Jane sat at her bedroom desk, twitching with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. Her slender finger rested on the mouse and the cursor hovered over the submit button but did not click it. Her pulse raced and she could almost feel her heart pounding in her chest.
Her voice was tense as she spoke aloud, “Am I really doing this?”
While the rest of her apartment was cheap and dingy, the bedroom was beautiful, like something out of a glossy magazine. Against one wall was a queen-size bed with a fluffy, pure-white quilt lightly textured with stitched designs of snowflakes. The pillow was pale, ice blue and the bed frame black iron with cobalt blue highlights. At the foot of the bed stood a series of glossy, white pots on a stand, with arching shoots of white orchids bursting forth. These contrasted nicely with the dark blue morning glories climbing a white trellis behind the orchids, the flowers opened wide in the brilliant morning light streaming in from the large window.
The floor was light pine, as was the desk opposite the bed. The white walls were lightly splashed with posters and shelves of merchandise featuring top games and anime, with cool guys and sexy girls prominently displayed.
The computer on the desk was top of the line, as was the camera setup around it that she used for streaming games and making videos, from cosplaying to makeup tutorials to everyday things.
She wasn’t known to most people as Jane Eula, her real name. She was known as Beloved Maiden. That’s because most people only knew her online personality. On all social media sites combined, she now had over 2.5 million followers. That was a far, far higher number than she’d ever imagined achieving, but it was still leagues below legends like that pikachu cosplay girl or real celebrities. Still, she was proud.
Her foot tapped the wood floor. She bit her lower lip, as she often did when nervous or excited. If she’d been wearing more than this lacy, black lingerie that she had on, she might have even sweated.
She’d been posting for years. But this was the first time she’d posted something like this since…
With a burst of trepidation, she clicked the submit button. In the blink of an eye, her latest cosplay teasers whooshed off across the internet, finding new homes on social media sites of all kinds, and bringing her before millions of eyes.
How would the new content be received?
What kind of reactions would she get?
She could guess, yet she also hoped for the best.
Jane hadn’t started out trying to achieve the kind of popularity she had. At first, she hadn’t even been trying to make a career of it. She’d been a very geeky teen in love with anime and cosplay and Halloween and just being imaginative and creative. Of course, like crazy amounts of people in her generation, she’d naturally started sharing her enthusiasm online, posting pics of her costumes and convention visits on social media. It’s not that she was a particularly public person or that she craved attention. Originally, she’d just wanted to show off what she was passionate about and found exciting. She’d wanted to share the costumes that she’d had so much fun sewing and crafting and wearing. She’d wanted to connect with others who were just as into the dream worlds that she was into. Sharing what we love is a fundamental human desire, a deeply seeded need that brings us together.
People had liked and happily commented on her pics and she’d taken that as encouragement to follow her hobby even further.
Things had carried on in that fashion for a few years. Then, in her second year of university, her popularity had suddenly gone viral. A certain global behemoth in the entertainment industry had decided to collaborate their blockbuster superhero franchise with a long-running anime franchise that had been celebrated by children for generations in Asia. While everyone else had been dressing up as superheroes, she’d dressed up in a particularly sexy version of a certain time-travelling cat robot.
In truth, it had just been a throw-away design that she’d put together between the much nicer and more elaborate ones she’d been working on, just something she’d thought would be a cute and funny idea, nothing serious. The costume had been really simple and, without really thinking about it, far sexier than anything she’d done before. And it should have been impossible for anyone to turn that silly cat robot into something hot. But, perhaps for those two factors, simplicity and sexiness, her costume had taken off. Overnight, she’d become known all over the world. She’d gone from hobbyist to internet sensation.
She sat now in front of her computer, knowing it was silly, yet unable to stop herself from refreshing the browser every thirty seconds to see the first likes for her new picture set. Her foot tapping grew even faster.
Back in the day, Jane’s newfound stardom had, of course, gone straight to her young head. She’d found herself suddenly invited to conventions to cosplay for game companies and animation studies, even in different countries. She’d been immensely flattered, crazy excited, and had very much lost all interest in continuing to study microbiology. Her university studies had fallen to the wayside and her marks had plummeted.
Bouncing around in her computer chair, she finally got to read the first few comments coming in:
OMFG. What happened to you! So hot!
This is insane. Beloved Maiden I worship you!!!
(fire) what a princess (fire)
It was good! So far. She took a deep breath and tried to calm herself.
With the increase in attention from her cat robot costume, however, had come not just happy fans, but an outpouring of criticism as well. It was no longer just friends, family, acquaintances, and a few randoms following her, it was people from all over and all walks of life. For the first time, she’d been bombarded by comments from followers and others that weren’t just throwaway compliments. She’d started experiencing a lot of toxicity and slut shaming as well. Most people were great, but she’d finally been exposed to a lot of trash talking from both males and females: jealous insults, sexual suppression, and attempts to destroy her self image and self confidence.
By and large, these weren’t really targeted at her costume, either. They were targeted at her body, and who she was.
Jane had been nervous enough beforehand to post pictures of herself in an anime cat costume that showed off a belly that could be much flatter and legs that weren’t terribly toned. Then she’d been exposed to all that criticism, people taking apart every inch of her body in one comment after another, most of it flattering, but many hurtful comments decidedly not.
She couldn’t help but come to feel that certain lacklustre dimensions in her body made her look a bit too much like an out-of-shape teen girl instead of the grown woman she should be and wanted to be. And no matter how average she actually was, she’d started looking in the mirror and seeing herself as fat. Always fat. That stupid muffin top rolling out over the top of her clothing. Every time she’d sit down and bend over, and her belly bunched up, she’d hated her own body. Her sister had told her that she was being ridiculous, that her body was fine, but Jane had been unable to take those words to heart.
Overcome by a new sense of insecurity and self consciousness, she’d thrown herself into the gym and a fiercely nutritious and regimented diet, doing everything she could to firm her lazy body up. The good: legs, arms, belly, had all became toned and she became much fitter and healthier. The bad: her breasts all but disappeared from all the exercise and dieting. This caused her insecurity to rise even more and her sense of femininity became severely threatened. A woman just feels more womanly with a little more up top; breasts are a big part of female body identity. Without them, she’d felt like she’d regressed from teen to pre-teen, or worse, that she looked masculine. And she’d hated that feeling.
But what could she do about it?
Meanwhile, even as she’d exercised and lost weight and built a little muscle and lost her breasts, companies had been on the phone, calling to book her for collaborations and offering to actually pay her to cosplay, something she’d only ever done for free and for herself. It was a dream come true for any cosplayer or model. The industry was ridiculous competitive and being offered the stage of a major animation studio or a world-famous game company was something she’d desperately wanted now that it was a real opportunity for her. The trouble was, they were expecting a hot girl to show up, or at least the girl in the viral photos, not some tomboy. And they were not going to be happy having paid her cross continental airfare and salary for three days when she showed up at a convention looking like someone else.
And that had led to her next big decision: dropping out of university and using her student loan to get breast implants. It was wild and crazy and completely irresponsible; she’d known that at the time. And yet, she’d wanted to accept those amazing job offers. She’d wanted to travel all over the country. She’d needed the surgery in order to follow her passion to the next level. It was a chance she couldn’t afford to waste. After all, if Hollywood came knocking and offered to turn you, an actor who’d only ever done local car commercials, into an A-list star, would you turn that down, at any cost?
She undergone the cosmetic surgery in secret, of course. Because she’d known full well that her parents would be angry with her. Oh, how badly had she underestimated their reaction.
After holing up in her apartment alone for two months while recovering from the surgery, her parents had finally demanded to see her and get an explanation for why she’d been so absent recently.
There’d been no point in trying to hide things. And she normally wasn’t the type who lied to anyone, let alone to her parents. So she might have recently avoided the truth, and them, but now she was going to come clean. So she’d dressed in jeans and a low-cut tank top and gone to see them.
She’d walked in the door of their house and heard them calling her from within. Stepping into the kitchen, she’d revealed herself for the first time since her surgery.
Her mother, cleaning up at the sink, had turned with a smile and then screamed, dropping the dish that had been in her hands. It had shattered on the floor.
Her father looked up sharply from his laptop on the kitchen table and froze, mouth wide. Only seconds later, he began to frown, then scowl, his body trembling with the effort of containing his rage.
The brave smile that Jane had come with faltered at seeing those extreme reactions and wavered as she tried to force it to stay in place. “Mom. Dad. How are—“
“What have you done to yourself?” her mother exclaimed, eyes glued to her daughter’s new chest. Her eyes came up to meet Jane’s own, looking at Jane like she didn’t even know the person in front of her, despite having given birth to her and raised her.
Jane’s smile faltered even more and it took an effort to control the welling of emotion appearing in her chest. “Mom, you’re overreacting. I can explain—“
“Explain?” her father snarled. Then he composed himself, though he remained harshly stern. “There’s nothing to explain.”
“Dad.” Jane felt a sting behind her eyes and willed herself not to cry.
“Where did you even get the money—“ His eyes widened. “No. You didn’t. Tell me you didn’t.”
She shrugged, then hated herself for making it seem like it had been an easy decision. She straightened and spoke surely. “I decided that school isn’t the right fit for me. Not right now.”
Her mom gasped. “You dropped out?” A horrid look of disappointment came over her features.
“Look, please. I can explain. You see, I did this cosplay, and it got really popular. I mean, really popular, right. And then I started exercising and then these companies started calling and offering jobs and I just didn’t feel like myself anymore so I—“
Her mother looked away and interrupted. “How could you humiliate us this way?”
This startled Jane. She blinked. “What?”
Her mother turned back and glared. “How could you humiliate us like this? After all we’ve done for you, sacrificed for you? This is how you repay us? I couldn’t be more disappointed in you.”
“But—but mom, I’m just trying to be myself, to follow a dream.” Jane felt anger rise in her heart. She’d expected a bad reaction, but this? This was too much.
Her father shook his head, his frown seemingly a permanent feature now. “Dropping out of a good school with a good future ahead of you? To do this to yourself? And for what? More of that internet stuff with the pictures and costumes? That’s just a silly hobby. Now you’re going to be whoring yourself to the whole world? I’ve never been so ashamed of you.”
Jane choked up at his words. Whoring herself? “You’ve been ashamed of me before?” she replied with a half laugh. Her legs felt unstable. This couldn’t be happening. How could her parents be talking to her like this? She loved them. They loved her. Didn’t they?
She tried to speak, tried to explain her reasoning. She stood up for herself and fought for her decisions, which is so hard when you’re facing off against your parents and it was a struggle, but no matter what she said, it all fell on deaf ears. They just stood there in utter silence, not even looking at her.
“Just get out,” her mother snapped, cutting her explanation off.
“Mom, please!” Jane begged.
“Get out!” her mother shouted at her.
The older woman was livid, her face red and neck bulging, the dishtowel in her hands wrung as tight as a rope you might use to strangle someone with. “I’m not your mother! No daughter of mine would do something so selfish and superficial and stupid. Get out! I want nothing more to do with you!” She spun away, putting her back to her own daughter.
Tears formed in Jane’s eyes at that. She fought to keep from falling apart. “Dad…” she pleaded, turning to him.
He stepped away from her and went to his wife’s side, where he laid a supportive hand on her shoulder. He looked at Jane like she’d become an enemy. “We’re done with you. You want to be an adult and make your own stupid decisions, so be it. We’ll mail your things to you. Don’t come back here. We won’t support a daughter who wants to become a whore.”