AMBER LOVE 30-APRIL-2014 Recently an unpleasant situation surrounding the Cherry City Comic Con reignited some debate about “sexy” cosplay when a vendor was offended by cosplay celeb Belle Chere dressed as X-MEN’S Goblin Queen in a photo (incidentally not a photo from a past CCCC and Belle wasn’t confirmed to even appear there; CCCC’s staff member posted it to Facebook as an example of cosplay). This vendor found the costume in poor taste for a “family friendly” event as the CCCC was being promoted.
Like anything else in the world, it’s debatable because people are going to have their own ideas about what is or isn’t offensive or appropriate. After several years out there in the convention scene, I have had my own ideas about where I think people go over that line. However, I admit fully that what I may think of as bad taste is not the same thing as breaking any kind of rules. The rules are governed by the venue or organizers of an event. That’s important to note: it’s the rules of the EVENT not the rules of the CITY. I emphasize this because women are allowed to be topless in New York City but NOT at New York Comic Con.
I’ve never attended Dragon*Con but my understanding is that this show has a pretty clear delineation about having costumes that are kid-friendly aka non-offensive during the day. They also have a hotel that is considered 18+ (but I’m not clear if that’s something loosely accepted or actually spelled out somewhere). Other cons have a kids’ day, usually on Sunday where they encourage people to bring their kids on the day that would be less crowded. These usually have kids’ costume contests and panels that are more hands-on workshops than lectures so kids can enjoy them.
I think having those delineations of having a kids’ area or kids’ day is perfectly acceptable.
First argument: “Why are you shaming confident women who have skimpy costumes?” I take a lot of shit from people who imply I have no right to speak out on what’s appropriate for younger viewers because I’ve done adult work. Sorry to burst your bubble, sweetie, but even porn stars have kids and don’t let them watch Mommy’s and Daddy’s movies. I’m not shaming anyone’s body either; I am, however, criticizing their judgment.
I have felt very uncomfortable in environments not related to comics at all. I used to belong to a YMCA which was a small branch of the much larger county fitness center. It had an area where parents could drop off their kids for one hour while they went to workout. For some reason, people cannot possibly understand how I would feel my stomach get sick every single time mothers brought their boys into the locker room. Just because I’m a nude model and am comfortable with my body naked in front of people doesn’t mean that I am comfortable with little boys who are clearly old enough to be curious. Boys 3-8 years old have a range of awareness regarding genitals. It is not my place to educate them. It is up to their parents/school system to do that. It got to the point where I wouldn’t get undressed the second little boys were brought in.
Side note: This differs from people who choose to live the naturist lifestyle. If you are part of a community where nudity is encouraged by everyone and to be seen by everyone including other people’s children, you sign up knowing that.
Still, my arguments for context and having designated time and place that is acceptable for mature content/cosplay gets so lost on certain people once they see I’ve been naked for an audience. I know it’s hard to believe that when I have an opinion about the cosplay rules or mature content that I am still rather open-minded about the whole thing. I know you see women wearing much less on the beach. I know kids have probably seen naked women on TV or fashion ads or at home with moms and sisters. Again… not my point. It’s not MY place in the world to make that impression on them at a comic book show.
The next biggest argument is: “That’s how the costumes are in the comics/games/movies and we’re only representing the characters we love!” You are making/buying the costume. You have the right to make alterations that are more modest for when you want to attend events with designated “family-friendly” restrictions.
Some of the events I work not only have requirements for what’s deemed too scantily clad but also too scary, too violent, no weapons, or even objectifying context that may be implied.
My strongest example of this argument is STAR WARS SLAVE PRINCESS LEIA from RETURN OF THE JEDI. Leia’s gold bikini is iconic. People love it. They love to take pictures of women wearing it. It’s a bold representation of female empowerment ONLY if you know who Leia is and what happened to her while she was wearing the gold bikini. She was captured, enslaved, presumably raped by a gross monster, managed to rise up and kill Jabba and then go save everyone else. However, you cannot expect everyone to know this or welcome it. Therefore, when it comes to our domestic violence fundraiser, some might expect Leia to be our icon, but she is not. She’s not allowed at our event and we’ve had a really hard time defending any artwork that comes in for the auction with this version of Leia on it. What the women who run our rescue shelter see is an image of a woman in chains and wearing a terribly objectifying outfit. From their point of view, Leia is not empowering and is a reminder of how women are property. Luckily, our northeast chapter of the 501st and Rebel Legions are the best people who costume and have no problem with these guidelines.
It’s not only about how much skin is showing in the Slave Leia outfit. We use Wonder Woman as our icon for the domestic violence event. Some versions of Wonder Woman are like a bathing suit and don’t cover much more than Leia. Yet, it’s much more acceptable when seen by outsiders probably because there’s no slave imagery and the belly is covered. Epic nerds would argue this since technically Wonder Woman’s bracers are worn as a reminder of enslavement but I think it’s more reasonable for people who remember the Lynda Carter show to think of the bracers as deflecting bullets. It’s also not common knowledge among the non-geeks that there were heavy bondage and S&M overtones to the first appearances of Wonder Woman in the comics. She hasn’t been that for decades, folks. As Elsa would say, let it go.
There’s been a tremendous amount of growth in getting safe convention environments identified and recognized. The “cosplay is not consent” campaigns are a great start and not the only things out there. There are more rules every day posted by organizers about reporting harassment, giving feedback and suggestions before the events take place, guidelines on how to take photographs, and a lot of push to get social media sites to remove body shaming profiles.
If you have any doubt about whether a costume is appropriate, try emailing the organizer first; if you don’t have time, play it safe and pick something else. Leave your sexiest for your own sites and galleries and let your networks know about them. That way you can still show off your great cosplay and your hard work without being asked to go change clothes when you arrive at an event.