The Problem with Cosplay Celebrity

My husband and I are both 501st. My initial forays into cosplay were through the 501st, and I became an official member in 2007. We did local events. We did cons. And we branched out early on into other areas of cosplay.

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My husband and I out in front of our theatre. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

As someone who has always been a nerd, usually in the process of varying degrees of hiding my nerdiness, the cosplay scene was like a dream come true. I’d never been involved in a more openly nerdy, less judgmental activity. It was a way to express your enjoyment of a certain thing and enjoy it along with others. The accuracy, complexity, or creativity of the costume was paramount. I remember examining the craftmanship on one woman’s costume as she proudly told me she learned metalworking in order to create it.

Then . . . it became popular. Mainstream culture moved in, and what happened to cosplay when mainstream culture moved in is what happens to everything when mainstream culture moves in. The values change. The culture changes. And the mainstream dynamic of “popular kids front and center, nerds to the margins” came roaring in. Cosplay went from an all-skate to Superhero Suicide Girls in no time flat.

Long-term cosplayers who voice concerns about the costuming and the fandom aspects taking a firm backseat to the hotness of the girl in the costume are told, repeatedly, that they’re “just jealous” because they aren’t as pretty as popular cosplayers, or are called “haters,” as if expressing dismay at being pushed to the margins of your own hobby is somehow being unfair. I felt exceedingly lucky to be able to remove myself from the whole thing by being 501st (armor is a great equalizer) but there are non-501st costumes I’ll likely never wear again.

Cosplay is now dominated by models and women striving to look like models, who sell seductive pictures of themselves posing in sexy costumes. And you know? There’s not a damn thing wrong with that. My issue isn’t what they do– it’s what we lost when cosplay changed. Cosplay, once a way of expressing fandom with other fans, has become another area of our culture where we privilege the concepts of celebrity, oppressive beauty standards, and the commodification of both over everything else.

Women who are young and beautiful (and, to a much lesser extent, men who are young and beautiful) are the “popular kids.” They’re minor celebrities with facebook fan pages, press attention, and now, web series, films, and video games devoted to them. Their popularity is based on their physical attractiveness. Cosplayers who do not conform to traditional beauty standards are publicly shamed (I will not post the many, many links as they do not deserve the hits), occupying the same position of “marginalized outsider” we occupied throughout our lives EVERYWHERE BUT THE CON SCENE, our little oasis. That was our one place to belong until mainstream culture invaded the cosplay scene and shoved us back to the margins, back to where the “not good enough” are always shoved.

I’m not implying that cosplay celebrities aren’t nerds or fans. Of course they are. Apart from the obvious– that everyone is suddenly a nerd in this cultural moment (I never thought I’d see the day)– I absolutely believe that these women are true fans of the work they represent. And I absolutely believe that most of them have no intention of marginalizing others. I see some cosplay celebrities regularly championing body acceptance and cosplayer diversity, shutting people down for shaming other cosplayers, and encouraging people of all types to get their nerd on.

I DON’T BLAME THE COSPLAYERS. Nor do I expect (or even want) them to stop doing what they’re doing. I’m so committed to not blaming the cosplayers themselves that I refuse to post any pictures of them along with this article, because I don’t want anyone to feel implicated or blamed. Cosplay celebrities are not, however, in control of the culture at large (would that they were), and even the most vocal supporter of nonconforming cosplayers has little power to change mainstream culture as a whole.

The problem isn’t cosplay celebrities themselves, it’s the way mainstream culture requires our celebrities, especially the women, to conform to oppressive beauty standards, the way we commodify women’s bodies, and the way we divide women into categories of “acceptable” and “unacceptable.”

Conforming to traditional beauty standards is the basic entrance fee to celebrity. Our culture demands that women who participate in the kinds of activities that might make one a celebrity conform to these beauty standards or receive a barrage of shaming. Actors, politicians, singers . . . and now cosplayers. Where once upon a time a cosplayer could be anyone with a costume and a lanyard, the rise of cosplay celebrity has brought with it our culture’s oppressive normativity for female (and often male) bodies in display-related activities, and that extends to body size, body type, gender identity, age, and race. Before this change, the display was from fan to fan, largely unseen in the mainstream community. Now it’s celebrity to admirers (or perceived as aspirationally so), bringing with it all the cultural restrictions on who is allowed to occupy that celebrity space and who is not. Mainstream culture demands that we know our assigned places and stick to them or the shaming is fierce.

The cosplay community was never perfect. Don’t get me wrong; there are douches everywhere. And there’s nothing (apart from being publicly shamed: again, not posting links) stopping anyone of any type from slapping on a costume and living the dream.  I see cosplayers who don’t conform openly flouting the new oppressive standards, setting up tumblrs for cosplayers of size and of color, with some cosplay celebrities in full, vocal support. I see resistance from lots of sources, and it’s good.

But it would be disingenuous in the extreme to assert that there’s been no change in the cosplay community over the past 5 or so years, or that all change has been positive. And it would be disingenuous in the extreme to pretend that the mainstream dynamic of “popular kids > marginalized misfits” hasn’t taken over cosplay to at least some degree, particularly in how it’s expressed on the internet and in press coverage, which is, let’s face it, MOST of cosplay now. Cons are only a few days long and not everyone can go to them, so cosplay celebrity lives primarily on websites, fan pages, and the like.

And even as they sit at the top of the heap, is cosplay celebrity nothing but good for these young and beautiful women? Their authenticity is questioned nonstop, as if beauty cannot coexist with a love for comics. A young and beautiful cosplayer is inundated with disrespectful attention from the kinds of guys who are at the con primarily to see hot girls in costume– the new phenomenon of cosplay fans. There have always been young and beautiful nerdy cosplayers, and there always will be, but they haven’t always been forced into a cosplay situation that values their beauty far, far more than their craftmanship, or that forces them into competitions they never sought over “who’s the hottest Poison Ivy” or “which Slave Leia is hotter?”

I don’t have a solution. I don’t think one exists, apart from the obvious: keep resisting and keep the conversation going. I think cosplay will slowly become more accepting of cosplayers whose size, age, gender identity, or race currently marginalize them, but only if we choose to carve a place for acceptance of difference in a space where acceptance of difference used to be the norm. I honestly don’t know if that will make it easier or more difficult. And maybe the change will come when mainstream culture gets bored with us and tosses us back onto the scrap heap. Until that time, I’ll stay under my helmet for the most part. But I think you look great– truly.

UPDATE: I approve almost all the comments I find in my moderation queue. I will not, however, despite the fact that they prove my point, be approving the comments I’m getting that are accusing me of being a “jealous hater,” or that are based on reading comprehension errors, such as the assertion that I “hate” that there are beautiful cosplayers now, where before there were none, all of which is demonstrably false and nowhere in the blog post, and is, of course, just another way of calling me a “jealous hater.” I have no problem approving comments that disagree with me– I welcome debate– but I am under no obligation to approve comments that have no purpose other than to attack me. So, gentlemen (and so far, all of the attacks are coming from self-identified guys), that’s what happened to your eloquently worded “Your just jealous” comment, and all comments of that ilk.

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125 thoughts on “The Problem with Cosplay Celebrity

  1. missparayim says:

    Well said. As someone very new to cosplay, this is definitely something I’ve noticed. Luckily, I have a retry thick skin, so I like to think these attitudes wouldn’t deter me.
    On the other hand, I am overwhelmed by how supportive and positive the community seems to be. I recently went to my first dragoncon, and the cosplayers that had made their own costumes were always happy to talk shop about what pattern they used or how they accomplished a particular technique. It really made me look forward to next year when I’ll be in costume too. I won’t be the hottest girl there, but that’s not why I want to be part of it. I’m most looking forward to sharing my craftsmanship and interpretation of a character.

    • Fuchsia says:

      Dragon*Con is an exceptionally good choice if you’re looking for a nerdly fan love. Some of the kookiest costumes I’ve ever seen, nighttime turns into a freakfest in the best possible way :) Holy Mashup, Batman! *Shameless plug* Next year check out the Puppet Track!!! Come play with us *creepy shining voice*

  2. Raynebow Ashes says:

    You have no idea how much I agree with this.

  3. Yes. It is sad what it has become. I was watching a show about it and a girl was competing who was new to it. She just wanted to have fun spending all hours of her life on her costume only to be shot down when she told the other, more experienced, cosplayers that it doesn’t matter what size or color you are as long as you’re having fun. They all criticized her and made her feel horrible because she isn’t caught up in the mainstream beauty contest like they were….Very sad.

  4. Nicole says:

    I agree at KatsuCon last year I was pregnant and dressed in my Cos anyways. I got slammed for being “fat” by some total …. anyways it totally ruined my weekend and almost made me cry. Why is it that these new to the guys have decided to push their standards on us CosPlay old timers? I don’t understand it.

  5. Jeanne says:

    Oddly enough, I found the arrival of the Star Wars cosplayers similar to your reaction to the mainstream invasion of cosplay. I have never been able to attend the big conventions–the closest I have gotten to that was attending the very first DragonCon in Atlanta, and it was equivalent to my hometown’s ‘big’ convention. So, except for two instances, my con experience has been my relatively small hometown cons, although they can’t really be called ‘local’ cons anymore because people travel so far to get there. Until the arrival of the Star Wars groups, it was a toss-up as to which cosplayer or group of cosplayers would win a contest or become celebrated for their costume/acting. Shortly after the arrival of the Star Wars cosplayers, it was as though no one else’s attempts mattered–the SW groups were the darlings of the con, and suddenly no one was talking about the person who came as a character from x or y little-known book/movie/anime, or the person who didn’t have much money but managed to cobble together a neat outfit, and rarely did anyone other than a Star Wars cosplayer win any contest.
    Don’t get me wrong–I know that many of these people make their own costumes, and really love the genre and love what they do. And I know that many of them are non-judgmental and love to talk shop–just like the beautiful, sexy, true-nerd cosplayer who doesn’t put up with cosplay shaming and some of whom have been there from the beginning. I just find it ironic that I felt about the arrival of the Star Wars cosplay groups as you do about the mainstream cosplayers and their ‘fans’. It made it less fun for me. Luckily, I’ve gotten over that.
    Still, your blog is very well-written. The last cosplay contest I participated in (almost three years ago, now) had numerous entries, with many young cosplayers–mostly in Steampunk outfits–joining in. I ended up having to reassure two young players (they were steampunk saloon-girls) that they had great costumes and to not listen to a long-time cosplayer who thought she knew better than anyone what a steampunk outfit should be and that there were no steampunk saloon-girls; she really tried to marginalize these two teens who had already been excited but really uncertain about joining in, mainly because they were both heavier than the accepted norm–and it didn’t help that the woman chastising them was slender (she was what most people in the SCA call the “authenticity police”–and at this particular con, the core group are SCAers because it grew out of an SCA group’s Christmas/New Years’ party).
    I do hope that things will change. I see more things on-line showing that Hollywood’s version of acceptably cool and beautiful is getting its share of blow-back and that people are becoming more accepting of different types as beautiful even though it doesn’t fit the societal norm. There are numerous ‘pin-up girl’ sites out there showing how beautiful and sexy these different types can be. But the slender model-type beauty standard has developed over decades (take a look at some of the ’40s and ’50s models and stars), and it will probably take a century or more to change it back…at least in the ‘States. Other countries have differing standards which don’t tie weight to beauty, or even popularity and beauty to each other.

    • Dormotavian says:

      I think the same could be said of the iron man costumes. unfortunately that is more about what is trending than mainstream societal standards. for example, there are skinny, fat, beautiful, ugly star wars cosplayers and the fat and ugly get pushed aside the same as the they do in any other form of cosplay. it is sadly the popularity of anything involving armor. people want to see it. the new trend is skyrim. there will always be something new and complicated. but no matter the popularity of the subject matter there will always be the outcasts and that is the point of the article at hand

      • Jeanne says:

        Exactly so. You managed to say it better than I did. It is WHO the outcasts are that changes rather than whether or not non-nerdy types have discovered cosplay. However, at the time of which I was speaking, the short, the ugly (at least, the ones in outfits where their faces could be seen–never saw anyone as fat as I am now at that time), etc. DID get attention. But now it is no longer a trendy thing, and even those who are ‘beautiful’ don’t get as much attention.
        In fact, at that con I mentioned–the last one I attended, those two girls got plenty of attention–not because their costumes were skimpy, because they were actually less skimpy than many of the costumes people were wearing–no more boob than a conservative sweatheart-neckline showed, and everything from there to the knees was covered–but because they had really awesome steampunky costumes. Trendy.

    • Luke says:

      “I found the arrival of the Star Wars cosplayers similar to your reaction to the mainstream invasion of cosplay. ”
      I strongly disagree there. People have been dressing up (read: Cosplay) to movie events / screenings / whatever, since the release of the 2nd (5th) Star Wars movie. It’s not like when people suddenly started dressing up as Star Wars characters, cosplay died. It’s pretty much older than what you refer to as cosplay.

      (I still have fond memories of shaking a mans hand, and he was wearing a perfect Dr. Frankenfurter costume, back when Rocky Horror was being shown EVERYWHERE)

      • Jeanne says:

        And my point was that part of what the writer was complaining about and noting, is more of a major shift in cosplay–it has been there longer than the writer noted, but the cause changes–rather than the core of cosplay itelf changing. Sure there were a few SW characters way back when, mixed in with others from movies and books regardless of how well-known, but suddenly there was an inundation of Star Wars characters, and it changed cosplay AT THAT TIME, just as cosplay ‘going mainstream’ changed it for others, the writer included. And not all of those were fit or of the type the writer mentioned, but they were ALL the darlings of the con. Now there are not as many of them, and they are being treated like the rest of us old cosplayers who don’t fit the new trend.
        There have also always been those who put down cheap-looking costumes, and putting down people who weren’t drop-dead gorgeous. The problem is that apparently these are becoming more brave, more overt, and the snootiness is growing. As I said, the last con I attended was two years ago (almost three, now), and the ONLY one I noted being snooty was the person I mentioned, who had been in cosplay for about ten years at that time. I didn’t state it in that reply, but there were fewer Star Wars characters and many more Steampunk characters (they made up about one-third to one-half of the group).
        I simply found it ironic that her reaction about the craft going mainstream was the same as MY reaction when suddenly there was this inundation (mainly members of the 501st) in my admittedly small, not-exactly-local conventions–only the cause was not sexy bodies in skimpy costume, it was any type of Star Wars character.

  6. mord-sith says:

    I’ll be sharing this, if you don’t mind.
    I wish I was this eloquent! I still cosplay whatever I want though, even if I don’t have a model’s body. Nobody can force me to hide behind a helmet or armour.

  7. frustratedfairy says:

    Good article, luckily here in the UK I don’t think it’s so bad. Yet. As someone who is a tad on the “eaten all the pies” side, i’m glad there is room for everyone still. I do wish there were more female characters to work with from comics/tv/film that were not “hotties”. That’s the way it goes tho I suppose.

    • M says:

      Sadly, it is. At least in the Facebook circles, a lot of the shithead female cosplayers are from the UK :( (Not all, just some drama that has happened recently has been from a few of the better known UK cosplayers)

  8. Agreed! I had a funny experience once where I was supposed to be heading a large cosplay event in London that was being massively covered by the press. My costume had taken around 2 years to make, it was actually my first cosplay ever and I was pretty proud of it. I am by no means hot or skinny but my costume was badass haha. Anyway, to cut a long story short a half naked Riku cosplayer with a cheap costume showed up with her tits out and the press swarmed to her. All newspaper stuff was her front and center while the other guys who obviously spent time and effort on what they were wearing where shoved to the back. Oh society ~
    Yeah she was hot and very pretty, but in terms of costume it wasn’t all that D: To me cosplay is about the craft, not about the boobies.

  9. quigonjon says:

    it’s true, with mainstream culture you just have to sit and wait. The last con i was at I noticed how tired some of the girls were with guys constantly trying to take pictures of them, so I started giving out roses to the ones I took pictures of, which succeeded in cheering them up. But then I got hate for “trying to seduce them”. Just trying to brighten someone’s day. I think it just makes some people feel superior. Or maybe they’re the jealous ones.

  10. Jinns says:

    Excellent article. But as an ACG who’ve had experinced the cosplay phenomenon from ’02-’08, I’ve to disagree with some points and agree with a few people here. We have to go back to the basics. What is your aim of this hobby? To whom do you answer to your passion? I remember my first costume was based on a character I loved, putting time, money and effort to it was a non-issue, the process itself was just as satisfying. The simple thought that I have when I went for the con was to show up as that character, make friends and check out other cosplayers, comic books and artists. Never in my mind crossed the thought of posing for the cameras, I didn’t know there exist photographers/enthusiasts who would come up to you and ask your permission for a snapshot. What? Hey, that’s as close as I could be to a real celebrity, it boosted my ego and confidence, and I learned how to pose and model even though I was nowhere near a star or a model. But the fact remains. I really felt like a star. What next? Autographs?

    That first experience altered my preparations for the next character in the next con. Cosplaying was a way for me to feel pretty, feel important, unique, special, etc, much less mattered on how much I love the character. I don’t have qualms in admitting this – my fellow friends were the same, and I’d daresay most of the cosplayers now are in it for the ’15secs’ of fame. That exhilarating sense of being surrounded by cameras, snapping away while you pose, and getting compliments on not just your costumes, your physical attributes as well, is a kind of ‘high’ that we never received anywhere else. The latest comics, the latest games, latest trend, I didn’t care, as long as I get recognized and praised. After each convention, I would stalk forums to check if anyone posted my photos or talked about me, like ‘who is that girl/guy who cosplayed xx’. I felt really good about myself if I was the center of attention, and felt really bad if I wasn’t; a stark departure away from my first experience – in which I couldn’t cared less about pictures. My aim and passion for the hobby slowly changed, and so is the culture surrounding it – people react and gravitated more towards young, pretty cosplayers with average costumes. If their costumes are awesome, it’s considered perfect. The ones with awesome costumes, you’d better be average looking and have the right body size. The ones with awesome costumes but with a less than desirable physique, be prepared to be ignored or ridiculed. It’s the way humans are, it’s in our instincts.

    With the boom of affordable DSLRs and advent of social media, amateurs and elite photographers suddenly have interesting subject matters who would willingly pose for them, and at times engage their services – of course they too, have their own agendas at hand, namely increasing their own skills and expanding their portfolio. Cosplay has evolved to who’s getting the more likes and attention through settings, photography skills and techniques – while the cosplayers themselves fawn over their own photos in the pretext of artistic values. Our same faces are plastered over many different characters and at one point I asked myself – why? I considered externally how fans would take it, will they be bored? And then it hit me. It became cycle of pride, I didn’t just like cosplaying, I liked the attention that comes with it. The passion; art of costuming, art of make up, art of making weapons, were sometimes cognitive dissonances I made to excuse and distinct myself from other cosplayers that I judged, mostly out of jealousy, non-genuine in their attempts to cosplay. These are the young, pretty cosplayers who steal our ‘well deserved spotlights’, so to speak, and during an event, there are cosplayers who group themselves according to genuinity, genuine cosplayers who doesn’t get enough attention idling about licking each others’ wounds by complimenting and discussing each others’ costumes, all the while hoping someone would initiate them into posing and capture their photos (in which the action will sometimes invite a hoard of other photographers, and then it’s show time! Trust me, there are instances of hostility even, when it comes to who-gets-the-most-attention-from-photographers) Worst is when the young, pretty things seem to dominate magazines, news and articles.. Our effort, money and time seems to be a waste! But herein lies the big question. Since when do spotlights matter so much? Ask yourself why did you enter costuming/cosplaying in the first place. You wouldn’t mind if social media and the public prefers certain aestheticness if it’s all in the name of fun, being with like-minded friends and being geeky over a character for one day. The ‘day-after’ photos, other people’s perceptions, judgemental passings, and etc, wouldn’t matter to you. After all, we are in essence still the ‘uncool kids’ around, still the ones with the weird expensive hobby, what makes you think donning a costume immediately puts yourself above others? I now love and appreciate celebrity cosplayers because they are in fact helping the comics industry thrive. You do not need to keep resisting… Well, can you resist innate instincts? If a cosplayer feels they aren’t age, size or face appropriate, and can’t take critisisms regarding it, I would suggest to work out (it’s great for your health, much the same as our moms kicking us outdoors when they feel we’ve been playing too much games), try different methods of applying make up so to look as acceptable for yourself, or admit that yes, you’re growing older. I’m sure if you as a fan sees a person cosplaying a character 20 years younger or vice-versa, you’d immediately pass judgement on them. Unless they do it for fun! Which is what all this is about. Acceptance is secondary. You’re already accepted in the hearts of the people who’re in it together with you. That sense of rejection is usually perpetuated by your self-perceived inadequateness, which in actuality is not as bad as you think.

    In my humble opinion I feel threads/tumblrs dedicated to less-than-popular cosplayers, or plus-sized cosplayers, only exacerbate the issue – what makes one think they need that validation from public? They’re being handled as if they are helpless, victimized, one feels they didn’t get the attention they deserve. But do they need or crave the attention themselves? Something to think about. I personally didn’t feel the need to get recognized that way, as long as I know I looked good in real life.

    I apologize for the long comment..

    • mortefina says:

      I feel that there may be a few flaws in your interpretation of the post. I think this isn’t about where the spotlight is being directed in so much as when the spotlight is directed by larger society what happens when society starts applying its overall values to those of the subculture. Yes criticism has always been present, but why should a person need to work out (or what if they are working out and that is just their body type, for all intent they could be healthy and still be a size 10 or 14, why does size and fitness matter?) to accommodate an interpretation of a character?

  11. robertm says:

    Have a blast being in 501st and yes while I have ran across a few “elite” folks who get snobby, I am actually friends with the legion founder on a personal level. He is nowhere near accurate anymore, not a soul will say a word to him!

    as for shape body type, I tell people I am perfect. A sphere is a perfect object with no beginning and no end. As I am closest to spherical shape and not one of the other body types it means I am perfect just the way I am.!

  12. Dylan Wech says:

    I commend you on putting into words what so many have been thinking but have had difficulty articulating. I have struggled with the changes that have appeared in the cosplay scene of late, On one had I’m a red blooded male who’s supposed to love boobs and ass and all the sexiness right? Yet I have a creative soul that get’s a massive kick out of seeing something pulled from the imagination of a costumer into reality.
    If I’m truly honest I get a little tired of the constant need to ‘sex’ up costumes. Whereas at first it was rare and an amusing novelty it’s just so overdone now and it’s kinda just become passe. I would much rather see a serious attempt at a costume than a good costume with the boobs exposed so that…well, the boobs can be on show. It’s almost like they don’t want to commit to making a true attempt at the costume so they distract through titillation. I’d have far more respect for a technically brilliant costume.
    As for body type, being honest again, I’ll admit that sometimes I inwardly cringe at people’s costume choices…BUT I would never disparage or shame any Cosplayer that was enjoying their fandom.
    In fact I truly believe that it is the rich tapestry of great, terrible, average and OMFG RLY!? costumes that make the scene such an interesting place to dwell.
    Imagine if every costume was of an elite level? There would be a hell of a lot of good costumes around…and it would be boring as fuck.
    I’m not perfect, never will be but I take issue with any pissmidget that thinks they have the right to pick and choose who gets to be involved with our culture based on some arbitrary criteria they’ve conjured up.
    We’re strong because we’re different and nobody does different like us. ;)
    Vive la différence!

  13. Ryuudan says:

    nice text. although I don`t agree with you in the way you say that old timers are getting marginalized. ok, I’m not from the US, I’m from Brazil and currently living in Japan. never been to a con in the US, but our conventions in Brazil are just like the same thing that you described and what we see in videos, just in cheaper places. I myself am an old timer in cosplay since i’ve into it for 11 years now. well maybe not that old, but before it hit mainstream. (cosplay hipster LOL) Anyway, I think cosplayers were ALWAYS marginalized as you said, just so happens now, that a FEW ones are not marginalized ANYMORE. So that’s why you would get the “jealous hater” coming from even tough you don’t mind this, you somehow implied that hot girls are a cause for you being marginalized in your “territory”. Now, I dont think that, I get what you are saying.
    I can only see good things for cosplay hitting mainstream. whoever cosplays just for the fun will continue doing the same thing unaffected for the hating, because now the hating is much smaller and even conforting. Before, you would get the kind of hatting to be into cosplay that could even get you fired of your job. You would be the creepy and crazy person that likes to dress up and costumes and play like a kid. Now you are seen as a cosplayer and people respect that this is a well known hobby. maybe they will hate you for not meeting their standards, but even then is better than being outcast off society as a whole.

  14. Manchii says:

    Hello Im Manchii Im a Sudo Celebrity for many years, I have watch cosplay change and change, I started Cosplaying at Age 14 im now 40. Yeah 26 years of cosplay, I Crossplay , Have larped , Built Armor Is considered a master prop builder ,Im not very vocal online, yet all at Florida cons know me. Im 6’4 kinda fat and certainly not a attractive woman. I have always cosplayed what I want when I want , as should everyone.

    The thing is your right with the addition of “Cosplay Heros” to TV Cosplay has slipped further in a few days than it ever moved in years. But as you mentioned it will revert back to NERDS only ,Just like all fashion. Ive watched and been part of this ever changing culture so long I expect it to do stuff like this time to time. Much like the Naruto phase it will come to pass.

    This year Ive been Slack and my popularity which i dont much care about has slacked as well , it is the fault of how these celebrity cosplayers sell themselves very very much so.

  15. Heather says:

    It’s an interesting debate however, I don’t think there was ever really a time when conventions and cosplay were all accepting, they just had a different hierarchy. See, I was on the wrong side of the debate for years and locally even started a “Mundane is not a 4 letter word” and “I <3 my Mundane" campaign because I married into the world of fandom. I was a minor celebrity performing at cons and genuinely enjoyed my time, and because I wanted to be supportive I immersed myself in that world, though I had truly a mainstream background and a mainstream interest. And for a long time I was shunned, though I did not judge or degrade anyone. And I've watched over the years professional costumers lambasting behind their backs others whose workmanship wasn't up to their standard, or whose attention to detail was off or who simply didn't agree with their choice based on their body or personality type. So I think yes, it is going in the wrong direction which a focus on beauty (though it is in large part fans who post these photos so it is fans who are making that distinction not media-media follows trends, they don't seek out the story anymore). The popularity ladder has always existed in fandom; there were always those who were marginalized or degraded or looked down on, its just that the hierarchy is becoming mainstream as nerd culture is becoming cool. And nerd girls are considered a hot new trend. But gentlemen, smart was always sexy. It just wasn't always as glossily packaged.

  16. Chris says:

    Was a true pleasure to read, and as a male cosplayer who’s been around for a while I could not agree more with everything you said! Thanks for sharing!

  17. D-rock says:

    Rome rose – Rome fell
    Ice Age – Global Warming
    Mozart – Jay Z

    Life is about change now as it has been forever. There’s no reason to think the same should not apply to cosplay. Certainly you must admit that the “nerdists” in the community were perhaps living on borrowed time. Most of the characters they emulate are hyper masculine / feminine in nature. It was only a matter of time before this reality made it’s way to the forefront. Embrace the change and cherish the memories of what once was. This is what good documentaries are made of. Undoubtedly there’ll be new nerdist frontiers that will emerge. In the meantime join the ranks of us that despair that between comic book / vampire trilogies and Tyler Perry’s latest we can’t find a decent movie at the theater and we have to walk the city streets among grown men that insist on showing the world their underwear. Change – sometimes it sucks.

    -D-

  18. Tygor1 says:

    This is a very well written article, and I agree with all of the points you made. I haven’t been to a con (yet!) nor have I done a cos-play event either, though I was thinking about doing it in the next couple of months. I am excited to read and see when there are other cosplayers who talk about the skill and craftsmanship of making their costume, because that really is an inspiration to not only me, but to those who look forward to doing this.

    I must point out that another culprit in this that I seemed to have missed from your post: the convention organizers themselves. I recently saw pictures of a con (can’t remember which one) where the winner was a really fit guy dressed like Marvel Comic’s Nova (the newer version). He looked great, the costume, the electronics on it, the spandex, etc…He apparently won first place (not really sure, but he did win something, based on the photos). I wondered, with no disrespect to him or anyone else who is fit, if someone where a bit heavier and had the exact same suit, would he/she have won? Is winning the point? It shouldn’t be, because it should be about the craft. The heavy guy should get as much attention as the fit guy. Would the convention organizers recognize this, and stick to rewarding craftspeople, or just the “shell” of a cosplayer? Would they help promote the heavier guy, or just say “close, but no cigar” because he had a few more inches around his waist?

    I think it is all subjective, but as most people have commented here, it is best that we as a community recognize ALL cosplayers in anything AND everything they do. To me, this is another art form that has its uniqueness, and you can tell the people who love what they do as a passion as opposed to someone who’s “looking to win” a contest.

  19. Secret Identity says:

    Being a long time fan who had a costume way back in the late 70s to early 80s I can certainly see your point. I have never had a great body but being able to dress in my version of a Star Wars costume back in the day made me feel great. Though no one ever took photos of me in that home made costume. When a friend and I made a Tusken Raider costume we were deluged with people wanting to take our photo. But, again, like armor, the costume was big and bulky and the photos were because there weren’t many like it at the time.

    I guess what I want to say is I miss that. And I am frustrated that you miss that too. I think you very eloquently point out that mainstream isn’t bad. But their attitude can be.

    Maybe the solution is to call them out on it. I would no more allow someone to point a finger at a kid in a wheel chair and say he’s odd, than allow someone to condemn a cosplayer because he or she doesn’t fit what the view thinks they should look like.

    Maybe we should all take a page from your comments and do as you do. That is to say call them as you see them. When someone says something negative, call them on it. To their face. Maybe we need to take back cosplay, not in not allowing mainstream to join in, but to let them know that this is our (and I am probably speaking more generally of fandom even) playground. These are our rules. You’re welcome to have fun, but throwing sand in someone’s face is going to get you ejected from the sand box.

    Thank you for this post. Thank you for being open about it, and I hope that we’ll see some better behaved people in fandom in general and cosplay in particular. Your article almost makes me want to get back into costume.

  20. DigitalGeisha says:

    Sadly this happens when ANYthing that is a sub culture gets mainstream attention. Comics, D&D, Streampunk, Cosplay, Gaming. I would not say it is ‘ruined’ by the mainstream attention but damage is done. The good thing about mainstream is it is fickle and always needs something ‘new’ and the ‘old’ is forgotten. Those of us who have been cosplayers just need to ride the BS out and in time the mainstream will move on and things will go back to normal. It will be a bit of a bumpy road but that is alright. Maybe we will learn a few lessons, better ourselves and that will be that.

  21. lacewing says:

    I’ve had a similar experience years ago. Though my costume had been a bit more last minute (I went to visit some friends of mine, they had a trigun group and decided to drag me along as their milly.) We ran down to a couple local stores, managed to put together a rather good costume (and I borrowed someone elses long coat) the 6 of us spent have the night putting together a stun gun and I had a wonderful time the next day wandering around with a fantastic wolfwood and posing for pictures. It was only my second time trying cosplay, but I had a blast and our group even got a couple prizes.
    But the media of that con was all over one girl, who literally like a couple hours before the con got some booty caller shorts and suspenders (they had to have her put on bandages over her nipples before letting her come into the con) and a hat and came as the comic version of Chocolate from Sorcerer Hunters. Mine was rather put together last minute, but I at least TRIED. She didn’t even KNOW the character she was cosplaying (I asked her. Just a “Hey which is your favorite character from the series? I really loved carrot” She literally told me she didn’t watch anime or read magna (she was pretty derogatory towards anyone who did) she just wanted a sexy costume. Nothing wrong with that, but it made pretty much the whole con of cosplayers feel pretty angry when we had two other Chocolate cosplayers, one of who did an AMAZING anime version of the character and another who was in her non-bondage gear who got pretty much ignored and the second girl got told she could go home because she did not match the bootycaller’s hotness.
    This was like over 10 years ago, so the modern stuff really isn’t new, just more extreme. I’m just glad there are still poeple fighting to change that.

  22. Kitsune_masenko says:

    It is really sad what all of it has become. I was ready to give up cosplay after negative backlash over what was dubbed my”Fat Rinoa” in the cosplay community. This year I dropped 40 lbs (for health reasons, not because of small minded jerks) and cosplayed something skimpy this year. I got a crazy amount of attention, but it was the wrong kind. It seems like unless you show boob, you’re cast aside anymore. Nobody paid any attention to the handmade weapons I made, or the hand made jewelery and accessories. It was all about boobs. Knowing this now I don’t think I’ll ever cosplay a female character again, because I would rather be recognized for my skill and my passion for the anime characters I’m portraying rather than my body. Thank you for sharing this and inspiring real cosplayers to keep going!

  23. Headhunter says:

    If I may just reply. I complained when all the little tumblr girls were getting into Black Metal and didn’t know a single god damned thing about it, or they would study the fuck out of it and challenge you on your knowledge. Everyone gave me shit and called me a Hipster for complaining about everyone stealing something I loved from me. So, I’m going to do the same thing. Your favorite thing is going to become a fad one day, accept it, and get over yourself.

  24. Bert Le says:

    Hello, thank you for writing this article. It’s really a great read for anyone with any involvement with cosplay, no matter how deep or shallow their involvement is.

    Though I do agree that mainstream has turned cosplay into a beauty contest, I do think there is some good that has occurred. I have seen some people really become determined to get into shape and have when they have failed many times before. I guess you can say there is some silver lining in the madness of objectification.

    But before I go any further, I would like to applaud you for finding a pillar in the paradigm shift of cosplay. All the crazy surface drama that garners so much attention is really a red herring in all of this mess. To see the core issues gives the community a fighting chance to preserve their little slice of paradise.

    I look at this as a resource battle. Beauty needs more land to control and they threw in a few sleeper cells and now the cosplay community in which they have invaded can’t trust each other.

    My idea of a solution is to take away the money. Many cosplayers know that the hobby isn’t cheap. They should also know that many people don’t make a living on cosplay. I think mainstream culture has moved in because there’s money to be made and that so many dreams lie in on “making it” that the playing ground has shifted to beauty and objectification rather than craftsmanship. I mean really, nothing wrong with that because I love the fact that we now an avenger’s movie. I think the issue is that there are some people who put on a costume in hopes to be praised and be sponsored like some supermodel working on sports illustrated. Sure, that’s a great goal if that’s what you want to do, but I think you’d cut out alot of people doing it for the fame when they think it’s a possible career choice.

    I have not seen heroes of cosplay, but I’d be very interested to have a more realistic view on cosplay displayed. Like how much they deal with bullying, what benefits do they really get for working at a booth, basically a pro and con to being in that community. Though I’m not sure how many people would watch such a documentary, I know I would and I think that may be a first step in causing another paradigm shift to have a more accepting and fun crowd.

    If there’s no money in it, the only people who would do it are they people who have the love for it. That’s just my opinion though and maybe I’m wrong and the kings and queens of cosplay are pulling in 7 figures. But I have a hunch they aren’t.

  25. FADE says:

    As a male cosplayer of less than perfect body, I approve of this whole heartedly. I am part of a tight-nit community in the upper mid-west and we’ve been observing the same trend for some time now where people are noticing beautiful women (and men) so much more for their bodies than their craftsmanship. Some personal friends of mine are among the “beautiful” crowd and they can’t stand it when they are only recognized for their bodies. The “great abs” comments are their least favorite among those that actually comment on the craftsmanship of the costume around their abs. It’s disappointing, watching a girl who is showing off her assets in a costume that she may have spent a good three hours working on get more recognition than a costume that I or any of my friends may have put 100+ hours and hundreds of dollars into crafting and obtaining the right materials to be as accurate as possible. But such is life.

  26. DarthVader1 says:

    I completely agree with you. Another similar situation happens in costume contests, where the girl wins, when she didn’t do a main part or most of the work, but the husband instead (not mentioning any names).

  27. I love this article. I’m definitely a cosplayer and I’ve been really proud of all the cosplays I’ve made and I’ve had a lot of wonderful compliments at cons and such, but I have definitely noticed what you are saying in this article happening. I’m ashamed to admit I used to be the kind of person who judged peoples’ cosplay badly if they were not “pretty,” but I’ve changed hugely since then and I am sad to see that people still do it. I also admit that I have sometimes been a bit jealous of these “famous” cosplayers with facebook pages and hundreds of followers. It’s sad that other cosplayers are getting pushed to the margins.

    I’m going to keep supporting cosplayers of all shapes and sizes and continue enjoying cosplaying to the full extent and hopefully we’ll pound it into peoples’ heads that cosplay is for everyone, not just the beautiful people.

  28. dmb says:

    I understand the sentiment of the article, but I think it generally fails to acknowledge that the source material of the cosplay usually involved beautiful idealized characters anyway. Generally, beautiful cosplayers are going to get the attention because they just -represent- better. From superheroes to Star Trek, the world of fantasy and sci-fi dominated by beauty and perfection. Perhaps people should question what they are idolizing sometimes.

  29. Pao says:

    WELL BUNK THAT.

    I agree that there’s nothing we can do to change it, and (from what I understand) I TOTALLY with you on the whole “Just let it happen” thing

    I just have to say that there are MANY, SO GODDAMN MANY AWESOME cosplays done by people you would not expect to do. I’d love to post examples, but adhering to your theme of “no posting links”, I won’t.

    You’ll be surprised.

  30. Daryn Brown says:

    Hail the 501st! Vaders Fist.

    Yours is the kind of cosplay i want to do. Because to me cosplay means COSTUME! Not
    bikini or G-string or sexy pikachu or Lady Thor with cut-off armor and a sexy Mjolnir if that is
    even possible. I want to see creativity, imagination and things brought to life, not watch
    Comic-con turn into the happening event where celebrities hob nob with movie producers
    and…oh yeah..right.

    Sigh**

  31. Buzz Ryan says:

    You know me. So you know you are not going to get an intellectual well thought out response.

    There is really no play in cosplay and that annoys the piss out of me. LARPers for years have been dressing up and getting into their parts and they never get credit for playing around.

    I remember walking out of the Ram at two in the morning during Star Wars Celebration 3 and running into a Wookie on an Indianapolis street corner and thinking “This shit is real!” Now that was play.

    I believe you have to live in your own skin and you sister have some fine ass skin particularly that bit wrapping your skull!

    When someone is trying to get me to judge my insides based on their outsides all I can do is shake my head and have pity. Mercy if they aren’t being a dick about it, but pity none the less.

    Maybe my problem is I am not given to celebrity. I don’t get it personally and that is just me. If an entertainers job is to entertain me then entertain me. I pay for the movies, plays, books, music, and DVDs. Our arrangement is complete. Stroking an ego or fawning over the acknowledgment of someone famous isn’t in the contract.

    …. I keep thinking I should get on topic but why start now…..

    You are a rock star my friend. You give to your family, your friends, your community and me. You are among the pretty people when you are with your crew ‘cos ya know… You are what you hang out with.

    I really hope something here made sense…..

    Nothing but love.

    Buzz

  32. Mike Abundo says:

    The existence of singing celebrities doesn’t stop people from singing for self-expression.

    Read that again and replace singing with cosplay.

  33. Christine says:

    Thank you for your words! I find myself feeling quite the same without being able to eloquently express myslef. :) I use to cosplay in middle school & high school (many moons ago) and in college there started to be a shift. I like to pick things that I’m more covered up in….but at cons & events if you aren’t showing skin (or leg or cleavage) no one really pays any attention. *not that showing skin is a bad thing or that it’s all about the attention. But you could have an epic costume with hours, $ and heart put into it..but if there isn’t skin involved will it really get the attention it may deserve? Like you I don’t know how to go back, or what the next steps are to move forward. All I can hope is that it just gets better and girls who don’t fit the look don’t lose faith. MTFBWY Christine

  34. Luckily for myself I haven’t run across anyone who has fat-shamed me while I’ve been cosplaying. I don’t know if it’s because Megacon – which is the con I go to most – and Supercon – horribly run but close to home and they get great guests – tends to get a better group of guys, or because I cosplay characters that most people don’t recognize anyway. I tend to deliberately choose obscure characters, because it’s most gratifying for me when 5 people out of thousands stop me and are like, OMG I can’t believe you DID that, it’s AWESOME! (Ie, Ultrawoman from the one Episode of Lois and Clark where Lois got Superman’s powers.) Or if it’s because I simply don’t choose characters that wear clothing I’m not comfortable wearing. It could be that because I choose characters that weren’t already skimpily dressed, I don’t get the same attention others who do choose those costumes get.

    Either way, I still support what you’re saying. Unfortunately, cons have become almost like amusement parks. People bring their children – wearing Marvel or DC shirts mostly – and have cameras around their necks, ready to take pictures home to show people: “Look what I did over the weekend, and it was cheaper than Disney!”

    If we’re going to change the attitude of nerds, shouldn’t we make sure that we’re also trying to change the attitudes of the people coming in just for the spectacle?

  35. Kate says:

    I love this. I can’t express in words how much I love this. I am an amateur cosplayer, and have only done three costumes to date because of time and money constraints, but the few times I have donned a costume I have gotten the usual mixed reaction. My personal favorite costume was my first ever, and I cross-played for it. Oh my God, the feedback was harsh! I was shocked when I had people, presumably other nerds like me, tell me I shouldn’t be dressed as a guy when I was a girl. Add to that the irony that my character was a bishonen cross-dresser, and it just takes on a whole new level of wtf. Another time, I was criticized not for being the wrong gender, but because I was wearing my glasses and my character didn’t have glasses.

    Some people are just closed-minded jerks.

    I will, however, honestly admit that I have been on the other side of the fence too. I would never, EVER tell someone their costume looks terrible or that they don’t look like the character, but there are times I can’t help but think, “Damn, s/he REALLY shouldn’t be trying to pull that off.” I feel bad because I know it’s cruel, but then I remind myself that these people are doing the same thing I am: dressing up and having fun. And that’s really all that matters.

    Because I can’t afford cons nowadays, I get my cosplay fix when Halloween rolls around. I always go all out with my costume and, no matter what comments I get, I always keep a chin up and grin. Recently, I did my own take on Medusa (original mythology), opting for snake-eye contacts with some serpentine make-up and wild green hair. Only once did someone try to “correct” my costume by telling me that Medusa was supposed to have snakes for hair. I didn’t even have to respond as someone else called him out for not even wearing a costume.

    This year, I have my first professionally made costume to wear, and my roommate (a professional photographer) insists on taking pictures. I’ve given him permission to share these, since they are his work, and I’m fully prepared for any hateful comments that might be coming my way. In the end, all I intend to do is dress up, get into character, and have fun!

  36. just testing. ive tried several times to comment but of course murphys law may make it work now that i want to see the error message

  37. Setsu says:

    What do we do if we want to cosplay a sexy character but we don’t have the ‘right’ body type? Is there a place in the cosplay culture for us to do what we want, or will we be overwhelmingly rejected by those we perceive as our people?

    I’ve made a bare-midriff costume and realized I don’t have the stomach for it, and I just had my appendix out (so there’s some fresh wounds). I’ve been looking up armor tutorials, which led me to pro-cosplay sites, and now I’m in the middle of a crisis of confidence. Help.

  38. Moose says:

    Finally, someone who has written down everything I’ve been thinking over the past decade as being a nerd has become trendy. I was going to say “socially acceptable” but that’s not the case as bullying in schools is at an all-time high.
    I’m tired of seeing the kids, who, picked on me and tried to humiliate me when I was younger, falling into this “nerd fad”. They all of a sudden like comics (or the movies based off them) and certain video games or manga/anime and even go out of their way to wear faux-glasses.
    “Oh, wait, I’m sorry, did you just put on glasses to mock my lack of vision, of which you use to pick on me for in grade school?!”

    I miss comic-con, when it wasn’t about the big corporations and their TV series’ that make it so easy for someone to hope into a fandom. I miss designing/making my whole cosplay outfit, before people could just walk into Hot Topic , grab a hat and call their cosplay they “made”.

    Anyway, I rode off into a tangent. Thank you VERY much for this blog post. I will be sharing it amongst my brethren, lol!

  39. Linda Lambert says:

    Thank you – this is a wonderful article and touches and old “veteran” of the Con’s, One has to grow a thick skin at cons, and its about having fun-do you love your character? My latest is “Lin Beifong” she is my age and super awesome. I also come armed with a camera and have learned to forgo the sour looking, vain people who act like they are doing you a favor by stopping, so you can take a picture, because they of course know they look perfect. I have many albums and they are filled with smiling people, having a wonderful time. My army of cosplayer friends has grown larger, and for those that are not confident, get together with your homies and make group cosplays- the wow factor is amazing! We love this and its amazing to introduce a whole cast of characters who have not seen the series or show! I always remember and sometimes run up to people who are from something I recognize as being obscure- it makes my day, and usually theirs to recognize and be recognized, and usually get a photo for my collection of someone with a big smile and a wonderful cosplay!- and yes, my son is in love with a girl he met at one con, she has since been Astrid to his Hiccup (their mom’s were of course, Toothless and Stormfly) and Rapunzel to his Flynn, in Tangled… me, Mother Gothel of Course! To think it started with Isaac and Miria from Baccanno and we had ten of us playing different characters from that show.

  40. Linda Lambert says:

    Hey, just googled, Toothless and Stormfly Cosplay and we were the number one pic- someone must love our imperfect non professional bodies!

  41. Andrea says:

    I hope my input is acceptable here. ^^ I’m relatively new to cosplay, but have been attending conventions for a little over a decade now. I see cosplayers everywhere I go and honestly I LOVE to see elaborate, brightly colored, metallic, detailed, not-so-detailed, furry, steampunk, old school, and anything I can think of costumes! But…I am unfortunately disappointed as well with the direction female cosplayers are going. I went to a convention this past weekend and about 90% of the women there were in skimpy outfits and fawned on by male photographers who focused on the T&A and even some of the ladies were purposely posing so their ahem…”assets” were hanging out. Seriously, when I go looking for cosplay photos of the events I attended, I want to see costumes that were made to give homage to the character which they are playing. I ended up being drawn to the mecha suits of Pacific Rim or Captain Jack Sparrow, Samara from the Ring films, and the people wielding giant weapons!
    I personally am not a “hot chick,” but a pretty average girl who is working to finishing losing some weight. I dropped about 100lbs and have a bit to go. However, when I do reach that goal, I will continue to wear costumes that pay tribute to my favorite characters like 2004 animated Joker from The Batman. He has so little love in the DC universe that I NEEDED to bring him to life! I’m glad I did because I’ve never been swarmed so much with cameras the last 2 cons I attended. I’m completely hidden and when the audience realizes there’s a woman under the mask, there’s a wide range of gasps and omgs! I get the last laugh, so to speak. ;) I’ll take scaring small children and “Oh my god I love your costume because he’s so underrated!” over looking sexy for attention any day!!! XD

    http://carnalclown.deviantart.com/art/Joker-and-Bane-429818550

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