo from Briana Lawrence.

briana7

Interviewed by Kristine Hassell.

 

Pacific Northwest Fattitude is a 100% volunteer-run group that organizes year-round fat-positive events open to all self-identified fats in the Pacific Northwest. Founder and feisty fat activist Rachelle Abellar welcomes fellow people of size to check them out online. The mission of PNW Fattitude is to foster a fat-positive community in the Pacific Northwest by providing safe spaces for people of size to celebrate their bodies, have fun, get inspired, find support, and connect with others.

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