Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Facts, Figures, Fat-shaming and Cosplay

So the TV Show Heroes of Cosplay is taking the Cosplay/ Costuming Community by storm and often not in a good way.  Among it's many missteps have been copyright violations committed by using photographs without permission.  Then two of the stars opted to do a full head cast when they only needed the forehead, taking on massive risk and danger, apparently, just to do it.

But what really seemed to steal the spot light was an exchange in Episode 2 regarding who could and could not cosplay.  This seemed to take the show into a dark direction of what was "Permitted" and what was not.

Now this was further complicated by Becky's obsession with her figure in Episode 1.  A great deal was made about her quick return to the gym to try to slip down to play the part of Merida from Brave as well as snippets of her trying to squeeze into a corset to get the fit right and really look the part.  Since we watched the episodes back to back we saw a solid two hours of weight issues and "looking the part" being front and center.

Really, much of this is quite likely the result of the show's editing staff trying to create an engaging and provocative narrative.  This is not hard to do when you use some creative cuts, slip a few comments around out of context and then remove the chance for someone to respond to something to try to better establish context.

Since Episode 2 has aired, many efforts have been made to defend Yaya Han, the "Ambassador of Cosplay" as being very open to "cosplay for all" despite the fact that her words on the show implied quite the opposite.

So this brings us to now, today, and my own collected thoughts and observations.

Looking the Part Can Matter

Depending on what you want to do with your cosplay being a different body type than the character you want to play can be a barrier to entry.  This can be matter of being the wrong height, heavier weight, wrong skin complexion, etc.  But this limitation only applies to Cosplay with certain specific goals:  wanting people to believe you are that character.

Now why would that matter?

One of the greatest groups out there is the 501st Stormtrooper Legion and it's sister organization The Rebel Alliance.  For some of their charity work, which can include visits based on the Make a Wish Foundation, having the "Real" Luke Skywalker and the "Real" Obi Wan can be a requirement.  It's quite like being cast in a movie or play where it is more than just costuming.  It's the complete package.

Likewise, Disney does this already when it casts men and women in the "human characters" for the parks.  Simply if you don't have the figure of Jasmine or Peter Pan, then they can't cast you because the illusion is a very big deal.

And for some cosplayers that moment where a fan says "Ohmigod, Look!  It's Indiana Jones!" is why they do it.  They look like a certain character/actor and therefore are able to really play to that look when they get into costume.  It's not a requirement for all cosplay and for those of us (I put myself well in this group) who do not have Hollywood looks, looking like an actor just isn't going to happen.  I am a little lucky in that I'm told I look like Adam Savage or even Paul Giamatti, neither of whom are really known for appearing in the kinds of costumes I can wear at a convention.  Sure I could do John Adams, or I could do something that looks like Adam on the set but it's not the same as having the jaw line to be a really convincing Han Solo.

So what does this mean for the 300 pound Superman?  That he can't do it?

No.  Anyone from 30 pounds to 300 can cosplay Superman.  Period.  Full stop.

It does mean, however, that he (or she) should not expect to be mistaken for the character/ actor.  No more.  No less.

The Internet is a Cruel Place

One of the points raised in the after comments about the infamous "you can't be superman if you're 300 lbs" is that when doing so the cosplayer is putting themselves out there for ridicule.  The implication is that people will take pictures and post mean spirited text on them and then circulate them as the next nasty meme.  And once out there, getting these images pulled can be impossible, creating a permanent nasty record.

Last week I commented on the woman's image of "This is what a Feminist looks like" being turned into an anti-feminism meme and Facebook's refusal to react to the obvious bullying that followed.

On this I, reluctantly, agree that it is a risk. It's a risk of not being what "the masses" label as physically attractive.  It doesn't matter if they're in costume nor not.  The wrong hair color.  The wrong complexion.  The wrong sized gaps between teeth.  The wrong weight.  The wrong height.  Bullies don't need a lot of excuses to pick a victim and zero in on them.

So rather than suggesting that someone not pursue something they love because they might get hurt, I really think we need to be encouraging of these courageous souls and support them when the bullies do come out, rather than preemptively telling them to hide from the bullies not yet seen.

Because no matter how much we may think we can protect them, as someone who was bullied, it has already happened.  You can tell me not to wear that costume but it won't be the first time I've been verbally abused.  I'd rather you stand with me when it happens.

Bullies are going to happen. 

I wish this weren't true.  I do.  I wish that when someone said to me "Do you think I'm going to get teased for this?" I could universally say "no."  That would be a better world to live in than we do.

It's sad but I fear it's a little expected that if someone who isn't a perfect match, then there will be someone who will make a comment about it.  I say that not because I want to assign blame to the cosplayer but because I'm a realist about how there are people in this world who are mean, vile and sad people.  They have learned that when they are cruel they get something they themselves want, be it attention, perceived respect, or laughs.

As a Cosplay community it's a job to deny them of these things.  It's our job to not laugh at their jokes, to not give them respect for their "cleverness" and to only give them enough attention to tell them that their comments are not welcome and then refer them to the Convention staff.

Most cons have harassment policies and if it's that easy for a bully to take a picture or a video of someone they wish to mock, it's just as easy for us to do the same in collecting evidence to take to con staff to have them disciplined.

I don't suggest we go straight to Twitter or Tumblr and create a Wall of Shame effort to attack and belittle the bullies.  Those actions make us no better than they are and it only adds fuel to their flames of attention seeking hate mongering.  In short those stories never end well.  But as much as I believe these evil people exist, I believe as many if not more good people exist who want everyone from the 90 lb Super girl to the 300 lb Batman to have fun showing off their fandoms.

Dress for you, in all the meanings of the phrase

First, my own personal advice is to cosplay as you like for what you want.

Second, there is an art to dressing and costuming for your own body type.  What works on the hyper-stylized body of a comic book Power Girl is not going to work on every other woman's body.  There are some looks that one actor can pull of but just plain look wrong when applied to a different shape or silhoutte.

Tim Gunn, briefly, did a show called "What to Wear" and part of it was to sit down with a woman and look at her figure and say, frankly, these are things that look good with the way you are shaped.  He did it with class and poise and not a single drop of judgement.  And there is no need for judgement.  You are what you are in that moment.

But it does mean that some costumes may need to be modified to fit who you are rather than be a faithful 100% copy of the comic or the movie.  It might mean finding a way to add short sleeves to help accent your arms, or a short skirt to better fit and display your legs.  It might mean opening up a panel, or hiding a seam.  Honestly I'm not a tailor and I'm not an expert on how to pull any of this off myself.  But I have seen it done and when it's done well, women (and men) of all body types can rock the look.

The Cosplay community wants to be open but like any group there are going to be those who see it as a competition.  There will be a quiet tally of what comments are made, what compliments given, how often they are stopped for pictures.  It can't be helped and if kept in the right perspective it might not even be a bad thing.

The bad is when we let our sense of competition mutate into efforts to cut others down to build ourselves up, rather than joining in a shared celebration of loves and passions and fandoms.

Rob Osterman is the author of the popular web novel Bastion: The Last Hope.  Its story follows those few who struggle to survive through the end of days and perserve what remains of humanity.  He also writes Mind the Thorns, a reader directed web novel chronicling the death and life of Regan Fairchild:  Accountant, Bachelorette and Vampire.

His first novel, Fantasti*Con follows Allison Cavanaugh on a weekend of geekery gone awry as she is stalked, followed, harassed and worse.  It is available on Amazon in print and eBook editions.

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