Shellanin’s Vegeta cosplay | Source: Jasmine Denise Photography

No character is out-of-bounds for the cosplayer known as Shellanin. Her work incorporates looks that are race-bending, gender-bending, and in the case of her Aang cosplay: air-bending.

She takes heavy influence from her love of anime, cartoons, and video games. As a Black woman with naturally curly hair, she finds that the pop culture characters she loves rarely have her hair texture or skin tone, so she creatively reimagines them in her cosplay looks to make them more representative of who she is.

Shellanin’s Chun Li cosplay | Source: MLee Creative

When Shellanin, the alter-ego of the Atlanta-based Shell, first discovered cosplay, she chose to only dress up as characters that looked like her. As she got more into the hobby, she made the choice instead to add her own twist on the craft — that’s how #CurlyCosplay came to life.

Some cosplayers believe in cosplaying only as characters they most resemble, producing an authentic, screen-accurate replica. But others are taking a more creative approach, drawing inspiration from characters they love, but creating original looks that have never been done before. For Shellanin, the concept of #CurlyCosplay stays true to the heart of the craft, while also removing all limits on which characters can and cannot be brought to life. #CurlyCosplay upholds the idea that you don’t have to look like the actors and actresses you see on-screen to create unique cosplays based on the characters you love.


“When I was a kid … I would always draw myself as the characters. I’d always draw them with dark skin and curly hair,” Shellanin says. “I thought about that one day when I was working on a cosplay and I was like, wait, maybe I should bring that passion back — and that’s when I started working on my #CurlyCosplay hashtag and started working toward representation instead of accuracy.”

Each of her cosplays begins with the love of the character. Then, Shell asks herself what they’d look like if they were more like her. She takes time to carefully envision how the character’s hair would look if it were Afro or curly.

Shellanin’s Raven cosplay | Source: @shellanin_

“I feel like that’s the hardest part of the process, just trying to figure out how to translate the hair into something new,” she says. Once she completes the overall character concept, she crafts an outfit and perfects the details. Her genuine passion for the characters comes through in every part of her cosplay. Even when she’s dressed as SpongeBob SquarePants or Isabelle from Animal Crossing, you can immediately see who she is portraying and, more importantly, who she is at heart. She remains accurate without being too accurate and stays authentic to herself more than anything.

“Part of myself is in each of my cosplays, so it makes it feel even more empowering,” she explains. Her favorite cosplay that she’s done is her Vegeta look because of the way it makes her feel. The Dragon Ball character is the prince of the fallen Saiyan race and a powerful warrior. In her Vegeta form, Shellanin is a powerful princess who is always ready to battle.

Shellanin’s Instagram page (@shellanin_) currently has more than 88,000 followers, and #CurlyCosplay is now used by many Black women who are also working to redefine authenticity. Shellanin says she often receives messages of people letting her know others are posting their own cosplay with her hashtag, and she replies to them, “that’s the point.” She wants the hashtag to be used by everyone who feels connected to it. “I’m really happy that other people see my work and want to do that, too. I think that’s really, really cool,” she says.

“I want people to feel comfortable in their own skin and feel proud of their own hair texture,” she explains. “If they want to bring that into the world of cosplay that makes me even happier.”

This article was original published in Issue No. 9 of the Pop InsiderClick here to read the full issue!

About the author

Nicole Savas

Nicole Savas

As a kid, Nicole either wanted to be a professional toy player-wither or a writer. Somehow, as social media editor for The Toy Insider, The Toy Book, and The Pop Insider, she’s found a career as both. She's grateful to work somewhere that she can fully embrace both her love of teddy bears and her admiration for the Oxford comma. When she's not playing with toys at work, she's playing with her baby girl at home.