(Spoiler alert, mister: yeah, that totally makes her a cosplayer. Suck it.)
Aloha amigos, welcome to the first of many posts by me, Leah! When I post, we’ll be having a more casual conversation about aspects of the gaming industry, figures, creative aspects of the fandom, and more. Once you finish reading today, I'd love if you dropped by the Noe's Attic socials and leave a note on any discussion topics you'd like to see!
I was inspired to break something down recently, which I haven’t been in quite a while other than my personal journaling and ranting to my therapist, so I’m gonna roll with it while I can. So let’s just touch really briefly on cosplay, gatekeeping, character representation, and communicating expectations clearly. Hopefully, this helps alleviate some of the common fears and arguments I hear that stop people from trying out cosplay, including in the wargaming world.
It’s such broken record energy to say cosplay is for everyone - of course it is, you know that, I know that, your mom knows it, Adam Savage knows it. These are fictional characters that we’re deciding to dress up as as an expression of fandom and appreciation, for creative outlet, and to commune with people with similar interests. We also know at this point that, and I have to impress this fact, the characters are fictional and nobody is going to look exactly like them. Even if they did, that’s not the point. People worth speaking to don’t gatekeep fandoms based on the appearance of the fan.
See what happens when you do that? You look like idiots. Cause that’s what you are when we do that. Ahem.
Moving past the most dead horse conversation of gatekeeping fandoms, one of the biggest points that I think isn’t brought up enough is the cause of this “cosplayers must look like the characters” opinion. And to be frank, the cause doesn’t matter. This is providing an explanation, not an excuse. I’m just the kind of person that attempts to see the logic in arguments even when there is none, so I can make sure my rebuttals are formed against the actual point.
(note: somehow my ADHD brain took me on an hour long deep dive of Lynyrd Skynyrd here)
This cause is conflation between CHARACTER PERFORMANCE and COSPLAY. And I can understand how easy it is to be confused if you aren’t a part of either community! Granted, those who are public with these trash takes are more outing themselves as not being cosplayers or fans of cosplay themselves so their opinion is pretty invalid, but we won’t dwell on that. A lot of these people simply don’t understand the point of cosplaying. Let’s break down some basic definitions - as defined by me, so obviously this isn’t all inclusive - for example, we aren’t going into the nuance of cosplay contests and the like, nor are we getting into the whole different ballgame that is trying to cosplay as a hustle and for social media recognition.
Cosplay is what I said above: a creative outlet, showing appreciation for the character/media that they’re from, and a way to bond with other people with the same interests. The physical presentation of that fan, the source and quality of the costume, and all of these other face value characteristics can’t take away from the point and the expression.
Character performance is what a lot of these people are conflating with cosplay. This is closer in spirit to what Disney princesses at the park are. You aren’t speaking to a cosplayer cosplaying as Rapunzel, you are speaking TO Rapunzel. These people, backgrounds and fandoms aside, are hired to portray the character as accurately as possible and remain in character.
Some cosplayers like to roleplay the characters that they are dressed up as. This still doesn’t really count as character performance, but it does blur the line a little. And sometimes, a three year old runs up to you and while you know you’d never pass as Spiderman in real life, they think you're the real deal so you play along. Very cute blurred line there as well. And many characters/costumes don’t actually have a canon person or face behind it, like Warhammer factions - a Sister of Battle can look like whatever!
About a decade ago, I remember doing an interview where I was asked for advice I would give newer cosplayers. Most of it was normal, start small to build your confidence, things like that; but I also remember saying if you’re afraid of public reaction to consider cosplaying a character that looks more like you. I hate that that was advice I gave, but I also hate that the logic about it was sound and remains to this day. It shouldn’t be! I would love for us to be at a point where exchanges like the one above I grabbed from twitter didn’t happen. Other people misunderstanding the intent and the point of cosplay is not your problem to consider, you’re just there to have a great time.
A great therapy life lesson to take from this is that other people’s response is not your responsibility in situations like this. Anyone that thinks that you’re there solely to portray the character to THEIR standard?
Fart on them.
Yeah, you heard me. Make eye contact while you do it.
For everyone else, I hope this offered some clarification about cosplaying vs presenting yourself AS the character, and you have more understanding of both of these awesome expressions of character love!