IS COSPLAY REALLY FOR EVERYONE?
AMBER LOVE 12-JULY-2016 Recently one of my friends (who has permission to be blunt and joke with me) said I should rename my @ToplessAmber account because I haven’t been posting anything. It’s true – I haven’t been. There are a variety of reasons. Part of why I even post naked photos is a motivation that seems lost to almost everyone who has viewed them. It sounds like a catchphrase, but the real reason I do it is, “It’s not you, it’s me.” I feel better when I take a photo I think is good enough to share. I don’t care if anyone else sees it or likes it. Narcissistic? I don’t know, maybe, and I don’t care if it is. Naked selfies are a different beast compared to cosplay.
Being alone and naked and taking photos (or with a good photographer) is nothing like donning a costume and venturing out to a swarm of fans trying to take photos for mass consumption. Sharing the spotlight, first of all, is a different mindset. I have a tremendous amount of confidence when I’m alone or working with artists and photographers. I do not have it at all around other fans these days.
There’s a great image going around of Serena Williams smiling and clapping as another woman won a tournament and then the same woman sobbing with a vicious side-eye when Serena won and she didn’t. There’s probably a lot underneath those images to unpack, but women competing against each other is bloodthirsty and I personally hate when it gets that bad. I’m the type that backs away and disappears into a cave – not exactly admitting defeat, but just quitting and letting them have it because I don’t like fighting or competition.
The world of cosplay in the US has changed dramatically since I began in 2006. It’s fascinating to see more raw materials developed and put to clever, artistic use in order for the average hobbyist to create outfits and props just like commercial workshops. However, there are new gaps that emerged and it seems like cosplay is an unlevel playing field even if you only want to dress up and have fun.
The costs of the materials are not cheap. People on average (based on who I talk to personally) spend about $400 per outfit. If they aren’t making them and are instead commissioning them, that cost gets even higher. And that’s just for an average comic book or cartoon type of character, not necessarily one with giant mecha suits, stilts, and motors. Wigs, boots, belts, and gloves add a considerable amount so it’s never just the “suit” part of the outfit that factors into the pricetag.
So even though “cosplay is for everyone” – it’s kind of not because of cost. And there’s more.
When I was active at the boards like Superhero Costuming Forum and Legion of Heroes, it felt like most people were over 30-years-old and a fair amount over 40. As more influence came in from anime and gaming, the age skewed younger. Cosplayers as a whole community got this bad reputation as obnoxious, screaming children with giant ass props that ruin conventions for the comic book creators.
With any community, there are cliques. Cosplay’s Hollywood influence because of reality shows and competitions with prizes for thousands of dollars, changed the playing field again. It was no longer something for nerds to do just for fun. Cosplayers get as much listing at conventions as creators to be featured guests, flown to shows, and given booth space much to the ire of creators and publishers. The “hot” cosplayers get this treatment while not-for-profit organizations that do charity work like the 501st, the Mandalorian Mercs, and The Finest have to beg for free booth space and badges; they are usually dumped somewhere out of the way and hard to find unlike their “featured cosplayer” counterparts.
So even though “cosplay is for everyone” – it’s kind of not because of competition, money, and the “cosfamous” status.
The competition then resulted in the pressure for the once average fans to magically look like living breathing comic book characters with rippling muscles, zero body fat, breast implants, and forever youthful. The same reasons it’s hard for women over 40 to get acting roles in movies and TV happened in the former hobby now industry of cosplay.
People on the boards and social media now are posting all about their workouts in order to look good for cosplay. What ever happened to dressing up in a Starfleet uniform because you loved Star Trek? Now it’s about who can make themselves look like Alice Eve.
So even though “cosplay is for everyone” – it’s kind of not if you aren’t young and hot according to artificial beauty standards.
For a couple of years I’ve backed off cosplay quite a bit. I love the creativity of making something new and putting my own twist on it. I’ve done some closet cosplay outfits like Starling and Black Canary. I also tried to put together Amaterasu while I was particularly sick and missing out on life overall.
I’ve written previously about my sad experience as Amaterasu. Not only was I ignored by the gathered cosplayers at a convention and the photographers, but the creators too — The Wicked + The Divine team are supportive of cosplayers and seem to retweet or add to their tumblr whenever they see a fan as one of their characters. I tweeted with the appropriate hashtag #WicDiv and wasn’t RT’d by them. I tried a couple more times over the span of a week and still nothing. Clearly “my” version of their character wasn’t good enough. I stopped reading the book, to be honest. I sat back and saw all these other people getting “nice job” type tweets and mentions on tumblr and I never did. My outfit was on a budget and off the rack. I was covered head to toe in blistering hives and still wanted to be part of cosplay. I was uncomfortable in the clothes because fabric irritates my skin and it was well over 90 degrees that day. But I guess, I wasn’t good enough.
So even though “cosplay is for everyone” – it’s kind of not if you’re not up to Hollywood or competition caliber.
Mind you, I’ve seen some cheap/quick closet cosplay like people wearing red and black and calling it “Harley Quinn casual” or “Deadpool” or whatever with barely any effort and they get photographed. For some reason, I took the shunning of being left out as a sign that I wasn’t welcome any longer.
For our local comic shop events, there’s so much less pressure to be perfect. First of all, we’re grateful if any photographers show up because it’s all volunteer and they aren’t going to be paid for coming. However, small groups do require coordination and it looks bad if people are wearing the exact same outfit when you’re trying to impress kids (like you can’t have two Santas). But all in all, it’s about showing up, having fun, and supporting the charity. It doesn’t matter if I’m dressed up as Queen Neva because only the writer of the comic there that day will know who I’m supposed to be.
It’s become a sad realization when I see my friends quitting cosplay for similar reasons. Some are just burned out which is easy to understand after years of dedicating time and money to something. Others aren’t burned out, but have been burned. They don’t feel welcome.
So even though “cosplay is for everyone” – it’s kind of not when there’s bickering, drama, cliques, harassment, and popularity contests.
Most recently, I had even said I probably wouldn’t cosplay at the charity event because of my situation where nothing in my closet fits me at the moment (years of depression, job loss, physical ailments and 70+ lbs put back on). I figured I’d test run cosplaying and wore Madame Web to Garden State Comic Fest.
It went better than last year’s Amaterasu, but still not great. It was rather divided and the reason seemed glaringly obvious. The men of cosplay and the male fans talked to me and said they loved the character and the outfit. Only one female fan talked to me about it and she was someone off to the side like me while the big DC photoshoot was going on. I said hello to people and if they didn’t want to say anything back, oh well.
Madame Web is a hard character to pull off. She’s not supposed to be walking, but I designed the dress so that I could comfortably walk around a convention. She’s blind and usually has glasses or a blindfold over her eyes. In my research, she’s only been shown as standing once in a comic. When it came to on-the-floor casual cosplay photos, of course I’d be standing from walking around. With the “pro” photoshoots, I expected people to have more respect for character portrayal. There were benches and I felt it was appropriate to sit. Doing group shots, the organizers only cared about what they thought people should be doing. Madame Web is cosmic; she doesn’t blast beams from her fingers or have a dramatic “pose” that would be recognized. She sits in a big throne and gives advice. It’s one of the reasons why I think she’s so cool; that, and being grey-haired and clearly not a 20-year-old supermodel.
For the “Women of Marvel” picture, I took a seat on the bench. The other four did too and they didn’t have to. They just didn’t know why I was sitting and none of the organizers would explain or direct anything — or ASK what we wanted. The Marvel photoshoot felt awkward and none of the resulting pictures feel right to me. If Oracle was there or Professor Xavier, people would get it because generally those cosplayers are people who actually need wheelchairs. I wasn’t going to do that because it’d be extremely offensive.
Now we’re about a month away from the charity event and I still don’t know what to do. I don’t want to spend any money that I don’t actually have so that means working with what’s in my closet already. I could do something comfortable but not actually a character like I do for Steampunk World’s Fair. I wish I could afford to make something new like Faith from Valiant Comics. I know my volunteer partner for the event doesn’t feel like cosplaying either. Another friend has been on cosplay hiatus all year too. Even Amanda Jade who I interviewed about cosplay and geek girl empowerment announced that she’s not going to be active in the cosplay community because of backstabbing drama. We’re losing out on a lot of the regular 501st volunteers because of the date change to August. It feels like a lot of great people are giving up on cosplay.
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