The Cosplay Community: A Pretty Good One

Today I asked myself a random question. Not necessarily random, but it has been egging at me for a bit.

The cosplay community is weird, expansive, and amazing. I think I can pin down some reasons why.

The cosplay community is made of members from other fandoms and communities. There are cosplayers who like anime and video games, and others who enjoy live-action TV shows and movies. We produce costumes based on the media and things we most consume.

For example, I love myself some Nintendo and PC games, I’m probably ten years behind on any anime trend, Link is my favorite character to cosplay as, and I will boot anyone out of my life who says I need to stop watching Star Trek.

An accurate representation of author in cosplay seeking Spock's approval.
An accurate representation of the author in cosplay seeking Spock’s approval.

That’s just me. There are people who cosplay things from video games, while other people cosplay characters from Western (mostly American, from my observations) cartoons. Even within the community, there are people who have different cosplay styles. Some people cosplay rather conservatively, meaning they don’t show off a lot of skin or wear really form fitting stuff. A lot of female cosplayers who practice Islam are a perfect example of this phenomenon because they will incorporate traditional dress—i.e., headscarves and hijabs—into the design of their cosplays. Other cosplayers are more comfortable with revealing more skin or wearing tighter clothing. Either way, it’s all really perfectly fine.

Our community doesn’t just cross fandoms, it also crosses cultures, age, religion, body shape, skin tone, race, sex, gender, sexuality, and even nationality, so the whole “fandom crossing” seems rather small compared to the other gaps that cosplay bridges for people. Even though cosplay is just a hobby for most of us, and a career for a fortunate few, this hobby has this weird knack to transcend differences of all kinds because at the end of the day, cosplayers recognize that we are all dorks in costume.

 

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Airi Cosplay as Raven (Teen Titans)

I think there is something oddly, wonderfully humanizing about that “we are all dorks in costume” sentiment so many cosplayers carry. Humans are weird. We make judgments about individuals and groups based on very little information, or sometimes no information at all. Cosplayers aren’t immune to this; no human is. That’s a conversation I will save for another day. For now, I want to focus on the humanizing power cosplay has.

I will admit sometimes my attitudes about cosplay and the community within are naively optimistic because there are issues and some of those issues aren’t the easiest to talk about, and sometimes we dislike having those conversations.

I’ve been a member of the cosplay community for about five years now—albeit, off and on, but still a member. I remember in 2013 when “Cosplay is Not Consent” became a rallying cry for cosplayers experiencing sexual harassment and other bad behavior at conventions. Some people I’ve interviewed remember when cosplay was still a teeny-tiny and more intimate community in the early 2000s before the rise of cosplay showcases on websites like Kotaku and IGN. I know that many cosplayers dislike the hyper competitiveness portrayed in that thankfully forgotten TV program Heroes of Cosplay. Several members of our community face racism and experience bullying and harassment due to their gender identity, ethnicity, and/or physical appearance, but I think most of this hateful sentiment comes from people who don’t cosplay and spread the same hatred in their own fandoms. There’s still a lot work to be done; I don’t deny that, but while that hard and unpleasant work affects my attitude sometimes, it doesn’t kill the optimism I have for this community because we’ve done a lot of good work.

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Speaking optimism, let’s hope this never returns from the dead.

Over time, I’ve noticed lots of positive changes within the cosplay community. Mind you, these changes probably aren’t well known outside of the community, but they are good changes. There are Tumblr blogs devoted to sharing pictures of cosplayers of color. Several cosplay blogs promote positive body images and self-confidence. There’s still lots of problems circulating around representing all of the diverse members of the cosplay community, and while some of those people making efforts to represent the under-represented parts of our community sometimes go without getting a good thank you, I’m glad they exist. The efforts the cosplay community makes to be more inclusive and sharing of the experiences of others, well, I think those are efforts in the right direction.

Speaking of inclusiveness, that’s probably what I love the most about this community. There’s so many of us who could be personified as giant, fuzzy, warm plush dolls because, boy howdy, are we welcoming. That’s the thing I love most about our community, and it can be summed up thusly:

Do you commission your costumes? You’re a cosplayer!!

Do you make every piece yourself? You’re a cosplayer!!

Do you make your cosplays from things found at thrift stores and your closet? You’re a cosplayer!!

That inclusiveness is what makes the cosplay community so fantastic. It’s one of our greatest strengths.

Of course, there are squabbles and rough spots, but overall, the cosplay community is pretty gosh darn good. I think it’s getting better, and I hope to stay involved with this community for another five years to see how much better it can get.

 

Author’s Note: This whole thing started because I was wondering about the fandoms that make up the entirety of the cosplay community. We’re like a big ol’ melting pot of people from different backgrounds and stuff to make one super community. And then it divulged into how cosplay can overcome race and gender and stuff. Funny how my tangents work, huh? They go from light and easy to deep and thoughtful.

Source Links for Raven Cosplay Image

Image retrieved from: The Hali Hijab

Cosplayer as Raven: Airi Cosplay

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