Hijab cosplayers broaden the definition of fandom

These hijab cosplayers breakthrough limitations without leaving their faith.


Playful: For Ange, it is important that the original costume should not be very revealing so it is easier to adapt into a more covered style. (Personal Collection/Courtesy of Ange Minami) (Personal Collection/Courtesy of Ange Minami)

February 7, 2022

JAKARTA – Devotion to your religion does not mean you should quit your passion for creativity. These hijab cosplayers breakthrough limitations without leaving their faith.

Starting long before the pop culture dominance of the Korean wave, Japanese anime and manga have captured the interests of young Indonesians since the ’90s. Childhood memories of most present-day adults are often related to Sunday morning anime, which shows how deeply rooted the Japanese 2D culture is in the country.

Various Japanese-related events like Blok M’s famous Ennichisai festival in South Jakarta are held in big cities, and one of the highlights of these events are the cosplayers — a culture that survives mainly through social media. For Lina Freya, a 28-year-old employee of a state-owned company from Jakarta, it all started for her at Gelar Jepang Universitas Indonesia.

Cosplay is short for “costume play”, a hobby where fans dress up to look like their favorite fictional characters. It began in Japan with mostly Japanese manga and anime characters before becoming popular globally.

Bring it on: Lina warns fellow hijab cosplayers to avoid crossdressing, using the hijab as a replacement for wigs and listening to negative comments from haters. (Personal Collection/Courtesy of Lina Freya) (Personal Collection/Courtesy of Lina Freya)

“I started cosplaying in 2013, and I started wearing a hijab in 2012,” Lina said. “That time [at Gelar Jepang Universitas Indonesia] I cosplayed Yukiko Amagi from Persona 4.”

Cosplayers have many ways to impersonate their favorite characters, like how to make their hair look exactly like an oversized standing crown. However, hijab cosplayers have a different challenge: letting the hijab serve its purpose while still dressing up as their favorite characters. This was one of Lina’s considerations when she started.

“I’d been interested in cosplay before but didn’t have the nerve to try it. At that time, I didn’t know how. I didn’t have any friends [with the same interests] either,” Lina explained. I thought that if you wear a hijab, you can’t do cosplay.”

One day, Lina saw someone cosplaying Hatsune Miku, a Vocaloid – an iconic mascot of Japanese company Crypton Future Media’s music software. The cosplayer wore a hijab while still nailing the perfect look of the moe (Japanese slang for cute) figure.

“I became invested. I asked fellow Japanese culture and anime lovers and tried to find suitable tailors online.”

Meanwhile, Ira Kuswara Putri, also known as Mirai, started cosplaying before she decided to start wearing the hijab in 2018. “I started cosplaying in 2015,” said Mirai. “After wearing the hijab, I felt the urge to cosplay again, but I still had doubts because I couldn’t remove my hijab just like that.”

She read an article about hijab cosplayers from Malaysia and started being a hijab cosplayer in early 2021.

Hobby: Ira, also known as Mirai, started cosplaying before she started wearing hijab. (Personal Collection/Courtesy of Ira Kuswara Putri) (Personal Collection/Courtesy of Ira Kuswara Putri)

Adapting and facing challenges

According to Angetri Tunggadewi Putri from Bandung, better known as Ange Minami among cosplay enthusiasts, it is best to pick a character whose look is easy to replicate overall.

“I usually choose the character to be cosplayed that is suitable for [the characteristics of my face]. So, every time I plan a cosplay, I determine whether this character matches my facial features,” said Ange, who makes similar considerations to the character’s costume.

“I usually pick what I like, and it is important that the original costume should not be very revealing [such as female Kamen Rider]. That way, it still looks good when I adjust it to suit my hijab and cover my aurat [intimate areas of the body that should be covered].”

Superhero costume: Ange tried to find characters that would suit her facial contours so she doesn’t have to do too much make up, such as this Captain Marvel get up. (Personal Collection/Courtesy of Ange Minami) (Personal Collection/Courtesy of Ange Minami)

Ad Diena Islamy Haq, a 20-year-old Semarang State University student, has a similar take. “Usually, I cosplay the characters I like. So before cosplaying, I study the characters, research their various costumes online, then I choose the most covert costume and make sure that there are no religious or ambiguous attributes, such as a cross or shapes resembling a cross,” said Diena.

Lina believes that a cosplayer does not have to look 100 percent like the character they portray. Instead, she emphasized that the important thing is “to bring out the character’s distinctive personality traits”.

“What needs to be remembered is that it is enough to create a style from the unique characteristics,” she said, adding that hijab cosplayers should not treat hijab as a wig replacement.

“Take Hatsune Miku, for example. She has a distinctive blue hair color with twin tails. You don’t need to use twin tails for your hijab, but just bring out the hair color plus the costume, so people know who it is. You shouldn’t just copy hairstyles as they are. Then there’s Keqing from Genshin Impact, her hair has curls — there’s no need for the hijab to be similarly curled as well.”

Commitment and devotion

For Diena, the hijab is a unique selling point for cosplayers, but it is not very popular among Indonesians.

“Many appreciate it, but there are also many who give negative and non-constructive comments,” she pointed out several causes of that matter. “My parents also thought it was a little strange at first, but now it’s okay as long as I prioritize my study. My friends support me as well, and they’re happy that I can do what I like.”

Supportive family: Diena eventually earned support from her parents who initially thought the hobby was a little strange. (Personal Collection/Courtesy of Ad Diena Islamy Haq) (Personal Collection/Courtesy of Ad Diena Islamy Haq)

Ange shared that there had been various reactions surrounding the hijab cosplayers community, but she understands them as people can have their own views and preferences.

“Thanks to God, there are also many who support hijab cosplay communities, both at home and abroad. A community even made me a guest in several national events, even in Malaysia,” she said.

Lina, who considers adaptation the biggest challenge for hijab cosplayers to remain compliant with sharia, said she eventually learned to dismiss critics.

“There are also those who criticize that if you are already wearing a hijab, you should not cosplay because cosplayers should wear a wig to be more accurate with the original character. But keep in mind that if you don’t like it from the start, then no matter how good the cosplay is, the response will be negative,” Lina said.

Lina shared the story of a new hijab cosplayer who recently incited drama within the hijab cosplay communities by lashing out at negative comments on social media.

“She could’ve used the comments to improve her cosplay, to make it better instead. In the end, it affected the hijab cosplayer community as a whole. It’s sad, and it made me concerned,” she said. “Sometimes I think about how we can do our hobby while staying positive about it so that fellow cosplayers can express their creativity.”

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