Cosplay, Race, and Fat-Shaming

For someone who loves costuming as much as I do, it’s surprising I haven’t mentioned cosplay in the blog before. Cosplaying is usually looked at as a fun, awesome way to participate in a con or have a Halloween costume a million times better than everyone else’s. Cosplaying is definitely not something to feel anxiety about, right?

Well, for some people, the thought of cosplaying is very much anxiety-inducing. One reason why people feel this way is the fat-shaming that is normal in the geek community and our society in general. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that heavier people (or people who think they’re heavier) might feel self-conscious enough never to cosplay. Women (as usual, in the realm of weighty matters) in the geek community definitely have more reason to be self-conscious at a con. If you’re a woman seen as conventionally attractive, you’ll probably be creeped on, regardless of your costume, but many female cosplay options (especially superheroines) seem to invite more unwanted creeping than, say, Princess Mononoke. So, while the decision of what character to cosplay is definitely a loaded decision for geeks of all shapes and sizes, fat geeks definitely have a disadvantage.

Not only are there virtually no characters to choose who are already portrayed as fat, but people can be very cruel to/about chubbier cosplayers who dare to cosplay conventionally attractive characters. (And, let’s face it, how many female cosplay options wouldn’t be considered conventionally attractive?) Who does this fat woman think she is? Why does she think she has the right to invade male sexual fantasies about female characters? What, does she think she’s attractive or something? As though “fat” and “beautiful” were mutually exclusive, and as though the purpose of women cosplaying is to perform hotness for male con-goers.

I stumbled on a very honest article by Tabitha Grace Smith called “Why I Don’t Cosplay.” Anyone who’s never considered what it’s like to be an overweight person at a con needs to read this and think about their own behavior and ideas.

“While my body image and confidence are usually fine, going to a big convention filled with scantily clad hotties sends my shields up. I’ve been in earshot of people who snicker and laugh at the plus-sized Batgirls or other cosplayers who don’t fit the skinny actresses they’re portraying. Once I asked one of these curvy girls to pose for a picture and genuine shock crossed her face. Other times it’s been a large man in a Roman gladiator outfit who gets laughed at or the plus-sized Princess Leia. Every time I heard these snickers and laughs I was less comfortable with dressing up.”

About the few options available for plus-sized women and girls who want to cosplay as a plus-sized character, Smith writes:

“I remembered the poor girl who asked on a forum who she could dress up as being plus-sized, the only answer she got was ogre Princess Fiona. I wanted to scream.”

I don’t know about you, but that makes me sad as hell.

Even if you aren’t someone who considers yourself fat, I think we can all agree that not only is fat positivity a good thing, but that we can all relate to considering dressing up as a character who wears spandex and being nervous about walking around all day in such an unforgiving outfit. Luckily, the comments section of Smith’s article led me to two awesome tumblrs: Fuck Yeah Fat Cosplay and More to Love: Fat-Positive Cosplay. Each posts pictures of cosplayers who have awesome costumes and happen to be plus-sized.

Because my boyfriend’s favorite comic book character is Gambit, and omgomg X-Men, we’ve decided to cosplay one day as Gambit and Rogue. For me, the hardest part won’t be making the costume (a challenge I am decidedly up for), but wearing it. In public. Around other people. While I’ve never been a plus-size woman, I have always been on the higher end of the misses sizing chart, and well, let’s just say I’ve got some body issues I need to work on. But sites like this give me a little more confidence. See this rockin’ Harley Quinn? She’s wearing a full body suit and looking damn cool.

So if all these fine ladies and gents can embrace their bodies and cosplay their favorite characters, ignoring any vicious con fat-shaming, so can I. (Besides, ’90s Rogue wears a jacket. …I’m joking. Sort of.)

I also stumbled on a post on Racialious by Kendra James called “Race + Fandom: When Defaulting to White Isn’t an Option.” In it, James writes about facing all kinds of ignorant when you’re a cosplaying woman of color.

“It often feels like a white cosplayer can not only dress as their favorite characters of color but also do so in the most offensive way  without comment. But when a non-white cosplayer colors outside the lines in the same way, there’s a risk of getting an awkward look because–instead of seeing the costume–no matter how perfect it might be, others see the color of your skin and you can see the confusion in their eyes: Why is a black girl dressed as Zatanna?

Worse are the ones who aren’t confused, but then think they’re being inoffensively clever. ‘You know there probably weren’t many Black USO Girls in the 1940s, right?’ Or, my personal favorite, ‘Wonder Woman? I thought you would’ve done Nubia.’

It’s an extension of the “default to white” privilege many fans still engage in on a regular basis.”

In case you didn’t click on the “most offensive way” link, it’s a white woman cosplaying as Zoe Washburn from Firefly… in blackface. There’s nothing wrong with a white person cosplaying as a black character. The offensive line is immediately crossed once you paint your skin. Why some white people still don’t seem to get what’s wrong with blackface, I will never understand. (And seriously, did no one try to dissuade her from this awful decision, or did she just ignore them? Friends don’t let friends wear blackface.) While the woman’s heart was probably in the right place, it just shows how ignorant white people can be about racial issues, and is indicative of the lack of racial sensitivity in the geek community.

I imagine that the point where these two cosplay issues overlap (being an overweight woman of color) is fascinating and equally depressing. But as I have no articles about that particular issue, and am not an overweight woman of color myself, I’ll have to stop here.

It is important for all of us in the geek community to think about the particular obstacles faced by our fellow geeks who don’t live up to the thin, white-washed ideals of our society. And it’s important to remember that the geek community is ultimately a product of society, meaning our ideals of beauty and correctness are derived from the norms of our society. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. As a community insistent on being outside of the norm, it is our responsibility to reconsider our values and perspectives on beauty and race, and realize there is nothing alternative about fat-shaming or race-based condescension.



Am I Ugly?

First Posted: 02/21/2012 5:54 pm by Huffington Post writer Emma Gray:

“People say I’m ugly. So … tell me — am I?”

A young girl stares earnestly, and perhaps a bit awkwardly, into the camera asking the world wide web of YouTube users to comment on her appearance. With 35,000 views and nearly 1,200 comments, her video is just one small piece in what seems to be a growing trend of teen and “tween” (between the ages of 11 and 13) girls taking to the Internet to broadcast concerns about their looks — and asking strangers to weigh in on these insecurities.

First reported by Jezebel, these YouTube videos seem to be made predominantly by middle-school aged girls, though there are boys featured in some of them as well. A simple search turns up pages upon pages of similar clips, entitled things like “Am I Ugly?” “Am I Ugly Or Pretty?” “Am I Ugly, Be Honest” and “Am I Pretty Or Not?”

One video, posted in December of 2010 has gotten over 3.4 million views and 92,000 comments. “I just wanted to make a random video seeing if I was like, ugly or not? Because a lot of people call me ugly and I think I am ugly … and fat.” She goes on to show the audience a series of photos of herself and asks users to “tell me what you think.” The comments on these clips range from astoundingly awful (“my vote: UGLIER THAN A DEMON” or “F*ck off whore wannabe”) to supportive (“I think you look pretty and nice,”) to concerned (“Sweetie, ur 2 young to be using the Internet, much less having these losers judge you.”)

The sheer number of these videos, and how regularly their creators reference other ones, suggests that a virtual community has formed around the concept.

SFGate’s Amy Graff expressed concern that these young people are only harming themselves by asking anonymous strangers for look-based critiques:

A 12-year-old isn’t mature enough to deal with vicious remarks made by their mean-spirited peers and sick-minded Internet trolls … Adolescence is dark and savage and when teenagers put themselves up on the Internet it only magnifies the experience.

HuffPost Teen reported recently on another disturbing online trend — a community of “thinspiration blogs” on Tumblr. As reporter Carolyn Gregoire discovered, this “thinspo” collective is built around young women encouraging one another to lose extreme amounts of weight, in an insular (well, as insular as the Internet can be) environment. In contrast, these YouTube videos are built around the anticipated responses of “outsiders,” and though the young people in them purport to want honesty, they’re likely also looking for affirmation.

This need for approval coincides with the girls passing an age when self-esteem tends to peak. After age nine, researchers find that body confidence plummets. According to the NYU Child Study Center, one study showed that 59 percent of girls in 5th through 12th grade were dissatisfied with their physical appearance.

Given how fragile kids are at this stage, not to mention privacy concerns and the potential longevity of Internet exposure, bloggers have responded to these videos by urging YouTube to shut them down. Jezebel’s Katie M. Baker asks “How do we get YouTube to make this illegal?” And while the video sharing site officially requires users to be at least 13 years old, getting in when you’re younger is simple. Graff calls for parents as well as YouTube to more closely monitor kids’ use of the site. Given that many parents already believe they should be making decisions about their child’s Facebook use, this solution doesn’t feel particularly far-fetched.

The (somewhat) good news is that a small but growing number of “response” videos to the “Am I Ugly?” trend have been posted, which means some kids are questioning the idea itself. But, in a world of carefully curated Facebook profiles that put personal lives (and looks) at center stage, and a constant bombardment of “aspirational” digitally altered images both online and offline, it’s perhaps unsurprising that young people are sharing their body image anxieties in such a forum. Deleting these videos from YouTube channels could act as a band-aid solution, but their existence is indicative of something much larger.

What do you think the role of parents is in situations like this? What can we do to encourage our children to feel confident about their looks?

Fotoshop by Adobé

“This commercial isn’t real, neither are society’s standards of beauty.”

I watch a lot of fashion/modeling-related television, and I have to say often times the retouching on models is frightening. In episode 3, cycle 3 of America’s Next Top Model the models had a portrait taken and they were judged based upon how much retouching they required. The video below is a montage of the retouched/natural photos from the shoot:

At 1:13 the model was retouched to look more ‘white’- or at least less ‘black’. At 1:33 another model’s puffy eyes are reduced and 1:43 another girl’s moles were taken away. All of these models are beautiful women, moles and all. Tyra is always telling them how beautiful they are, what special girls they are, but then their photos are retouched. You would think that since this episode happened that it would have made some kind of difference in future seasons. Nope. They are on cycle 17 and as airbrushed as ever. Even the plus-size models they have had on the show were retouched to look thinner.

What does this mean for millions of young girls who grow up bombarded by these images? I can’t tell you how many models on ANTM have confessed to eating disorders or other forms of self-harm because of their body image. As I grow older and am thinking more about having children, I worry more and more about how I am going to handle these issues.

Do I feed the fire and buy them plastic surgery when they are seven like Sarah Burge? No. Should I allow them to compare themselves to models both virtual and ‘real’? How do I stop it?

I don’t have any real answers to these questions. Perhaps there is no right answer.

How do you change societal standards of beauty?


Princesses on Parade

It’s Disney Princess Week! A time to celebrate all of the virtuous, kind, patient- and of course beautiful Princesses in the Disney franchise. Like many women of a certain age I have a challenging relationship with the Disney Princesses. On one hand, I grew up watching the movies and running through my backyard singing. On the other hand, as an adult I find my feminist values at odds with the general message of the films. Of course the princesses’ characters and personalities have evolved alongside our cultural values- but the end result is always the same.

Let’s start at the beginning…

1937- Snow White: Killed by a woman who was jealous of her beauty- only to be rescued by a necrophiliac Prince whom she later married. Beauty and marriage were her salvation. Not to mention that she can cook and clean like a woman should- though in fairness the Prince didn’t know that (he didn’t know anything about her other than that she was hot). At least in the Grimm fairy tale, they accidentally dropped the coffin- knocking the logged piece of apple out of her throat and that’s how she woke up. (Which is hilarious.)

1950- Cinderella: Enslaved by her family and once again put in the kitchen, Cinderella’s salvation is her good looks. Not because she is a hard worker or kind/thoughtful- but because she is the most beautiful girl in the land. (With the most unique shoe size.)

1959- Sleeping Beauty: Here the situation is a little different, Aurora is betrothed at birth to Prince Phillip. Common practice. But crazily enough she meets him again- not knowing who she is or who he is- and they fall in love. Prince Phillip happens upon ‘Briar Rose’ singing her little song and decides to hang out and watch, laughing a little. Which surprisingly I don’t think is creepy. If I came upon someone singing their heart out and dancing, I’d watch too. But when he joined in, Rose ran away (smart girl). They plan to meet again, but never get the chance until he rescues her from the castle and awakes her with a kiss. If she wasn’t pretty-she’d be pretty screwed. She had nothing else going for her in terms of rescue.

1989- The Little Mermaid: What to say? Ariel drastically changes her body to please a man and gives up her best feature (her voice). So when they meet, they can’t even talk. She’s just pretty. “The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber. They think a woman who’s a gossip is a bore!”- Ursala the Sea Witch. Now, there were 30 years in between Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid. Before, there was little to know character development for the princesses and they were all perfect. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel is brave, intelligent, and disobedient. She wanted to find her own happiness… but it’s they way she goes about it and her lack-luster relationship with Prince Eric that I have a problem with.

1991- Beauty and the Beast: Belle is odd. She is a girl who… READS! She doesn’t fit in not only because she is beautiful but because she is intelligent and outspoken. This is a definite improvement from the past princesses. Even her relationship with the Beast is far beyond the romantic development we have thus far seen. In fact, the majority of the movie is spent showing them interact. Perhaps one of the best moments is when the Beast gives Belle his entire library because she isn’t “rather odd” to him. He encourages her interests and pursuits. I have heard people remark that she saves the Beasts life only by her beauty, but I do not think that’s entirely true. I am sure it factored into it, but that wasn’t the only characteristic that was developed.

1992- Aladdin: In the beginning, Jasmine is being forced into marriage because of an old law. She doesn’t want to and fights her father. She even runs away and tries to make it on her own. Although I love this movie, it is true that Aladdin is only interested because she is beautiful. However, he learns that Jasmine is firey, quick-tempered, and kicks ass. And perhaps this makes him love her more- who can say? But once again I make the point that now Disney Princesses have flaws as well was the ever-present virtue of beauty. And even though Jafar chains her up and makes her look like a tramp, she isn’t a victim.

1995- Pocahontas: The always forgotten princess. Pocahontas is unique. While she falls in love with John Smith in the first movie, she ends up marrying someone else in the sequel (within the bounds of history). Pocahontas is a princess but she doesn’t fit the typical mold. She is beautiful, but she doesn’t have flowing dresses and instead adventures in the wild. John Smith’s eyes are opened to the beauty of the world through Pocahontas- despite their language barrier.

2009- The Princess and the Frog: A BLACK PRINCESS! Finally. Not only is Tiana the first African American princess, she is also not interested in being a princess at all. Tiana’s a hard worker who’s dream is to own her own restaurant. When Tiana meets Prince Neveen- they don’t even like each other. Although she is pretty, she is tenacious. And it isn’t until their long journey as frogs, do they come to love each other for their attributes rather than their looks.

2010- Tangled: The latest addition to the princess club. Rapunzel is locked in a tower by a witch pretending to be her mother. Every year on her birthday, Rapunzel watches the floating lights that are released in honor of the missing princess. Rapunzel dreams of being free and allowed to leave the tower- but she fears it will kill her mother. So when some handsome stranger shows up in her home… she knocks him unconscious (several times) and forces him to take her to see the lights. Rapunzel is pretty, but she is also a little crazy. Flynn Rider is a vain criminal. Once again, they don’t even like each other at all- but fall in love along the way. In the end, Rapunzel is the missing princess and her crown is returned- therefore making her the breadwinner. And apparently she and Flynn didn’t get married right away, he asked for a couple years until she finally agreed. Such a breath of fresh air!

As an endnote, I would like to mention the ages of the princesses when they got married:

Snow White- 13/14/15? (unclear but she is 12/13 in the Grimm story)

Cinderella- 16

Aurora- 16

Ariel- 16

Belle- 16

Jasmine- 16 in film, not married till 2 movies later

Pocahontas- 19

Tiana- 19

Rapunzel- 18 in film, married 3 years later

Yup. Lots of child brides here.