Denver Comic Con 2014 – From Kitten to Catwoman: How Cosplay Empowered Me

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Charlotte Renken and Julie Newmar and Denver Comic Con 2014

Denver Comic Con 2014 was a weekend I will always remember. I spent it with my roommate, cosplaying with her as Sherlock and John from the BBC Sherlock, attending engaging panels and meeting some of our most beloved stars. One of those stars made a huge impact on me. I was able to tell Julie Newmar (in full Catwoman attire) how she and her character had empowered me; she took my hand and inspired me all over again.

In 2009, I was a freshman in high school and had just escaped a tortuous relationship with my middle school peers. I was only starting to discover that my preconceived notions that being a nerd was something undesirable were wrong. The extreme contrast between the Catholic middle school where liking Star Trek warranted harassment and the arts magnet high school that condoned nerd expression had my head spinning. I had two friends who were exceptionally nerdy. Together we would talk for hours about everything from Harry Potter to Rocky Horror Picture Show. We were a nerd trifecta and they had made me realize that reading comic books wasn’t something to be ashamed of. However, it didn’t help me become any less timid or socially awkward.

One day, my friends approached me about a Science Fiction convention called “StarFest”and asked if I was going. I told them I had never heard of it and they promptly said, “Then you’re going.” So I bought my ticket and, a few days after, they asked if I wanted to Cosplay with them. It was as if they were speaking another language. Again, when I told them I didn’t know what they were talking about, they made the decision that I was going to join them in their costumed escapade.

They were going to Cosplay as Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy so I decided I would complete their femme fatale and go as Catwoman. Their costumes were amazing. Mine was…less so. At the time, my Catwoman Cosplay consisted of a long sleeve black shirt that was fraying at the sleeves, black skinny jeans, my mother’s black leather boots and my friend’s mask. If it weren’t for the mask, I would have looked like just another person attending the convention, but it was the funnest weekend I had ever had. Those leather boots and that mask made me feel like a literal superhero, even though I was Cosplaying as a villain. Nothing could cut through the euphoria of running around the convention center and having our picture taken over and over again. Having been bullied relentlessly for liking Catwoman in middle school, the fact that that character empowered me now felt like I had finally won the battle.

Charlotte Renken as Catwoman

Gotham Sirens

 

Over the years my Catwoman Cosplay evolved, becoming more complex. One year, I traded my shirt and jeans for an actual catsuit. The next, I got my own cat ears and began painting my mask on. I kept my mother’s boots as an homage to her, and because they still worked perfectly for the cosplay. I dawned a belt and this year bought a whip and googles to complete the transformation. To this day, the Catwoman I become every few months is still evolving, much like myself outside the convention center. I’ve gone from an emotionally scarred girl who didn’t think she’d make it to age sixteen to a strong woman on my way to college, determined to achieve my dreams. I’ve gone from kitten to Catwoman.

Charlotte Renken Catwoman Cosplay
“Never let any barriers hold you back, Charlotte,” Julie Newmar told me this weekend. “If something feels right, you do it! And if it doesn’t, then you don’t.” I was unable to hold back the tears as she spoke to me. “And look at you! You’ve got the suit, the ears. You even have the whip!” She then signed my cat ears and though it was supposed to cost money, she got out from behind her booth and took a photo with me. Even at age 80, she is inspiring, sassy and purrrfect as ever. I don’t believe in epiphanies, but I think that moment with Julie has set something in motion in me. I no longer have to slip that catsuit on to feel powerful. I am.

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