Cosplay. Cosplay is awesome. Over my last eight years or so of attending UK conventions I’ve seen cosplay grow from a fairly obscure hobby enjoyed by a few dedicated fans to a huge phenomenon that has become an integral part of the con scene. It’s enjoyed by a wide range of people, from children to teenagers and adults, it’s enjoyed by men and women and people who identify on various other parts of the gender spectrum. Gay, straight, trans, asexual…the wonderful thing about the cosplay community is its diversity.
However, increasingly, when I see cosplay talked about or reported on online, the word comes accompanied by two, quite frankly, unwelcome friends. The words “hot” and “girls.” It is increasingly rare to find cosplay talked about outside the concept of “hot cosplay girls.” This needs to stop. Cosplay is not gendered. Cosplay is not about sex.
I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with girls cosplaying or that cosplay can’t be sexy, of course. What I object to is the increasing view that the only valid form of cosplay is when it’s done by girls and is “hot.” And by “hot” I mean in service of the male gaze. There’s an unspoken implication that any cosplay that is not “hot cosplay girls” is necessarily lesser.
Recently someone linked to the work of a photographer friend of mine with, yes, those words again, “Check out these hot cosplay girls!” That cheapens the work of an extremely talented photographer and devalues the cosplay of some extremely talented cosplayers whose work doesn’t fit into the “hot” and/or “girl” category. If your only interest in the art of cosplay is that it allows you to look at “hot girls” might I point you to a whole internet full of pornography that is specifically designed to cater to your needs? There, at least, you can ogle to your hearts content without objectifying people who are simply expressing their passionate love for certain characters, cheapening the art of the photographers and dismissing the talent of those who do not fit your criteria for “hotness.” (Of course, you’ll still have to deal with knowing that you’re exploiting the desperation of other human beings for your own kicks, but that’s a debate far outside the remit of this article).
Simply put – I have had enough of this term. Can we please remove it from our vocabulary when discussing cosplay? No more, “hot cosplay girls.” No more framing of cosplay as being about sexuality and being specific to one gender. No more framing of cosplay as being something done by females for the gratification of men. That is not what cosplay is, and I am tired of seeing it presented that way.
I’m tired of seeing extremely talented cosplayers who have poured hours of hard work and dedication into their costumes overlooked in favour of those cosplayers who have some flesh on display. And let me make it clear, I am not laying the blame at the feet of those cosplayers who do show some skin, because I am equally tired of seeing extremely talented cosplayers being reduced to nothing more than tits and arse by male fanboys just because they have some skin showing as part of their costumes.
I am tired of seeing those cosplayers who wear skimpier outfits receive abuse online when they choose to wear a costume that shows less skin because their so-called fans believe they exist purely to service their masturbatory fantasies.
I am tired of seeing my friends online called sluts and whores purely because they are female and in costume. Men – cosplay is not about you, it is not about gaining your attention, it is not about satisfying your needs, it is not being done in service of your fantasies. Grow up.
Stop treating female cosplayers this way. Not because they’re all someone’s sister or daughter or mother or wife…but because they’re people, and no person deserves to be reduced to their body parts or seen as a thing that exists to amuse someone else. Not only that, but stop dismissing male cosplayers. Male cosplayers are a vital part of the cosplay community and are, on the whole, just as talented, dedicated and creative as female cosplayers. Celebrate cosplay, please…without the emphasis on sexuality and gender. Cosplay is inclusive, but the way men discuss cosplay online is, quite frankly, not only exclusive but abhorrent. The image of cosplay online is pervasively female, young, white and sexualised. This is not representative of the actual cosplay community, and it has to stop.
So, please, let’s consign the phrase “hot cosplay girls” to history, and celebrate cosplay as a whole, no matter the cosplayer’s sexuality, gender, race or level of ability.
Ian D. Sharman
Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Fandom Wanderers.