Cosplayers — fans who express their fandom by “dressing up” as various characters at conventions — choose this form of performance art for a variety of reasons. Receiving attention from non-cosplayer convention-goers is at the bottom of the list. Some participate as a fun way to escape their everyday lives, some do it for the shared community where they feel understood by like-minded people, and some cosplay because bringing a character to life is their art and passion. For all cosplayer geeks/nerds one thing is very clear: Even if it brought no attention whatsoever from others, they would still cosplay.
What a cosplayer presents on a convention floor represents an investment of time, money, work, and love. As attendees, we see the end result, not all the frustration, careful sewing, and construction, nor the thought process that led to the choice and creation of the character. Non-cosplayers are free to exclaim or gush over, ignore, or dislike the choices of an individual cosplayer, but a cosplayer is not there representing a favorite character so that others can ridicule, criticize, or objectify that person. When you express those opinions to a person involved in cosplay, you are indulging in the same sort of bullying you’ve always complained you’re a victim of as a geek/nerd.
The vast majority of people in the cosplay community are geeks/nerds. They can tell you the comic book or video game “canon” for their character till your eyes cross. A favorite television or movie character cosplayer is likely to have memorized every line and even mannerisms for said character. If they have the chance to meet a favorite artist, writer, or actor, a full-on geek-out occurs. Outside of the convention atmosphere, cosplayers fall into every walk of life — doctors, lawyers, teachers, policemen, firemen, engineers, computer programmers, actors, writers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and even some that are grands. Cosplay allows them to step outside reality for a short period of time, in a way they find fun.
Besides the way they choose to show their fandom, the other big reason for cosplayers is the sense of community. It’s a group where all can find acceptance. They support and encourage each other. Lasting friendships and romantic relationships have grown between cosplayers that originally met at conventions. Cosplay is their hobby —one the person is dedicated to as much as someone into photography, playing Magic, or following a beloved movie franchise or sports team. For some, it’s a way to challenge oneself to step outside of fears and comfort zones.
There is a form of attention cosplayers do love to receive — appreciation. When the craftsmanship of a costume is recognized. When two or more people connect over love of the same character, game, film, anime, or television series. When someone, especially a child, is filled with obvious excitement over “meeting” a cherished hero/heroine in person. These reactions mean a cosplayer has successfully paid tribute to a character they love. Achieving that goal holds a lot of meaning for a cosplayer. As a non-cosplay geek/nerd, be part of the solution, and treat cosplayers with respect and dignity.
To wrap up our Cosplayer Roundtable, this week we asked our panel:
What do you wish non-cosplayers understood about cosplayers?
Katie: “Some friends and I had a big discussion about this at Dragon Con, of all places. The manager of the Marriott had treated many people poorly, based on the perception of our hobby as childish and immature. But this is such a diverse group of people, possibly more diverse than any other grouping in our lives outside of school. Not only are there people of every race that cosplay, there are people of every profession. I know cosplayers that are lawyers, engineers, doctors, teachers, accountants, [and] law enforcement, and all are quite capable adults.”
Jeff: “Cosplayers are some of the most supportive and positive people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I wish they [non-cosplayers] would understand that we are normal people just like them; it’s just we like to be superheroes and villains. I mean, who doesn’t want to be a comic book character?”
Yuna Elizabeth: “To a lot of people who aren’t really into it, cosplaying seems like a dorky lame thing that geeky people do. At least, that is how some of my friends who aren’t into cosplay see it. There is a lot of work, money, and time that goes into making each of the outfits. When we do these events, we do it not just for the fun, but because this is what we love doing!”
Daniel: “That our hobby is no different than anyone else’s. I hate seeing or hearing non-cosplayers making fun of cosplayers or saying it is a waste of money. No one has a problem with people spending money on sporting events, or pick on those that wear jerseys. If we choose to embrace our love of something it should be no different than those that follow a team. I would ask what people admire most about fellow cosplayers. I would say the sense of community there is. I actually feel loved and accepted by my friends that I have made at various conventions. They are some of the most kind, caring, and fun people I have known. I always look forward to the next convention when I can see them all again.”
Kristen: “I would hope they understand that we are surprisingly regular people too, but we show our passions differently than others. We invest time, money, and effort into the things we love, which is cosplay, whereas they might simply pour their passions into something else.”
Jackie: “We cosplay for ourselves, not for their entertainment.”
Wolfen M: “It’s a very encouraging environment creatively, and the standing rule is that size, gender, and skin color don’t matter, than anyone can play anyone. We all want each other to have fun and feel safe, and not feel restricted. That while we crave an audience, we don’t ultimately need anyone’s permission or approval. That it’s not for others to decide what we can or can’t wear, and we are not there for anyone else’s gratification. And cosplaying in a revealing costume is not an invitation to be groped or spoken to in a suggestive manner.”
Jonathan: “Cosplayers are just people like everyone else. Celebrities are just people, too. Treat everyone with dignity and respect. Be nice to everyone at a convention from the janitor to the headlining celebrity; treat everyone the same. Cosplay should be fun and the drama needs to stop. We are all freaks, geeks, nerds, and weirdoes. Embrace it and don’t hurt others.”