“Sometimes it feels like we’re more objects than artists.” -Mogchelle.
Conventions like Wizard World Comic Con give fans from all over the world an outlet to talk about the shows and characters that they love, and sometimes dress as. Cosplay is the practice of making or buying pieces of clothing and props to look like a specific character. It began to become popular in the 1990s and the passion for cosplay is still alive today. This hobby has been practiced by all genders since the beginning of cosplay and although for fun, this activity has stirred up some uncomfortable situations for both men and women. Within cosplay many people have experienced racism and sexism; movements like Cosplay is NOT Consent have been created due to the problem in conventions of guests touching or treating cosplayers disrespectfully only because they are in a costume. Thankfully, because of these situations there are now anti-harassment policies placed at most conventions. The hypersexualisation of female cosplayers is a big problem within the cosplaying community. Female cosplayers are looked down upon for revealing costumes, body shamed for curves that the character they are portraying may not have and discriminated against for many other reasons. Thankfully, at Wizard World Comic Con these situations are very rare, but at conventions like New York Comic Con or San Diego Comic Con,they are very common.
This year at Wizard World Comic Con in Cleveland, Ohio, I got the chance to talk to female cosplayers that travel all over the country to cosplay professionally: Michelle Mussoni known in the cosplay world as Mogchelle and incredible volunteers Aly McDonald, Mason Elizabeth Gunter, Ashlea Badgett, Amanda Lahrmann and Brigit Leclerc from the organization Rubber City Cosplay!
In the fan convention community, it is often an issue that women in TV, comics, and movies, are objectified and hypersexualized which sometimes makes the action of cosplaying as one of these characters an intimidating action for women at conventions, “This makes me more cautious when choosing any outfits with bare skin.” says Aly McDonald, a volunteer from Rubber City Cosplay, “I choose what makes me feel the most comfortable. I also trust that my friends will help with saving me from unwarranted advances and comments. This makes me able to cosplay a little more freely”. Sadly these ordeals have had an impression on female cosplayers, making them more cautious when they should be able to wear whatever costume they’d like.
When typing ‘women in cosplay’ on a search bar, some of the most used words in article titles are the words “sexy” and “hot”, “Sometimes it feels like we’re more objects than artists.” said Mogchelle. Many of these artists expressed to me that it’s always more satisfying when getting compliments about the way they crafted pieces instead of how they just look as a whole, “Many of us put in a lot of hard work and long hours into crafting our pieces. For me, it's an art form and I want people to see the skull behind the work and not deem it worthy simply because they see it as "sexy" or "hot".” Ashlea Badgett added.
Besides the sexualization of female cosplayers and body shaming, other forms of discrimination have occurred at some conventions. Mostly in these situations people shame cosplayers because the color their skin isn’t the same as the character they are portraying or because their body type is different from their character’s. I asked Aly McDonald from Rubber City Cosplay her thoughts on the types of discrimination towards cosplayers, “I think it is completely unacceptable.” Aly says, “Cosplay is for all. No matter if you don't look like the character or have the same personality, cosplay is about showing your respect for the character. If you have the confidence to dress up as that character, people should appreciate the dedication to that fandom and outfit, not to what you look like”. When cosplay became most popular in the 90s these sorts of ordeals were mostly unheard of, but Mogchelle tells us that in her opinion, “As cosplay has become more popular, I’ve noticed more bullying happening, and I don’t agree with any of it”.
In order to improve the experiences of cosplayers at conventions, female cosplayers have to support each other on their artistic decisions. Female cosplayers are breaking barriers and making cosplay a much safer place. “I think I am making cosplay for women different by showing the women who attend conventions that cosplay is all about making the character their own.” explains Amanda Lahrmann, “In the end, we are cosplaying as a way to say thank you to the creators, and show them our love for the character by becoming them. By doing this we show our passion for our favorite shows and show the public how we embody the character while still showing our personality”.
Although these situations do happen, they normally occur in conventions that don’t have policies and regulations regarding harassment towards cosplayers. Thankfully, Wizard World Comic Con has created a safe and fun environment for cosplayers of all genders. I asked Amanda Lahrmann from Rubber City Cosplay how the atmosphere towards cosplaying in Wizard World Comic Cons compared to other conventions, and this is what she had to say, “I think the Wizard World atmosphere was different because it promotes an environment of positivity. With Wizard World being a con that draws in a ton of superhero cosplays, it can be difficult to feel that your cosplay “fits the bill” in terms of looking like the comics, but Wizard World does a good job of promoting a positive environment for cosplayers of all ages and body sizes”.
Lastly, it has been argued by some people (most commonly men) that women cosplay solely for male eyes and the approval of males, we at Mimp Mag know that this is not true so I asked all of the cosplayers I had the lovely chance to interview what is their sole purpose when cosplaying:
Mogchelle: My purpose to cosplay was always to create! I love challenging myself with new build/creative techniques and teaching myself new ways to make costumes/props. I also tend to lean towards characters I love, which are, more often than not, not the most popular characters! I also like to compete in craftsmanship competitions, so I prefer making costumes full of detail over something that would be considered, “only there to please the male eye!”
Aly McDonald: My sole purpose to do cosplay is to have a hobby that releases my creativity. I have always loved many different fandoms and wanted a way to give back to them. This is a way of giving back to my childhood memories. Also, it is an amazing way to meet people with your same interests.
Mason Elizabeth Gunter: I cosplay for myself. I do it to honor the characters that I love and respect so much. If they just so happen to dress in a little less clothing then that’s fine!
Ashlea Badgett: My sole purpose for cosplaying is to express my art in an atypical fashion. Also, it's fun to leave the real world behind for a little while and apply the persona of a beloved character.
Amanda Lahrmann: My sole purpose to cosplay is to inspire confidence within myself and the cosplay community. It started as a way for me to have a creative outlet to balance out my analytics-focused career, and it has evolved as a way to prove to myself that I can learn new skills and build my confidence and self-esteem.
Brigit L.: My sole purpose of cosplay is to have fun in an atmosphere where I feel comfortable, and for the most part excepted, and show the things I love. You always a few nuts here and there who try to ruin the fun, but so what? When it comes down to it, it's probably you whose going to be having more fun when your laughing and making new friends. And that's how it should be for everyone. I have made so many amazing friends through cosplay, and my confidence in myself has been boosted so much because of cosplay, I don't know what I would do with out it. I would be lost.
Special thanks to Wizard World Comic Con for inviting Mimp Mag to be part of the Cleveland 2017 event. Check out Wizard World’s website to see if an event is coming near you!
References: Unmasking The Cosplay Community’s Sexism And Racism Problem by Tai Gooden