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.

Image

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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185 thoughts on “The Problem with Cosplay Celebrity

  1. Ashu Cullen says:

    I think i just found my hero in life 😀
    *hugs* thank you

  2. If there is any group that can over come such issues a this then I strongly believe it is the nerd/cosplay community.
    I have never felt more comfortable in my entire life as when I am surrounded by like minded, nerdy individuals and they have always been thee most understanding, accepting and diverse group to be a part of.

  3. rogue says:

    I agree with your oppinion, and it is just not female cosplayers that have that twisted beuty standars. We males have them to, I cosplayed a guy and a person told me that I wasnt fit or didnt have enough muscles to cosplay him. this is a huge problem becouse it was my first time cosplaying something and I felt that I didnt really look like the guy I cosplayed. I was so many people at the con that was in diffrent shape, sex and so on and they all looked so amazing. cosplay is for fun and for showing what your favorite nerd character is and so on. keep voicing your opinion it is gold worth.

    sincerly a new cosplay nerd.

    • Pandora says:

      My first time cosplaying was as succubus from WoW because I love the mythology about them and loved WoW. Went to blizzcon and had a blast, later on found a website with a picture of “booth girls” that was captioned “They were paid to be here” and then a picture of me captioned “She was paid to leave” Honestly I didn’t cosplay for the next 6 years it was so hurtful. Then I grew up a little more and realized they could go to hell because I was going to do what I loved and no ones douchy opinions were going to stop me.

      I don’t care who looks like what, so long as you have a passion for the character you’re cosplaying as then more power to you because it takes guts to put yourself out there like that. 🙂

      • I dug up the pictures you mentioned and you’re beautiful – prettier than the two booth girls pictured quite honestly. The whole blog seems to be written by someone who is trying desperately to be funny when he’s not naturally talented at it. Look at the rest of the pics – great cosplay all around but he strained to find something negative to say about them all, and about Blizzcon as a whole.

      • Mark Bardney says:

        If the photo you are referring to has you wearing purple ears and wings, then were the guys who wrote the article smoking crack? If that is you, all I can say is you are gorgeous!

      • Lee Kent says:

        Honestly I would really like to know as well If the photo you are referring to has you wearing purple ears and wings? If so I have gotta agree 100% with Mark on this one, I have no idea what they are talking about, you look great 🙂

  4. Dave says:

    I think a lot of this has to do with the rise of the super hero movies. A lot of the movie heroines have costumes that are painted on.

    There are a lot of great costumes that women can look great in that aren’t (or don’t have to be overly sexualized). Sailor Moon. Zoey from Firefly. Steampunk pretty much anything and so on.

    But yes, scantily clad in spandex or latex and hot (in a conventional sense) *does* get a lot of attention and overshadows the rest.

  5. pyr8kng says:

    You just summed up what my wife and I have been talking about. Now that the cool kids are doing it, it’s not fun any more. Thank you for your eloquence!

    • George says:

      Exactly- it quit being fun when the non-nerds muscled in on our party. But they had to embrace us, so they could openly play “Fantasy Football” and not look like dweebs (to each other).

  6. MLZ says:

    A very interesting read. I agree that there is no simple solution. A reformation in societal culture may take decades to occur if any action is put forth to change it, or it may never occur even with action. Like you said, we’ll have to wait it out and see what happens.

  7. Cecilia says:

    I’ve been in the cosplay community since 1999 and have seen many changes, not all of them good sadly. A lot of the pure fun of dressing up and being a ‘nerd’ as you say has gone out of it now that our ‘nerdy geek culture’ has become mainstream and accepted.If your costume isn’t ‘absolutely show perfect accurate’ or your boobs don’t hang out it seems you are overlooked despite the fact that you are an unique version being character D or form D to the hundreds of version A or an adorable child who cobbled his/her costume themselves with the help of mom/dad

    As for ‘the cosplay celebrity’, it used to be about the costumes, craftmanship and then the person. Now it seems it’s more about what the person looks like, how they look, T&A (that is how much skin they show), modeling, and then about the costume. Gone is the accuracy of what the costume is, let alone character itself. (I used to know one of the celebrities back in my starting days. She’s still out there. She was popular for for her costumes and craftsmanship, now? She’s popular for all that you ‘hate’ and in a series. I will not name her.)

    thank you for stating so nicely why I don’t go to many cons anymore or make 7 costumes a year despite have a blast when I do go and cosplay.

    • Right there with you. I spend most of my time making costumes for other people since I don’t “fit in with the beautiful people” anymore, those who have invaded costuming.

  8. MLZ says:

    I’m curious to see if you noticed a small flaw in one of your assumptions: that marginalization never happened in the past and that it was never an issue. “I don’t have a solution. I don’t think one exists.”

    Marginalization has happened at every level, from the safe nerdy community of the past which you reminisce about, to the most mainstream cool convention that you speak about today. The only difference is that we are now able to see marginalization happen more clearly with the help of social media. Mainstream culture tapping into the community is certainly an additional external factor that doesn’t help the situation. We’ve barely evolved our most important societal cultures, such as civil rights, over the past century (depending on what country you’re from). Reforming things like “concepts of celebrity, oppressive beauty standards, and the commodification of goods” will take even longer, if ever at all in the time we live on Earth! Has it ever changed?

    Marginalization of groups will come and go as people rise and fall from the spotlight due to changing trends, but it will always occur and will be pointed out by the people it affects the most and by the objective spectators and bystanders.

    We are able to idolize cosplayers more easily with the help of social media. But we as human beings have always idolized people, we’ve always marginalized groups ourselves. The problem is the human nature of the people we see in the mirror. We don’t change unless we all change. Individual change is trivial and in vain. That’s why societal values and culture is so impossibly hard to change over time. Even civil rights was incredibly hard fought for with so much pain and suffering. Can you imagine changing the “concepts of celebrity, oppressive beauty standards, and commodification of goods” in our capitalistic world? Unless it is changed by force, it will not happen anytime soon, especially when the results of those changes causes people to lose out on money and part of their livelihoods gained through exploiting these topics.

    • Gale says:

      This this this! Now granted, I feel that the way out community currently treats cosplay “celebrity” is having some very toxic side-effects, I really do not see how marginalization is all that much worse than it ever has been. It’s just much more visible. Truth be told, I’ve been doing this for 10 years and in my personal experience this year I have had more experiences to restore my faith in the community and feel more welcome than ever before. When it comes to the Internet, as much idolizing as the concept of “fan pages” and social media has caused, in the past year it’s helped me create and foster countless new friendships with other costumers. Now, maybe I’m just lucky, but I honestly do not see the community in as bleak or precarious a position as the OP describes. Not to belittle the issues described, because they do exist, but all the same there are some great positives going on in the community right now.

      I’m particularly curious about the OP’s comment about not being willing to wear certain costumes anymore. Why is this? Is it a fear of being teased? Or sexually harassed? I find that really sad, because as many times as I’ve gotten negative attention I’ve gotten just as much if not more positive attention for my creations. And when it comes to the age old issue of sexual harassment, a great deterrent (while its unfortunate its necessary) is safety in numbers. Maybe sometimes it requires a bit more effort, or you sometimes have to have a thick skin, but if you love a character you really shouldn’t feel you have to hold back.

    • I am also a member of the 501st and even that group has been divided into groups of the elite down to the sub par. Many of the members are just as socially awkward as they were in middle school and just have bigger budgets. The elitist members go out of their way to make those with lesser skills and less attractive facades feel just as inadequate as the popular kids did to us back in middle and high school. The group has over organized and over commercialized the hobby until those of us who got into it for the fun of sharing our passion for the characters and costumes and the community service aspects feel stifled or are pushed out over one feigned rule violation or something when it really is a matter of the upper echelon subjugating the lower ranks. It seems like it is human nature to always have someone trying to set the pecking order no matter what the activity is throughout the history of the world. I’ve been costuming for over 20 years and the changes I’ve seen are disappointing. I am glad that costuming has become an acceptable pastime, but it saddens me to see how those of us less fortunate with our looks are still bullied and subjugated by those who are supposed to be our peers.

      As to the programming I’ve seen supposedly showing off our “Heroes” of costuming (I refuse to use “Co-splay” to describe it), these are not the heroes, they are merely some of the “faces” of the hobby and the ones who do it for professional gain. The heroes, in my opinion are those who go to the hospital rooms and fund raisers and personal visits that many of us go on for causes not for competition funds. So many of us spend oodles of dollars to make these appearances for the joy that it brings to the recipients of our time spent with them in costume. They don’t care that their favorite character is a little skinnier or fluffier than their celebrity heroes, only that they took the time to entertain them in their darkest hours. That has yet to be even alluded to on these programs and that is sadly, some of the most memorable and heart filling moments of the hobby.

      • TI4884 says:

        I agree to a point about your observations of the “statuses” in the 501st. I’ve noticed it in other garrisons, and across the Legion as a whole.

        However, I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of a very awesome garrison, and most of the 501st members I’ve met have been really awesome.

        And…overall, even the “less elite” costumes are pretty darned good.

  9. jeldi says:

    Thank you so much for this post! This confirms everything that I have felt over the last several years. I’m a non-competitive geek at heart and have cosplayed for 15 years and I am truly saddened by the fact that status and beauty is a high factor for a cosplayers so much more now. I have been bullied and ridiculed for well made costumes because I’m “too old” or “weigh too much”, and yet others who are not into the beauty fad gush over how beautifully done my costumes are. It is a rollercoaster at a convention not knowing how a new costume is going to be received. I sometimes get the impression that some people think, “Those are awesome cosplays, too bad they are wasted on someone who isn’t sexy or perfect.”

  10. Anon says:

    OK a i agree with u on all points, but the problem is now what con owners are doing to rape the art of cosplay- for instance one coni know of is having a swimsuit competition,no cosplay just swimsuits, um why? and for all intents and purposes now cosplay has become way to sexualized. and i know u say that the “beautiful people” who now go to many cons and want to be celebrity cosplayers sometime in the future are fans, but most that i have talked to are not, some didnt even know who it was they were cosplaying and many just said they were there for the drinking and partying. This is a PROBLEM. And say what you want about the celebrities, but the fact remains a lot of them had work done and i have talked to some cosplayers that want work done to just b/c of celebrity worship, plastic surgery for cosplay is stupid and makes me think celebrities are not the “nerds” they confess to be but do it for attention. And the wrong kind of attention at that – there is one famous cosplay model that went from a B to a DD- thats not for the sake of cosplay im sorry, and what about the rise of cosplay porn and cosplay stripping and eroge shows, This is where cosplay is not consent groups should take a stand cuz when u dress up primarily to attract guys for sexuality as your reasons, ur are not a cosplayer anymore in my eyes, yo are worker in the adult industry and are using something that seems “in” to make money and give yourself an attention filled ego. and the fact that con owners are now using this to bring in the wrong kind of asshole ppl to cons to make more money sickens me, sorry for all the ranting.

    • ZeBollo says:

      I staff for a convention that runs a swimsuit competition, and has for several years before a lot of this became such a hot button issue… hell our garrison of the 501st is even in on it with a storm trooper walking out each and every contestant. Do you have any idea why every year said storm troopers insist that the get to do random little thing that really impacts nothing? Because it’s all in good fun. Men and women of every size, shape and color walk on that stage in swimwear both in, or out of character because they’re having fun. Fun fact to my knowledge we dont even offer prizes for the swimsuit competition, it’s purely meant for fun.

      And here’s another one for ya, this same con also runs a ‘dating auction’ every year that anyone and everyone participates in again to have fun and meet new people. Keep in mind this is a ‘dating auction’ in name only as when it’s all over the participants, and the buyers all go to a room for like an hour and generally just all socialize, play games, have conversations, and hang out, there is nothing sexual to this and anybody who tries to pressure another person in to any such thing will be removed from the con entirely. Yes actual money does change hands, and every single penny of said money is then put towards next years convention… yes, this is a fund raiser, one that we participate in because again its all in good fun! Nobody does this for the attention. It can be a confidence boost yes, but is that really so wrong? If it is I would rather not be right.

      Quite honestly by assuming that only the ‘beautiful’ cosplayers enter things like swimsuit competitions, or by concluding that said competitions or even fundraising auctions are allowed by cons purely to pull in more attendees by catering to the ‘lol bewbs’ demographic, or especially by looking down on those of us who do participate in said events purely because they thought it’d be fun makes you no better than any body shammer. :I

  11. REL says:

    Thank you I will be reposting this on my FB page! ♡♥

    To those who say you’re jelling… Piss off your the one thats jelly about her being right

  12. TK 4670 says:

    I agree with most of this. I and my wife are 501st as well. I agree that the bucket makes a great equalizer. I am by far not the ideal that the celebrity costumers are. my wife is so i see both sides.
    Either way keep on doing it and i do what i do in the Legion not for fame or money or people looking at me but for the kids for the hospital visits the charitys and the disabled childrens camps etc that Legion stands for.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. Our last troop was Children’s Hospital in Oakland. Honestly, I don’t consider the 501st “cosplay” for some reason . . . probably because I really believe I’m a TIE pilot. Ha. Anyway, no matter what happens (or doesn’t happen) to cosplay in general, the Legion will always be home for us. It’s still one of the biggest thrills of my life when a little girl hears my voice and gets excited because under the helmet, there’s a girl, just like her. 🙂

    • DarthVader1 says:

      Well said, brother. Me and my wife are 501st as well, and she agrees on the fact that girls because “they’re hot” (no matter the costume), gets more the attention because of the cultural mainstream, and not because of the costume craftmanship.

  13. Anon says:

    also one more minor point, cosplay photographers are to blame for htis as well at least a big majority of them case in point, me and my fiancee were dressed as the main couple from clannad, no one wanted to take her picture due to it not being revealing, all the photography companies were taking shots of girls in as scantly clad cosplays as possible, and thats all the posted in their sites, It made my fiancee feel like all the heart and souls she put into her costume wasnt worth anything and the store bought sexy cosplays are the way to go, ugh …. flash back about 4 years when she was dressed as Vmon from digimon and she could go two feet without a photo being taken. Something has changed and its horrible.

    • Anon says:

      couldn’t*

    • NA says:

      I agree with the “Cosplay Photographers” (not all, but enough) and social media contributing to this group mentality that sexy costumes are the ones worth photographing and publishing. As a result, this is what is often put forth as being the “Best Cosplay” seen at a convention. Costumes with much more skill and craftsmanship put into them are often ignored at conventions these days (this was not so roughly 8 years ago, from my point of view and experience). I was at a large convention just recently with a friend of mine who makes amazing costumes, and she was laughing because the last night of the convention she put on a store bought “sexy princess” costume and was getting the most compliments on that outfit! It just shows what people value aesthetically. Not the elaborate 18th Century embellished gown she wore on Friday night. Instead it was the off the rack sexy princess costume, which even if she’d chosen to make it herself never would have come close to the artful details in her other more elaborate costumes. Eye of the beholder, sexy catches the eye/lens a bit more readily when you have more costumes competing for the lens/blog time/facebook time. It’s just the way it goes. All we can do is try to do is enjoy the moment at the convention and dress up for ourselves, not for the photographers, not for internet fame.

      How can we change things? Be sure to bring your own camera to a convention. Photograph people or costumes that impress you and publish them to flickr, a blog, etc. Take time to compliment amazing and unique costumes so that those costumers feel motivated to keep up with their craft and having fun! I admit, I need to be better about this myself, but it is the one solution I see which can help curb the trend. Though a personal blog or flickr account never has the same outreach that a main stream media or blog report has. :/

  14. Flagwaver says:

    I fully agree with you. I attempted to do a costume not long ago and was ridiculed by a small group of people through most of the day. This was at a con and these children (I won’t even call them men), did nothing but publicly ridicule me as I walked around the con floor and out in the lobby. I admit, I am older than the average cosplayer and have a couple of extra pounds on me, but that is no reason for a group of idiots to follow and stalk me. Oh, and the costume? It was a Halo ODST (so I looked a few extra points heavier anyway from the bulk of the pouches).

    I fully agree with you, as I said, and feel proud to call you a sister of mine in the 501st!

  15. Kaieta says:

    You just summed up my feels and how I’ve been feeling, I’ve been describing it as “fair weather nerds” causing this rise in celebrity, and finding myself longing for the days where we go swirlies for being nerds.

  16. Jada says:

    Brava! And I’ve noticed a change the last5 years too.

  17. Laurel says:

    This? Thoughtful, eloquent, on target. The only thing I can do is be loudly approving of cosplayers of all ages, genders, and body times; hoping it will help offset any shaming and harassment done by others.

    A few years ago, I saw a 300 lb., 45 year old man with vitiligo cosplay Sesshomaru at a con. He was FANTASTIC. I celebrate him and everyone else with the creativity and drive to cosplay, and am in awe.

  18. I agree with you, I had never taken the time to examine this subject before and you illuminated it brilliantly. I am a man, I have always loved Star Wars and other Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror movies and shows. I have never gone to conventions, worn costumes, or sought after autographs. This year was an exception, I went to a horror convention in Kansas City (Crypticon) so I could meet Sid Haig (Captain Spaulding from Devil’s Rejects and House Of 1,000 Corpses most notably).
    I thought it was fantastic to see all the fans that showed up in costumes or makeup, and I noticed that the more attractive by popular standards a female was, the more skimpy her costume or outfit was. I enjoyed this aspect, because, again, I am a man.
    I don’t think the celebrity saturation is as bad in the Horror Convention community, because I don’t think the Horror Convention community is quite as big or mainstream as the Star Trek and Star Wars Convention communities are. But, even on this smaller scale, I noticed, in the back of my mind at least, who was getting more attention.
    No matter how brilliantly and painstakingly constructed a costume was on a person of a “normal” or “average” body type, they received far less requests for having a photo taken of them, and far less attention, than even the poorly-costumed people of “above-average” or “hot” body type.
    I didn’t discriminate consciously, but I did find my eyes drawn more to the attractive and skimpy and now I’m a tiny bit ashamed. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the work put into the costumes of all participants. On men as well.
    I myself am very large. I weigh over 500 pounds and I am six foot, three inches tall. If I were to participate as a Storm Trooper or some other costume I would stand out quite a bit. I could maybe do a Jabba, though. Then I’d get to hang out with the hottest “Slave Princess Leia” 🙂

    • TI4884 says:

      Russell,

      In the 501st, there are MANY body types, and many costumes to accommodate body types. If you feel a stormtrooper not to be your speed, a TIE Pilot, Snowtrooper, Imperial Gunner may work better for you.

      Join the 501st…you KNOW you want to….

      😉

      -Jon
      (aka TI/RC4884)

      • To be honest with you, Jon, I really DO want to. I have a friend who’s in it, and I’ve been planning to ask him a bunch of questions here in the near future. 🙂

    • robertm says:

      Russell, dont let you body size stop you man. The 501st is very inclusive. I am not large but also not small. 5’10” 250. Got friend who is about your size. We both portray Tusken Raiders and at troops size doesnt matter, its the costume. We have people of all races, sexes and sizes want pics with both of us. When you troop a charity event it is just icing on the cake and worth every penny I have invested. Yeah there are some costumer snobs in the 501st but of you don’t let them get under yoru skin it drives them nuts and they leave you alone! The key is be who you are, have fun and the reward is the smile on sombodys face when they get to interact with SW

  19. Holy shit I love you – fellow just a normal girl in a normal world cosplayer

  20. Deathstarstriker says:

    Bravo. Five or six years ago I didn’t feel like crowds of people were judging my hotness when I was dressed up in a costume at what I thought would be a nerdy convention.

    Now, I feel like there’s a little more pressure and anticipation at popular events for girls to look like “sexy geeks”. I agree that it’s not coming from dedicated cosplayers. I think it’s the mainstream spectator mentality that sexualizes and sensationalizes everything it comes in contact with. I won’t stop dressing up in nerdy costumes just because “normal people” are making it less fun but it has kind of taken the wind out my sails recently.

    Thanks for bringing some attention to this issue.

  21. Crossplayer says:

    Don’t worry, things always change. I’m in the same area of doubt and debate, yet it leans more on the side of that only the pretty, who cares if they’re in the fandom, hot cosplayers matter. Or the misconception that all things geeky and nerdy are dominated by men, like a men’s special club, who only let the hot women in and even then they are disrespected.. More and more cosplayers, especially in my local cosplay community, are realizing the need to spread the word of love, as cheesy as that sounds. We openly share our feelings with cosplayers who feel down on themselves, just because they feel they aren’t skinny enough, pretty enough ect. Then they become friends, and the only popularity that goes around is the “who knows who” not how good we cosplay, but who we cosplay. It is also recognized in our community our dislike for our “famous” cosplayers, since they are usually not nice or humble. I’m going on a tangent pardon me, but all in all your message stands true, and most people are not worried because this is a culture that is commonly disgruntled, and because of that, the ones that become apart of our world are generally open minded. Eventually, the glamour of being a famous cosplayer will be as novel as that one person who is the best at Marvel Vs. Capcom in the gaming room.

  22. I am new to the cosplay community and true newbie at it and I have to agree with you. I have an exceedingly difficult time coming up with which costume I want to try to make as I am TG going through MtF transition. I have to consider which female *can* I pull off and then how. I already face enough stigma living/dressing as a female at cons (and in life) when not in costume and have a need to try to play to the feminine otherwise I am not seen as a real girl. So many of the armored looks (not all) are right out and other costumes show more skin (that I dont have yet) then I am comfortable with trying. The changes mainstream media have brought to Cosplay make it even more challenging.

  23. Daetrin says:

    This is the best blog entry I’ve ever read on the subject. You hit the nail on the head so many times, and say articulately what we feel.

    Rock on.

  24. ZeBollo says:

    I would seriously hug you if I had the opportunity!

    While I my self do not quite fit the ideal body type I have been fortunate enough encounter hardly any shaming as of yet, though I am aware that I am what has become an alarmingly rare exception. I personally have always hated that we’re forced to create ‘plus sized’ categories to anything, and have always felt that everybody should be lumped in together, and when I first came in to the cosplay world only a scant five years ago that’s exactly how it was; A size 2 wasn’t deemed to be any better or worse than a size 14, male cosplayers weren’t considered less interesting than their female counterparts, and no matter your level of physical attractiveness, or level of costuming skill you were looked upon as an equal, cause let’s face it at the end of the day we’re all dorks in costume.

    I am happy to say that there is hope for our community yet, as there are still parts of it that whole heartedly embrace these differences. Probably the entire reason I with my child bearing hips, and meaty thighs have yet to encounter body shaming of any kind (yet being the key word), there are still entire scene’s worth of cosplayers who vehemently oppose everything the mainstream is trying to impose on this community that ha been defined by difference and imperfection. Yes we may seem few and far between amass the sea of haters, oppressive beauty standards, and general douche baggery but everything that makes cosplay wonderful does still exist, we just have to remind the rest of the world.

  25. Lula says:

    Thank you! I have been cosplaying since my preteen years, when Sailor Moon and toonami were all we had! I have seen the cultural shift over the last 2-3 years and in some ways I am thrilled and in others I am not. I am very tired of thinking I am no longer good enough to cosplay a character I identify with because I have had kids and am no longer “perfect”. Even though many people speak out about cosplay equality I still worry one day Ill click a link of “bad cosplays” and be on that page.

  26. s880318 says:

    I think I’m on the side of “People that do not fit a character should not cosplay that character”

    No offence to whoever cosplaying them, it’s just that it somewhat saddens me if I see someone trying to portray a character that I really like. I mean of course I would not shame that individual, but I cannot help but feel annoyed when one is sighted.

    My personally definition of “fitting” is somewhat along the lines of the person looks “right” in that character’s costume (Relatively similar to the physical characteristics of that character”, in another words if the said cosplay is accurate or not.

    Take myself for example, I love ACG related things, and would love to cosplay. However, I know for a fact that my physique would not make me look accurate, nor very good in the characters that I like, thus I do not cosplay. However, I instead take photos for my fellow cosplayer friends to pursue this hobby.

    Of course, whether or not a person fits a character is very subjective, but I just believe that not everyone is meant to participate in this hobby(at least not through dressing up), due to its very nature. (then again even that is subjective itself)

    Although I do believe that if you have enough passion, there are ways alternatives to make yourself fit the character better. May it be makeup, exercise, or even photoshop.

    These are just my two cents, maybe some people believe it’s about having fun instead of accuracy if aesthetics.

    • s880318 says:

      typos here and there oops

    • Tall dude...likes armor says:

      Don’t you think that some flexibility should be allowed for costuming, as it is a hobby, and supposed to be fun for all involved?

      Would it matter if a woman who is four feet tall costumes Xena? Lucy Lawless is just a couple inches shy of six feet, so – by what I gather you are saying – that person really shouldn’t attempt a Xena costume. Would it be different if this woman was athletic of build, but still height challenged? Technically (by your statement), a four-foot tall, athletic of build woman would not be able to rock the Xena togs, due to her lack of height, which would “not fit a character,” so she should therefore, “not cosplay that character.” So, I’m going to make a guess that a Xena who is sporting some extra curves would be a total no-go…per your rules.

      I’ve seen “fit” characters cosplayed by people who would be considered “less than fit” by mainstream culture, but it’s a joy to watch these people rock those costumes, because of the work they put into them, and how the love they have for these characters shows through…even if we’re looking at a 400-pound Iron Man.

      I’m concerned by the notion that if somebody costumes/cosplays with a non-matching body type to a character you love, it “saddens” you. May I suggest looking at the joy in that person’s face as they rock the hell out of that costume? The statement feels like when folks feel sad when the “fat kid” goes out for basketball, because it’s so sad that he won’t be able to run fast, move or jump…and who cares as long as his teammates support him, and he loves what he does? I’m sorry, but that notion kinda supports the idea that some characters are just for “the cool kids.”

      EVERYBODY is – or should be – welcome in this hobby, because there are enough characters in fandom for EVERYBODY to love: Who cares if the next Witchblade I see is super-short or super-tall AND is carrying some extra weight? I’ll bet you her costume work is still going to be excellent.

      • s880318 says:

        “My personally definition of “fitting” is somewhat along the lines of the person looks “right” in that character’s costume (Relatively similar to the physical characteristics of that character), in another words if the said cosplay is accurate or not.”

        Let me clarify what was kinda ambiguous, I said relatively similar, by that I mean the general impression has to feel right. Of course I dont mean the person has to have the exact same weight and height as the profile. (Regarding to the height thing, what usually happens is that ppl take out their multiple inch heels to make themselves seem taller, in the cases where people are too tall for their char they cos it with taller people or make their friends wear heels. Which Im sure you’re familiar with.)

        What we are debating here is resulted by a basis of differences in beliefs. Since I feel like a good(subjective) cosplay consist of accuracy(again, relatively), and not as importantly,aesthetics. Again, I do not believe in shaming, and Im not trying to convince people that their take on cosplay is wrong, I’m merely sharing my take on this.

    • Marshall Lee says:

      That kind of mentality is exactly what’s currently wrong with the community at the moment.
      Fandom is for everyone and everyone, regardless of looks, has the right to express their love for it through cosplay. It has always been about fun, its only in recent years has it felt more like a beauty contest.
      If these people who are in it just for fun offend your eyes so much, I humbly suggest not going to cons anymore. Quite frankly we don’t want people with that kind of mindset there anyways.

    • Caitlin says:

      “…it somewhat saddens me if I see someone trying to portray a character that I really like.”

      Okay, so serious question for you: Why does your enjoyment of this hobby matter more than theirs?

    • lordtridus says:

      What you’re inadvertently saying is “fat people aren’t welcome.” Fictional characters overwhelmingly confirm to a certain standard, and if you go through with this type of judgement everybody who doesn’t fit that standard in real life has basically nothing to cosplay as.

      Which pretty much defeats the entire point.

  27. NightStar21 says:

    I’ve been cosplaying and costuming for just shy of 13 years, including 4 years as a Mando Merc and everything you say is true, true, true.

    In the wake of “nerd” culture becoming pop culture, the whole “fake geek girl” debacle, body shaming, and holding sex appeal over craftsmanship have run rampant.

    I won’t give up. I’ll still cosplay anything and everything I can dream up. It isn’t easy, the commentary is disheartening some days. But this is the world we created, we can only hope we can make it better.

    Troop on and carry on!

  28. Uriah Funk says:

    I just love seeing a lot of effort go into an awesome costume, no matter who is wearing it.

  29. Kitsora Hitamashii says:

    Thank you… I am not a person who likes to make my costumes. If I do, it’s always simple and easy. I am planning to go to my first real convention soon, as a modified Team Aqua girl. I am surprised at how well my Holo the Wisewolf turned out. No hate at all. But I always fear… because my stomach, hips, and thighs are not exactly slim standard. I am still always afraid, even if I get good attention, that the attention is for the wrong reason. Still, I am going in with my head; and pokeballs; held high and my hand firmly grasped onto my boyfriend’s trench coat. He’s going as Rorschach. In the end, I am in it for the character. Someday though, I hope to walk in as a character I drew and everyone knows.

    Good luck fellow casual cosplayers out there.

  30. Cigam says:

    I agree, and I think it becoming so commercial has damaged the fun of craftsmanship- while I admire the lengths and skills some people have gone to to create amazing props and armor not everyone can afford to have molds cast, and silicone props and embroidery machines and now are looked down on for not having things “perfect”. Half the fun of cosplaying is figuring out how on earth your going to create something good, being extra creative using what you can afford. I think what people can make these days is phenomenal, dont get me wrong, its just sad that craftsmanship and recognition in the category tends to lean on how much you spent as to how much time you spent. A hand painted design cant compare to a perfectly embroidered piece. Also you can just buy so much pre-made stuff online now why bother toiling away crafting a weapon from foam and wood when you can buy one thats molded plastic thats perfect. I love cosplay, but not as much anymore, I just wish it hadnt changed so very much and it was more about creative costumes then expensive ones.

  31. Adam Bestler says:

    Yeah, I knew something was wrong the moment a yellow bikini that vaguely resembles Pikachu suddenly qualified as legitimate cosplay.

  32. Rev Oz says:

    Beautifully written…

  33. Sam says:

    I agree with some points I’m tired of seeing hotter cosplayers getting all the attention when my friends put in so much effort into their cosplays and then get judged because their body or looks are not as good as some healthy young bodies . At the end of the day we are all nerds in cosplay and that even know you can never look like the character because the character isn’t real . But what annoys me is that fact that they can change the costume to look more sexier because they think they have to , to impress. People I have meet have changed the height of their skirts , used push-bras and over the top make up making the character not look right and odd , like I end up not recognizing the character , even when my friend had to try and get a six pack to try and look good enough for a character . Cosplay is meant to be fun and that people should be appreciated of their efforts and not to be basic on how they look as a hole . Cosplay is short for “costume play” in costume play it doesn’t say you have to look perfect or change your body . I have been to numberless of cons and yet hardly I got asked for photos even know I put in effort . I blame the grown community of cosplayers and characters , People shouldn’t expect some much . It does need to calm down a bit , just because you see a hot cosplayer doesn’t mean you should judge them on looks , but on the looks of the costume and how well it is done and presented as many spent a lot of money and time into their costumes . In the end you cant not be 100 % look a like of a character , I don’t care who is wearing it , i just want to see effort in the costume and design not someone’s bust or thighs .

  34. Mavvy says:

    You have presented a cogent and balanced argument, for which I have to applaud you. Like you, I have struggled a bit with my feelings about the kind of attention different female cosplayers receive. The root of the problem lies in how women are perceived and presented in our society as a whole. Women are constantly sexualized in a way men are not (I know this is a sweeping generalization). Male costumes may be skin-tight but show little skin, and I suspect are also a heck of a lot more comfortable. Women’s costumes are often just a deep breath away from public indecency. When a female cosplayer wants to create a costume, accuracy and attention to detail often lead to near-nudity – there’s not much else to choose from unless you embrace a sort of androgyny. We are told in a thousand different ways every day by our media and our environment that we have no worth unless we are sexually attractive. So many young women now equate empowerment with push-up bras. Why can’t a woman be strong and confident without being half naked? Every movie poster I see has a man in a full suit, complete with trousers, jacket, and tie, and the woman stands next to him wearing the cloth equivalent of a rubber band. The con scene has caught this disease from the rest of the world, and I believe that the only solution will be to change the way women are valued and viewed in the world at large.

  35. Kartos says:

    I disagree with most of this. I feel like this all stems from a coast vs coast thing, because I’ve heard many times how even the artist alleys and conventions mostly in California, and how they sell and feel, is vastly different from here on the East Coast. I only briefly went to Fanime in 2007 and SDCC, so I don’t feel like I ever got a proper feel on them, but this is what I hear from fellow artists.
    I really do know too many cosplayers of varying abilities and popularities to agree with this assertion, and as someone who has been cosplaying on a regular basis for 12 years at small to large conventions, I just cannot see it. Is there popularity contests? Sure, happens everywhere and with everything. Has it spoiled cosplay? God no. I do, however, think some people put too much celebrity into anything, especially a couple of cosplayers… all of which I think are in California. :\

    • TI4884 says:

      From what I’ve observed in my own travels, from stories told by friends in different areas, and from articles and posts on the internet (which could all be incorrect, I admit), the issue is mutli-coastal and multi-national.

  36. Morning – I am a cosplay photographer and I do this for fun – I want to see all types in costume, and I photograph them for them (I don’t charge, right click save as have fun). but what makes this interesting for me is when someone picks on the people I am taking pictures of that don’t conform to standard body types. But I would like to point out that I do capture everything, I’m not just out for the hot pretty chick or guy in an awesome costume – I am also out for the person who has maybe 2 coins to rub together and took a chance.

    The saddest part to me is that I get the most flack from professional cosplayers about the hacked together costume. I get the most flack from “fans” on people who do not conform to body type or style. And I go to bat for people every day because all they want to do is celebrate the characters and ideas that they love, they identify with, regardless of body type/style.

    I would like to see more photographers support and stand up for everyone who cosplays, because you never know, next year they might show up in something awesome.

  37. Charmedseed says:

    As a fellow cosplayer since 1998, I see exactly what you’re talking about. It’s funny a little too, because it seems like it’s been rolling through this cycle for years… when cosplay was exclusive to anime & manga, there was the same arguement – did you watch the show? The same question has gotten so much more insidious, and just as irrelevant.

    “Gatekeeping” in fandom has always been a problem, and interestingly enough, gatekeeping is now coming from OUTSIDE the fandoms. It’s a tough problem. I hope it resolves in a positive way.

  38. N.A.Marti says:

    Seeing what has happened to cosplay makes me both regret and not regret retiring from cosplay 10 years ago. None of this cosplay celebrity stuff had even surface yet, but back then there was still the mentality of ‘if you don’t fit the character you won’t do well in the cosplay contest’ I and my friends thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the costumed people walking the halls though. I myself used to cosplay the Crow at almost every con I went to, this was well before the movie came out. And I was usually followed by a small crowd of women oogling ahh’ing me. It was probably the closest I ever came to being a popular cosplayer. I had lots of photos taken of me, but never did it cross my mind to sell pictures of me in costume. Mainly because I knew, as a comic artist, that I was portraying someone else’s copyrighted character. That being said you say at one point that you have no problem with the more famous cosplayers selling prints of themselves. This is a problem I, and several friends all in the industry (art/anime/comic) have with the current cosplay celebrities. We see the calenders and posters and prints being sold and wonder how many of them have gotten permission to use copyrighted trademarked characters. It’s gone beyond the slippery slope especially seeing that sci fi show getting all those photographers up in arms about photo copyrights. It’s no different from the days of video pirates getting nailed at conventions. Maybe when this all comes to a head it will go back to cosplaying for the love of cosplay and not the almighty dollar.

  39. Andrew says:

    I agree with most of what you said, but there’s one point in particular I can’t agree on: I don’t think there is a solution.

    We as a species can always try our damndest to be thoughtful and mindful, to create discussion and remind people to be supporting and accepting, to create understanding through education. But no matter how much we fight to dominate it through thought, we’ll never overcome primal nature- the nature which leads us to be attracted to what’s seen as prettier and better, the basic instinct to want to mate with the most fertile being. These primal urges translate into every part of our lives; “sex sells,” as they say. And cosplay has become a product.

    The only solution now is to wait until the media becomes bored.

  40. spiderlegs says:

    sadly, mainstream culture will always suck. fortunately, they chase every fad and once they are done with cosplay, they won’t be back. preferring hentai face tattoos or whatever is vogue in the pages of Maxim, Playboy and er Game Informer, and Wired. I went from the safety of the week long halloween ritual to attempting to be at one point every single Venture Bros character for at least a day, decked to the nines. cheers!

  41. Tako Maguro says:

    Bless this post. That’s all.

  42. Caitlin says:

    Standing ovation. Beautifully articulates what I’ve been struggling to put into words over the last few years, having now spent a decade-plus in the costuming community.

  43. Mary says:

    This was absolutely brilliant. I was nervous at the beginning but reading through this was like a breath of fresh air. It was neither hateful nor blaming wonderful cosplayers no matter their size. I thank you for putting this down on “paper” as it were.

  44. N/A says:

    “Cosplay is now dominated by models and women striving to look like models, who sell seductive pictures of themselves posing in sexy costumes. ”

    How are we defining “dominated” in this context? There are certainly more than there were previously, but when I go to cons the majority of cosplay I see are people who appear to be normal attendees.

    • Yes, when boots hit the ground, you will see far more “normals” than the celebrity, but if you google “cosplay” under images, you tell me what dominates the page… The mainstream perception is what’s being dominated.

      At least, that’s what I got from it.

  45. Zelda Sidhe says:

    Well said, I have been cosplaying for 11 years now and have some modicum of cosplay celebrity myself online now, but truthfully I miss the golden age of cosplay when the only people who saw it were the ones at the convention that I was interacting with…I don’t even have photos of myself in a lot of my early cosplay. Had so many good conversations with fellow fans, cosplayers and industry professionals back then that I have had a lot of trouble replicating with the rise in cosplay popularity.

  46. Bill Doran says:

    It sounds like the real issue isn’t specifically cosplay celebrity, but celebrity in general. Now that cosplay is becoming more mainstream, it’s being plagued with the same issues of acceptance and celebrity that any sub culture is riddled with when more and more people get into it. Clearly we can’t put that cat back into the bag, so I think all we can do is to do our very best to support the creative efforts of every single cosplayer and take to task those that would tear them down. It is very important that we NOT be impartial observers.

    We have a distinct advantage right now that our celebrities are still approachable and interactive people who, for the most part, are good, positive examples of people who support everyone in our community. Hopefully it will stay that way for a good long time, so long as we stay positive from the ground up. We get the celebrities, and the community, that we deserve.

  47. chrissy says:

    Sorry if I’m missing something but to me it seems like you don’t like the change but do think it’s fine at the same time.

  48. Totally with you on this whole article.. In fact, I’ve been saying the same thing for a couple years now. The big difference is that you said it with far more eloquence than I ever could.

    The cosplay subculture has indeed changed. It used to be all inclusive/all accepted and now it’s devolved into “Tits or GTFO”, which saddens the old heart because the craftsmanship of the art (and yes, to me cosplay is an art) has been completely tossed aside in lieu of “sex sells”.

  49. Belle Benson says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. You have echoed many of my own thoughts, and written them so well, you basically taken me off the hook. Thanks.
    What tends to make me most sad is the idea, that yes I am jealous (duh, I am modern woman in western culture I have been groomed from birth by society, to be jealous) but I can also have other motivating emotions. I am insanely jealous of Dita Von Tease, but I also adore her, want to bake her cookies and be her best friend. I contain multitudes. Shutting down any cogent comment, criticism or complaint with a simple “your jealous” is weak.
    Now I agree that it took me a while (longer than I like to admit) to stop blaming the “hawt cosplay girl” for my hurt feelings at being ignored and pushed aside, (no matter how awesome my costume may have been) and fix my blame laser on celebrity beauty media obsessed culture.

  50. jdizzle1701 says:

    Me (30 YO male,about 108kg at the time,so a little overweight but nothing a few salads and walking a little couldn’t fix): Hey I’m thinking of cosplaying DareDevil next year.
    Friend (37 YO male is 6’1 tall and 226 kg): Then you better hit the gym that costumes not forgiving.
    ’nuff said?

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