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Teen overcomes social anxiety by becoming a ‘furry’ – dressing up as her wolf alterego Cosmo

Nervous Sophie Whitehead, 18, has cured her chronic social anxiety by joining a movement of ‘furries’ and wearing a top-to-toe animal suit.

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A nervous teenager has cured her chronic social anxiety by joining a movement of ‘furries’ and assuming the alter ego of a wolf with human characteristics called Cosmo – performing everyday tasks dressed top-to-toe in an animal suit.

A talented seamstress, Sophie Whitehead, 18, of Leeds, West Yorkshire, has even put her textiles BTEC to good use by running up suits for fellow ‘furries,’ who she charges up to £1,100 a time for a bespoke costume.

Struggling throughout life to make friends, Sophie told how everything changed when she stumbled across YouTube videos featuring the ‘furry fandom’ – a subculture of people who like to dress and behave as animals with human characteristics.

 
 

Now making a living creating costumes for fellow ‘furries’, having transformed her bedroom at her mum’s house where she lives into a workshop, she said: “I was drawn to the furry community as a way to escape everyday life.

“I have quite bad social anxiety, which makes me awkward and hard to talk to.

“Now I have a second furry family that I see in – and out – of my fur suit, it’s been a lot like therapy.”

Sophie says without the furry community she would be a “loner in a deep depression” (PA Real Life/Collect)

A loner until she discovered the ‘furry fandom’ on YouTube aged 16, the community has improved her confidence and even given her an income.

“I was always on my own – a bit of a loner – and to pass the time I watched a lot of animal videos,” Sophie recalled.

“I’d watch cats and dogs doing silly things. Then one day a video about furries popped up in my suggested videos.”

Sophie has been dressing up as Cosmo Dog since 2017 (PA Real Life/Collect)

“After watching it, I wanted to delve deeper and here I am, two years later, a fully-fledged furry,” she added.

Starting out by talking to other ‘furries’ online through social media and forums, three months later, Sophie splashed out £100 to order a fur suit head online.

She said: “The online community was a great place to talk, not just about furries but about feelings and hardships.”

Sophie hopes to encourage other “misfits” to find their furry “pack” (PA Real Life/Collect)

“I found for the first time I could talk about my social anxiety and how I felt alone, and other people completely understood,” she continued.

“So, eventually, I ordered a wolf’s head online from America, but when it arrived, I realised it wasn’t very good at all.

“I stripped it back and did it up and, although looking back it was hideous, that was the start of my work as a fur suit maker.”

 

At first, Sophie confined her suit wearing to the family home.

She said: “It was quite scary trying it on for the first time.  It’s a lot different seeing it online and on YouTube.

“You always see them from the outside, so being inside one, it can be overwhelming how warm it is.”

Sophie claims being a furry has helped banish her social anxiety (PA Real Life/Collect)

“It’s like wearing an incredibly thick onesie in the middle of summer, so you have to build up your endurance to how long you can wear it,” she continued.

“I have to wear a cool down vest to keep my temperate down as it gets very hot, but it’s worth it for the fun.

“I used to only be able to wear it for 10 minutes, but now I can do two or three hours depending on the weather.”

Sophie’s creations can sell anywhere up to £1,110 for a full fur suit (PA Real Life/Collect)

She added: “Going to the toilet can be a bit of a nightmare, too, so you always go before or after climbing in. Fur suits in the bathroom are a big no no because it takes about 10 minutes to take it off and another 20 minutes to put it back on.”

Describing her family’s reaction, Sophie explained how, at first, her mum was concerned about the motivation behind ‘furry fandom.’

“I mostly wore my suit around the house, but my mum, Angela, a cleaner, didn’t understand what it was about at all,” Sophie said.

 

She continued: “She was a bit lost for words when she saw me in the fur suit for the first time, she sort of just looked at me and went, ‘Oh my.’

“I was so excited to get it I wasn’t paying much attention but I could see the confusion in her face, even though I’d told her about the wolf’s head prior to wearing it.”

“It was quite weird with her, which I understand. She was worried it might have been some sexual thing that I’d got in to, but I explained to her that it wasn’t about that.”

Sophie dressed as Cosmo Dog, and her mum Angela (PA Real Life/Collect)

She added: “I told her it was just for fun, but it didn’t take her long to see how it was helping my social anxiety.

“Part of it’s down to being able to identify with a whole community of people for the first time and on the other side of things I am able to escape from everyday life and hide behind Cosmo’s persona.”

Three months later, Sophie sold the first wolf’s head for £100 on eBay, saying she “didn’t identify with the character” properly, and started searching on social media for a ‘furry’ she felt at home with.

Sophie often creates parts of a fur suit, rather than the full thing (PA Real Life/Collect)

“I saw Cosmo on a Facebook page and I fell in love with his design – his colours in particular really stood out, which is something I’ve never liked to do,” she recalled.

“It’s hard to explain, but Cosmo’s the kind of person that I want to be.

“He looks awesome and confident – the total opposite of me – and when I put him on I feel like I can push away my shyness to become those things.”

 

Splashing out £400 for the whole suit from a Facebook seller, a week after it arrived, in December 2017, Sophie went to her first meet up, where “60 or so” ‘furries’ from the surrounding area gathered together in a local pub to have a drink and a dance.

“It was really scary not knowing anybody,” she said. “I wasn’t sure my newfound confidence as Cosmo would pay off but it really did.

“Stepping out as Cosmo for the first time it was something totally different and despite the nerves it’s a moment I’ll always remember.”

One of Sophie’s creations being showcased (PA Real Life/Collect)

“He isn’t big into talking, that’s how his character played out in my mind, but that doesn’t stop him socialising and making friends,” she continued.

“He’s outgoing and likes to be the centre attention – in a nice way. He will use hand gestures and body language to portray his coolness, like waving his hands around and slouching against walls.

“Luckily, I didn’t have to walk to my first meetup in public, I got dropped off by my mum and changed into my outfit at the venue, but it turns out most of the public react well when they see it.”

Sophie often creates parts of a fur suit, rather than the full thing (PA Real Life/Collect)

“Although it can be quite scary when people think they can grab you because you’re dressed up – especially when you don’t have your peripheral vision, because of the fur suit,” she added.

Now going to monthly ‘furry’ meet ups in Leeds city centre, Sophie has also developed a strong circle of friends, who she sees every week.

“We’ll go for drinks and dinner or out to the cinema – anything you’d normally do at a social,” she explained.

 

“We normally start off a meet up by going to a bar in our fur suits, but we will take them off later in the day, depending on what we’re all up to,” she added.

“I’ve made friends I think I will keep for life through the community. I even have two furries coming over on Christmas Day, although I’m not sure we’ll be suited up!”

Being part of the ‘furry fandom’ has transformed Sophie’s life.

Sophie’s creations can sell anywhere up to £1,100 for a full fur suit (PA Real Life/Collect)

She said: “When I’m in my fur suit I don’t feel like Sophie Whitehead, I turn into Cosmo.

“He’s separate from me and I’m separate from him. It feels like a release and there’s no pressure whatsoever.”

Hoping to help “other misfits find their pack,” in mid-2018 Sophie started creating and selling fur suits and parts for potential ‘furries’.

Part of the fur suit making process (PA Real Life/Collect)

Converting part of her attic room into a workshop, she has two sewing machines, a large work desk and a chest of drawers full of fake fur, foam padding and vinyl.

“I spend about five hours a day working on different fur suits – it’s a very long process,” she said.

“I don’t often make full suits, I’ll do paws and heads, and it’s always to order.”

 

“I have made a full fur suit which I sold for about £1,100 but it varies from suit to suit,” she continued.

“My mum’s been a great help in it all, especially with the business side of things.”

Admitting she does not recognise the girl she used to be before becoming a ‘furry’, Sophie hopes speaking out will explain why it appeals.

Sophie has turned her attic rooom into a workshop (PA Real Life/Collect)

“People are so often scared of things that are different and want to label or spoil them,” she said.

“TV programmes and popular culture portray being a furry as a sexual thing but as far as I know that’s not the case at all. It certainly isn’t in the furry circles I’m part of – it’s all about fun.

“I’ve made friends I think I will keep for life through the community. I even have two furries coming over on Christmas Day, although I’m not sure we’ll be suited up!”

Sophie has been an active furry for two years (PA Real Life/Collect)

She concluded:  “Even my mum thinks it’s great and sees that it’s given me a way to be myself and make friends – and it’s all thanks to Cosmo.”