In the United States, the idea of dressing up and taking the role of a character is traditionally assigned to a holiday embraced by pop culture. For fans of anime, manga, video games, sci-fi, and comic books, dressing up and taking on the role of a character during conventions have become a norm. The popular word describing this act is cosplay, a portmanteau of costume play. With the explosion of popularity for comic conventions and the huge growth of anime conventions in North America, there has been an increased exposure of cosplay. As the popularity of cosplay has increased, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of female cosplayers, some of them in racy outfits. Some people are not pleased with this; a Facebook rant by Tony Harris, the illustrator of Ex Machina and Star Man has turned heads. This rant led to Gail Simone to call for November 13th to be a cosplay appreciation day. As a cosplay photographer, longtime convention attendee, and as a longtime friend of the community, I have some thoughts on this issue.
You can read the rant here, but here are the distilled bullet points:
- Cosplay girls dressing in skimpy clothes prey on lonely nerds
- They do it for attention
- Many of them don’t know the source of their cosplay
- They take attention from the Comic Book Artists and Writers
It is no secret that I take umbrage to his assertions from my personal experiences in the world of comic conventions and anime conventions. In my personal experiences, doing cosplay is an act of passion. It is a physical representation that they like the source material, they like the character design, they can relate to the character, they can relate to fellow enthusiasts, or a variety of other reasons. A person who creates their own cosplay puts their blood, sweat and tears into it. I am amazed at the ingenuity that they use to bring these outfits and weaponry to life. For those who cannot sew or construct fake weaponry, buying cosplay is also very expensive, and the process is very draining. Most of the female cosplayers I know do cosplay because it connects with others, it is their window to the community, whether they are an active member from within, or that they look from outside wanting to join in. Knowing the source material is not a prerequisite to being part of the community, the act of cosplaying in and of itself is the connection. If someone wants to cosplay as a character because they like the design, or that they think it will accentuate their body it is ultimately because they want to belong in a community, they want to connect with others, and the act of cosplay is their connection. There is no malice behind it; this is a fundamental human trait, the desire to be liked and respected.
I will admit that there has been a trend of the increasing sexualization of cosplay. With that said, who are we to judge the people who do that? It takes hard work to exercise every day and to spread food intake to increase metabolism. A cosplayer will need courage and bravery to wear an outfit that is revealing. There needs to be a strong mental fortitude to deal with people who may make preconceptions based on appearances. They have to learn the nonverbal cues that other people make so that they are not in a precarious situation. Ultimately, the cosplayer makes the decision, and we have to treat them with respect.
So much art and work are associated with the creation of cosplay. It is homage to the original work and connects people together. It does not take attention away from the creators; it presents a unique interpretation of the design and art. A woman in a skimpy outfit is not trying to prey on lonely nerds or give them a false sense of reality; it is their way of connecting with fellow human beings. If it is something that they are comfortable with, more power to them. I am not here to debate the merits of whether someone is a true fan or not or if a woman is a real nerd, but I do not appreciate simply attacking a whole group of the cosplay community that have a variety of diverse reasons to associate with other people. This is a complex issue, and it was distilled in such a brash manner that alienates many and demeans an entire demographic. That is not a way to get your point across, whether it has some merit or it is completely false.
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November 13th is Cosplay Appreciation Day~!
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Cosplay Appreciation Day!