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How I Masked My Mental Health with Costume Design

This summer I won the Realm Makers costume contest, but my journey into costuming took me through fears and other battles.
on Aug 25, 2022 · 2 comments

Last month, I attended the annual Realm Makers conference hauling a bulky suitcase and garment bag on every plane and train it took to get there. Even though I’m still working towards getting a book published, I still enjoy participating in the festivities through the one thing I knew I could do well—costuming.

Every year, Realm Makers holds a costume contest during the award’s banquet. I’ve pulled out all the stops making these costumes for the last three in-person conferences. In 2019, I dressed a steampunk wind-up doll, and in 2021 I dressed as the U.S.S. Enterprise in space.

This year, I finally won with my book dress of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe!

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: 2022 costume montage, Marian Jacobs

To see more pictures of my costumes over the years, visit my website, MAJacobs.com.)

Having poured an embarrassing amount of work into this dress, I was thrilled to finally win the contest! Although if I had lost to author Kerry Nietz, who 3D-printed an entire costume of Master Chief from Halo, I wouldn’t have been disappointed. But in the end, the awkwardness of this costume was worth it. (Few people were aware at the time that I wasn’t able to visit the ladies’ room and could hardly sit down during the banquet—something I hope to remedy in any future projects.)

My costuming origin story began with theater

Storytelling and the performing arts run through my veins.

I started singing and performing on stage earlier than I can remember. It all started at church where I performed in large-scale children’s musicals. Eventually, I was participating in community theater and my high school’s theater department. This seemed a promising start to a performance-focused career.

But like many teens with undiagnosed ADHD, I fell into a desperate battle with depression and fear of man in my sophomore year of high school. I was still performing on occasion—especially if the production was a musical—but part of me was also beginning to shrink away. I didn’t audition for every show because I assumed I wasn’t good enough.

Marian Jacobs designed costumes for her high school's 2003 production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

In my junior year I designed my first costumes for my high school’s 2003 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” (courtesy Marian Jacobs)

How I was ‘masking’ with costumes

Instead of auditioning for the fall play, I asked my mom to teach me how to sew costumes. I was given the role of costume designer in my junior year (2003) for my school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Although part of me was masking my fear and depression with costume design, I was also falling in love with sewing and creating something outlandish to be worn on stage.

I went on to be a theater major in college, where my peers were even more talented and intimidating. I chose not to audition even more often and, much to my mother’s disappointment, continued my work in the tech department instead. After the costume designer before me graduated, I moved from being the prop intern to being the costuming intern. I made the excuse that it was right for me to avoid performing since the theater internship was a paid position, and I wouldn’t have had time for a job otherwise.

Even though I was hiding, I also adored making costumes and designing stage makeup. Even now, during times I can’t be involved in theater productions due to parenting demands, I still find ways to design costumes through events like the Realm Makers conference.

God moved me from costuming to storytelling

There was a time in college that I entertained the idea of moving to Hollywood to pursue a career in costume design. I enjoyed the work and knew that trying to become an actress wasn’t for me.

(I would like to thank the single day I spent as an extra on the set of Will Ferrell’s film Semi-Pro for curing me of any lingering desire I had to become an actress.)

Thankfully, not long after I graduated, God drew my heart in other directions. What I couldn’t see at the time was how I had mistakenly taken one of my greatest storytelling tools and used it not only as a mask but also as a goal in and of itself. At some times and in some spaces, costuming is an essential tool for telling effective stories. Yet God hadn’t called me to primarily create tools. He’d called me to tell stories.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with many types of storytelling mediums—theater, photography, and writing. All of them have settled into a space in my heart in some way or another. From time to time they’re still part of my life. Yet, now I know that I am primarily a writer. I have a show for you—one inspired by Jesus and this insane, beautiful life he’s given me. And I want you to experience that show in your mind and with the help of your own imagination.

Although costuming began as a mask, I can now put it where it belongs without throwing it away. It will always be a tool in my storyteller’s toolbox along with many other hobbies I’ve collected. But those tools—those means—are not the end. The goal is to tell you a story full of truth that points back to the teller of our story.

Marian Jacobs as a wind-up doll for the 2019 Realm Awards banquet

I dressed as a wind-up doll for the 2019 Realm Awards banquet. (courtesy Marian Jacobs)

Marian Jacobs as the U.S.S. <em>Enterprise</em> in space for the 2021 Realm Awards banquet

Two years later, I became the U.S.S. Enterprise in space for the 2021 Realm Awards banquet. (courtesy Marian Jacobs)

Staff writer Marian Jacobs has created Lorehaven stories since the first print issue, exploring magic, sexuality, and story ethics. Her work has also featured at Desiring God and Stage and Story. She and her family live in southern California. Her first nonfiction book, a theological analysis and guide to discerning fictional magic, is set for summer 2025 release from B&H Publishing.
  1. Barbara Jacobs says:

    Heartfelt, amazing article! When the article ended, I still wanted to read more!! You do have a gift if storytelling!!

  2. Ticia says:

    I loved reading this, and saw so many parallels to my story of trying different storytelling methods, and many to hide from scary parts of life.

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