Lately, I have been feeling very sad for the cosplay community. The atmosphere of the hobby has changed very rapidly over the past couple of years, due to a number of factors, and while some of the changes are exciting and positive, there’s also a lot of anger and negativity that is making a lot of good people leave the hobby, or avoid getting into it in the first place. That is such a sad loss to me, because cosplay means so much to me.
I got into cosplay at a point in my life where I was very isolated. I had just moved back to my home town after getting out of an abusive relationship, I had no friends and no social life. I was starving for people. I found one of the first cosplay websites that was available at the time, and was amazed by the people there. I was always creative and making things with my hands, so it spoke to me. I began shyly posting on the forums, and people responded with excitement and friendship. I made my first costumes and went to my first anime convention (across the country!), roomed with friends I had made on line (was I nuts!?) and found a whole new world!! Without getting into cosplay, I think I might have remained very isolated in a small world. Thanks to it, I have met so many fantastic people, some I have been friends with since my first convention (10 years ago, egads!), and some I hope to have for life!
Now, I’m not trying to say all those years of cosplay and conventions were flawless. In any hobby, from horseback riding to flower arranging, there will always be those interested in proving something, competing, and sometimes being aggressive about it. But getting involved in such things is a decision, and I think a lot of people forget that…that you just don’t HAVE to deal with the unpleasant sides of hobbies if you don’t want. For the most part…sometimes everyone gets caught in a bad situation.
The best advice I’ve ever been able to come up with to people who want to get into cosplay has always been this: Stick to your friends, cosplay what you love, and avoid negativity. Sometimes, it’s hard to avoid, sometimes people bring it right to your personal space. But there are things we can all do together to not just avoid it, but to fight it!
—- Your self worth should have NOTHING to do with cosplay. EVER. Of course, take pride in creating things and enjoy sharing that, but no one is worth more based on prizes they’ve won, ‘shares’ or ‘likes’ gotten, and how much praise you get for a costume. YOU ARE SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. If you lose in a cosplay contest, it doesn’t mean someone is worth more or better than you because they won. If you’re going to compete, you must accept that sometimes you will lose, and that is a part of it. If you win, it doesn’t mean you’re more important than anyone else there, you just did a good job! Good on you! And sometimes, sadly, contests don’t seem fair. And they aren’t always fair. It makes us all angry, but it’s going to happen, because it’s a part of human nature. The best thing we can do in that situation is either to shine light on it in a way that is mature, or decide it’s not worth your time and walk away.
—- There is no “winning” a cosplay race. There is no grand prize, and there is no finish line. Being ‘famous’ in the hobby of cosplay is literally like being the most popular person in high school…sure, you think you’re important in that small world, but walk one block away and no one knows who you are, or CARES. And that’s HEALTHY. The world is a vast and amazing place, and cosplay is such a microscopic, silly (yes, it’s silly) part of it. DO NOT TAKE IT SERIOUSLY. We are not finding the cure for cancer, here…at the end of the day, we are people who wear wigs on the weekends and adore comic characters and animation characters with big eyes. No matter how important someone thinks they are in the hobby, no one is giving them free cookies for it. They go home at the end of the con like everyone else, and hopefully to other priorities. Have other hobbies, play with your pets, spend time with family and friends, travel, and make sure you have a world outside of cosplay.
— If you see someone having a negative experience involving cosplay, STEP IN. You have the power to change someones afternoon, and the power to change their life. If you see someone being made fun of because they aren’t the right size, race, gender, or anything else for a character, step in. Ask the bullying party to stop. Take the cosplayer to a place where they can collect themselves, ask if they are ok. Tell them they aren’t alone, that even though some people are cruel, there’s many more who care and support them. If you see a girl being sexually harassed at a convention, do the same. Even the strongest person can feel vulnerable, trapped, or too overwhelmed to speak up for themselves, and someone simply saying “leave them alone or I will get security” can bring them back to solid ground. You’d be surprised, you might make a bigger difference than you thought you had the ability to.
— If you feel the need to mock a cosplayer for any reason, you need to seriously ask yourself why you are compelled to do so. Really, take a deep look. At first your knee-jerk reaction might be, “well, they chose to wear it so they should know it’s coming” or “this is my favorite character, how dare they soil it”, but really, look harder. Where is that coming from? Do you think that’s funny? Do you lack the empathy to say “how would I feel if someone said that to me?” Is it from anger, do you think that someone deserves that? Do you feel empowered by it, or clever? Do you feel validated if a few people snicker at your insult? The end question is: Even if you don’t agree with it, for whatever reason, do you have the ability to see at best it isn’t even worth your time? The time it takes to stop and say something, to type the insult, to make a joke…is your own time not even worth more than that, that you have nothing else to do but invest your day trying to inflict negativity on someone? I really hope not. For your sake, I would pity you. Negativity takes a lot of time, and you will never gain anything from it. It always leaves you empty handed. Always look for your own motivations before choosing to attempt to hurt someone.
— Realize no one is stealing your attention. I really feel like some cosplayers think there is only so much attention or recognition to go around, and if someone else gets some, they stole a piece of that pie. We need to encourage each other, not act like dogs fighting for scraps. Share other cosplayers work, praise them when you see them at cons! Don’t be afraid to compliment, cosplay is not a zero sum game. There is room for everyone.
— Speak with actions. There has been many people very upset at how cosplay has been portrayed in the public eye due to reality TV. It’s understandable, it’s often shown in a less-than-true and embarrassing light. But as much as you can rail against it with angry posts and hate-speak, nothing speaks louder than just NOT WATCHING. I have friends I care for a lot involved in some of the shows, but I still choose not to watch it, because I don’t like how it portrays the hobby, and the pain it’s caused. Nothing speaks louder to producers than ratings. Don’t watch. Don’t watch on TV, don’t watch online, and don’t download it. I find not knowing about it helps me not to be upset by it. If less and less people watch, it WILL go away because nothing means anything to producers but money. Bad publicity is still publicity to them, posting about it a lot online can actually make some people curious and add to the ratings of the shows. Take away the ratings, and you cut it off at the knees. Try to watch shows and documentaries that you feel show the hobby you love, avoid those that upset you.
Try to cosplay with your friends, and avoid people you feel are overly negative toward other cosplayers. If you hang out with people who are really negative, it’s usually just a matter of time before it gets turned on you. Do yourself a favor and look for more positive people to be near, and try to be one yourself.
Cosplay what you love, not what you think is popular, going to get you attention, or what someone else wants to see you in. When all said and done, you’ll regret putting time, effort, and money into a costume you didn’t love, and probably be disappointed in yourself for not being true to yourself. Cosplay what you want, the characters you love or the costume design you adore! You’ll enjoy it more, look happier in photos, and naturally attract friends to you.
Cosplay, as a hobby, seems to be building toward a turning point. We can make it more positive, inviting, and inclusive….or we can make it negative, catty, and sad. Speak up when others are hurting, avoid negative people and immaturity. “Be the change you want to see in the world”. That even applies to cosplay. <3