One of the first characters I ever wanted to be was Leia Organa. Or Supergirl. A force-sensitive princess, a super-powered alien gal — they were both basically everything a four-year-old Saf could ever have dreamt of being. And while I didn’t know it at the time, they were the first characters I ever felt the urge to cosplay.
Throughout the difficulties of going from childhood to adulthood I always had these fictional characters to look up to. When I started cosplaying I then had an outlet for what I wanted to be beyond what was possible. I made friends through the hobby, grew more confident, learnt new skills. Cosplay was, for me, a hugely positive influence on my life.
So think how I feel when I see yet another post written by a non-cosplayer complaining that we, cosplayers, are ruining the hobby. The latest post that popped up on my Facebook feed had a very muddled message, but what I got out of it was how women wearing revealing cosplay were somehow ruining cosplay for everyone.
Yeah, okay. Written by a man about female cosplayers, the entire post was a mess of the author either being unclear on their own intent, or being offensive while tying to cushion their opinion behind fake sentiment. It was when I hit a sentence starting with “As a man…” that I just smacked myself in the face out of pure resignation.
Protip: If you identify as a man you don’t actually have the right to comment on how women dress. No, not even cosplay. You don’t own nerddom. As if your opinion should dictate how anyone, let alone another gender, dresses.
The argument of whether or not skimp-ified cosplay is “real” or “legitimate” cosplay is older than the dawn of time. The double standard when it comes to plus sized cosplay isn’t particularly subtle, either. Just spend five minutes on /cgl/ and you can see the toxic views that some people feel everyone should know. It’s enough to make me need a shower. Then you’ve got the argument of whether or not cosplay should be bought or made — with it the blatant disdain for beginners or those who are simply less skilled or unable to buy expensive cosplay materials, unlike the celebrity cosplayers who dominate some of the scene.
Considering how cosplay started off as a hobby based on love — love for the character and the source material, and love of dressing up and expressing your nerdiness — there sure is a lot of hate going around nowadays. I’ve seen people quit (or come near to it) because of the competition re: getting fans, views and likes. There’s a cosplayer in this country who very much buys into this idea, and thus creates a lot of drama where no drama need exist.
There is a very simple fact that everyone who cosplays needs to remember:
Cosplay is for fun.
As I said before, cosplay is so often about the love one has as a fan. Cosplay is, for the majority, a hobby. A very expensive hobby, but a hobby nonetheless. For some: there is competition, there is perfection, there are fans, there are photoshoots, For others: Fun and friends.
The general attitudes that float around like a bad stink aren’t helped by Heroes of Cosplay. A show I admittedly watch, and a show that does get better in the latter half of the season. It’s filled with overly dramatic moments, some pretty mean comments, and a lot of competition. There is one moment that stands out to me, though: when one cosplayer gets told off for rejecting another’s invitation to cosplay in a group with her because of her perceived lack of skill. For being a show that revolves around the cosplayers’ skills, this was hugely important in showing that skill level doesn’t give reason to look down on others. Heroes of Cosplay is amazing for motivation while working on costumes, but take the entire show with a grain of salt. It’s very reality TV.
What everyone needs to understand is that there are so many reasons a person cosplays, but just because one doesn’t agree with another’s reason doesn’t make it less valid. The Annas and Elsas in cheap wigs and sheet dresses are no less cosplayers than the 40k Space Marines that have stepped straight out of the game. The cardboard Iron Mans are no less cosplayers than the picture-perfect Maleficents with their prosthetic cheekbones. Wearing a bikini doesn’t make anyone less of a valid cosplayer than wearing a full-on ball dress.
I have Slave Leia on my list of future cosplays. Why? Because I love Leia. Because I love how strong she still is despite the slave bikini she’s forced into. Am I worried about wearing practically nothing? Honestly, a tiny bit. However, I don’t want to let my anxieties about my own body get in the way of cosplaying a character I love.
Would wearing this make me an attention seeker? Would it matter if it did? To the first question I respond with mostly no. For the last, a very absolute no. For one, a lot less girls wear costumes to attract nerd boys than media and general society makes us all think. But hey, if a girl wanted to date a Star Wars fan, what better way than to dress up as their fantasy, huh? It doesn’t matter why a person wears a revealing costume. It’s their body and their cosplay — they can do what they want. What you may think surprisingly doesn’t matter when it comes to others bodies!
In my opinion: the only thing that makes you a bad cosplayer is bad attitude. Everyone has to start somewhere. Crafting costumes and props is a huge learning curve.
There I am in the middle, with a cosplay I was sewing in the hotel room the night before the con around 5 years ago. Some things never change! Looking back now, I can 100% say that this was a terribly made costume, but I had a heap of fun at the con with my Yuj. Had I, at that young age, seen so many of the views I’ve seen in the past few months I probably would have given up cosplay right then and there. Young teenagers are vulnerable — especially young girls. It’s not like we don’t already have media shoving the importance of appearance down our throats from the moment we’re old enough to understand the messages. Someone I follow on social media recently expressed how much the negativity she got from cosplay completely impacted her own self confidence and her love of cosplay.
So why do people act like this? To feel a sense of superiority? To feel like they, themselves, are more “elite” cosplayers? Because let me tell you that being a terrible person does not, in fact, make you better at anything than anyone else.
Newsflash: It just makes you a terrible person.
We’ve got these young people who have a huge love of fandom and nerdy things who want to create their own costumes out of this love. These young people will grow, their skills will grow, their costumes will grow. This is something we need to nurture. I’ve seen how my friends’ skills have grown over the years. I’ve seen my own skills grow — though they’d probably grow a bit faster if I weren’t such a procrastinator. If we as a community don’t nurture our unskilled folk, those of minorities (Why yes people of colour absolutely can cosplay who they want, trans folk can cosplay the gender that makes them most comfortable) and plus sized cosplayers, we really will end up ruining cosplay. But not in the way everyone complains about.
Honestly, most of us don’t care if nerdy boys can’t jerk off about our costumes — actually a lot of us would rather that didn’t happen. Nobody made anyone the authority on cosplay; there is no cosplay royalty, despite what Yaya Han thinks. If someone wants to wear a revealing costume let’s give them props for their bravery and not slut-shame. Call out anyone who makes fun of cosplayers who don’t fit a certain stereotype. We’re all people, and we all do what we do because we love it.
For the record, I do highly respect Yaya for the costumes she pulls out! Sometimes the things she says are too good to not poke fun at, though.
Header photo by Little-Noise Photography.