Update (10/4/2014): I was recently contacted to clear up a misattribution in the article below. Please note that the quoted transcript of the Heroes of Cosplay episode 2 conversation previously stated that Jessica Merizan was one of those speaking. It has since been corrected after I was contacted by Ms. Merizan and the proper speaker was attributed. My apologies to Ms. Merizan for the confusion and any trouble it may have caused.
As it is the week after New York Comic Con, I am spending my time recovering from my heady infusion of nerd culture. Yet instead of happily recounting various wonderful experiences I had at NYCC this year, I am writing this article. And it starts with an apology.
I’m sorry. I didn’t know, guys! You can’t hold it against me. I’m simply a busy woman who doesn’t have the time to keep up on all the tiny bits of minutia and unwritten rules that make up parts of the geek world. It just isn’t my fault that folks didn’t tell me right off the bat that there are rules about who can and cannot cosplay. I wasn’t informed that, if you are fat or ugly, then cosplay is just not for you.
I’m glad I found out! I mean, what would have happened if I’d started my upcoming cosplay plans only to discover all that money had been spent for nothing and…
Wait. Wait, what was that? Hang on. Let me get this straight: there aren’t any such unwritten rules? Cosplay is open to anyone who might want to be involved, regardless of who they are or what they look like? That it’s a culture based upon geek celebration and creative displays of fabrication and not the perpetuation of horrible beauty stereotypes that we encounter in every part of our society? You mean there’s a place in cosplay for someone that looks like me?
Really? Because to listen to some people, you could have fooled me.
Case in point: Syfy channel recently showcased a new reality series called Heroes of Cosplay. This show followed the antics of several well known cosplayers as they went from convention to convention with their costumes, entering competitions and generally getting into the dramatic hijinks one expects from a reality TV show. I was excited to sit down and watch this show despite my nearly allergic level aversion to reality TV because I was excited to see how these supposed ‘heroes of cosplay’ went about picking their projects and making their costumes. And while there was a great deal of that going on, I was also treated to a good look at some 100% home grown USDA brand body shaming. The first episode showed a young woman struggling with her confidence over how she looked in her Merida costume. That was excusable. Here is a young woman feeling self-conscious, something anyone can identify with. The fact that later on in the episode she made it clear she believed she lost the competition because of her weight started to be a little uncomfortable.
By episode two, we had spiraled directly into body shaming. During a meet-up between all the contestants, several of the women agreed that if you are bigger you shouldn’t cosplay. In the uncomfortable silence, only Chloe Dykstra spoke up to defend the right of anyone to cosplay. If the editing on the show is to be believed, she was largely disagreed with or either the subject was ignored. The transcript of what was said goes as follows: Yaya Han started the conversation “Cosplay pet peeves.”
Riki LeCotey: People are obviously, like, ‘well, I’m really big, what can I do?’ And it’s like, if you’re a big muscular dude, go be Superman.
Chloe Dykstra: I think anybody should be whatever they want to be, whatever.
Riki LeCotey: But the thing is, if a three-hundred pound person wears Superman, and they put themselves out there, and then it gets on the net, how is that gonna help?
Chloe Dykstra: I mean, I guess, but do you think because of that they shouldn’t dress up as Superman?
Monika Lee: I think a lot of people can’t handle that criticism.
Yaya Han: I feel like as a cosplayer you have the responsibility to know what you look like. You have to really look at yourself in the mirror and know, you know, if my boobs are out I’m going to get **** comments.
It is important to note that the conversation was heavily edited by the production staff. It seems clear that the conversation was lead so that these women would give statements that could be edited out of context. However, it is important to note that these women signed on to put their names to whatever came out of the production to represent them in the public eye. Moreover, they signed on to become known as a ‘hero’ of the cosplay community, a representative on camera of the ideas that make up cosplay. Whether these statements were manufactured by the production company after the fact or not, these reality TV stars were willing to be associated with the sentiment. This, coupled with ongoing commentary during episodes by ‘celebrity’ judge Yaya Han regarding overall body shaming (slut-shaming another big-name cosplayer Jessica Nigri over what she thought was showing too much skin) makes Heroes of Cosplay a train wreck of an example of the cosplay community. ‘Heroes’ indeed. I’m not impressed.
The outcry from the cosplayers I have spoken to and seen online has been heated about the show. Many have pointed out that these so-called ‘heroes’ don’t speak for the cosplay community and that it is largely a place where people can come to just have a good time. Yet despite that outcry, there is still the lurking specter of fat shaming. There are blog posts around the internet about situations in which overweight cosplayers are called out, publicly embarrassed or harassed online.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, there are the websites dedicated to fat-shaming folks for just trying. Because I feel like this is bad enough to warrant some public attention, I’m going to simply point to the worst of them out there in their troll-laiden glory. I’m calling out that putrid little website Cosplay Train Wrecks under their ‘fattie’ category. Then there’s this gem, called “Americans Fail At Cosplay, So Stop!” That’s right, America, just stop cosplaying. We’re all doing it wrong. There’s Your Cosplay Sucks that decides to pick on… well, just about everybody.
One particular heinous example got my attention this week. It’s the reason I’m writing this article in the first place. It’s called Fat Cosplayers and it’s a Facebook group. The photos put up are taken from other cosplay sites and tagged with comments including calling people ‘whale’ and equally offensive things. (I urge folks to take a second and report the site to Facebook if you can). The creator decided to mark it as ‘a joke’ as if that makes it better. Because that’s what trolls do to make everything okay again after they say offensive things. They remark that ‘it’s just a joke.’
Let’s get one thing straight: this is not funny.
Body shaming was something I was made aware of the instant I became aware of cosplay. I was told it’s part of ‘what to expect’. It’s one of the reasons I balked at the very idea of putting on a costume at conventions. I’ve personally witnessed fat shaming as well as ‘ugly’ cosplayer shaming from folks at conventions of all kinds, from snickering behind hands to flat-out snarky, nasty comments aimed at people while they were in earshot. It was upon examination of a lot of these situations that I hit upon the heart of the matter. While there may be those within the cosplay community who are critical of other people’s work and their representation of characters, the predominant amount of body shaming and ridicule doesn’t seem to be coming from other cosplayers. It’s the cosplay spectators doing the shaming. It’s everybody else. The rudeness out of people’s mouths are from photographers, media of all kinds, lookie-loos and fellow con attendees who come to gawk or take photos with cosplayers, as though they were some kind of wildlife attraction, and then often trash the people they don’t find appropriate.
Excuse me, cosplay audience, but let me ask the question: who the hell are you to judge other people’s fun?
It takes a lot for someone to stand on the sidelines and point at someone and laugh. It’s high school bullshit, immature childish behavior at its worst. And it honestly has to end. This kind of bullshit body shaming is something I have zero patience or tolerance for in the rest of the world, and I certainly wouldn’t want to see it in a geek community. Thankfully there seem to be plenty of cosplayers, including and especially plus sized cosplayers, who are standing up and speaking out against all the negativity. And right now, I’m saying this: I’m going to be one of them.
For a long time, I was afraid to cosplay because I didn’t want to deal with whatever negative attention might fly my way for being heavy. I was afraid of the comments and I let it stop me. That’s not going to happen anymore. I’m going to cosplay. I’m going to cosplay stuff that isn’t just Ursula from the Little Mermaid (though I plan on doing a kickass 80’s punk Ursula because screw you, that’s why, haters, I’m going to make her more badass than before). And with every step of doing it, I’m going to say the same thing: I’m not here for the haters, but the haters gonna hate. And if they hate in my general direction, they’re going to hear back from me.
To quote Chloe Dykstra on Heroes of Cosplay:
I don’t know who made up these rules. There’s like some grand cosplay lord who’s like, “You shall not cosplay something if you are overweight!” That’s ridiculous. Cosplay is about having fun and being who you are and who you want to be.
Call that naive all you want, Yaya Han, but that seems to be the real spirit of the cosplay community, not the elitist crap being tossed around. And I for one want to be part of THAT community, with that spirit of inclusion. That’s where I’ll be with my cosplay, my support, and my war face for anyone who wants to step. Until then, I’m going to make my costumes and have a good time. Haters, slink back off to the anonymous internet holes you crawled out of – that’s where you belong.