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.

-Joanna

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