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Long ago, in the distant past of 2002, my father drove me to the Hyatt Regency in Rosemont, Illinois for my very first anime convention. I wore my very best Gundam Wing shirt with a matching mobile suit hat, wearing my geekiness with pride as he turned the corner to get to the hotel.
The last thing I ever expected to see was a man dressed as Vash the Stampede.
As my father cautiously pulled into the hotel, wondering if Halloween had come several months early, I was completely fascinated at what was happening around me. The characters I watched every weekday afternoon in my dorm room were now standing in the registration line at the hotel. Sailor scouts. Gundam pilots. Even Godzilla appeared on stage that Saturday night. I wasn’t sure what the name of this phenomenon was at the time, but I wanted more of it.
More importantly, I wanted to participate.
At its core, cosplay is about emulating your favorite character and having a good time. You’re not just wearing a costume, you are literally a soldier of love and justice -- at least until you go back to work. You’re a walking testament to the character you love. It’s not just fun for you; it’s fun for the people who recognize you. For a second, they can forget their normal lives and believe that the fairy tale princess with the frog is actually standing in front of them.
Maybe no one at school understands why you feel the need to swear over how difficult it is to construct the plug suits of Evangelion. Maybe you get funny looks at JoAnns when they ask you about the red and black fabric in your arms and you giggle over Harley Quinn. Maybe no one at work knows why you need Friday and Monday off this weekend, or why you’re looking at wigs online during your lunch break.
It’s fine, my friend, because the cosplay community is a big place and there will be someone who gets why you’re carrying around a very patriotic shield.
Still, as welcoming as this community is, there are instances where it catches you off guard. Did that person just bash that gorgeous Sailor Venus because she’s not white? Did that nice Wonder Woman with the insanely accurate costume get compared to a large animal because of her weight? As a black, plus sized cosplayer, I can tell you that these things do happen. These things have happened to me.
I’ve been called a whale, have been called “Precious” to compare my weight to Gabourey Sidibe’s. I’ve even had fried chicken jokes thrown at me, since my character "Princess Peach" uses a frying pan. The comment was something like, "She's carrying the pan so she can make some fried chicken ASAP," which hits size and race because, of course, we all know that black folks love their chicken.
That same welcoming environment I had stepped into also had some pretty judgmental folks hidden behind the Batman masks and Power Ranger helmets. You might be thinking, “Don’t geeks already get bashed for being geeks? Why are they bashing each other?”
Here’s the simple answer: Because assholes exist everywhere.
Plus sized cosplayers, or any diverse cosplayer, already know that these people exist. A lot of us come into cosplay already paranoid about being bashed for something. A lot of us don’t cosplay because we’re too afraid of what people will think. This is because, most likely, we’ve already had to deal with nasty remarks before getting into the geek scene. I was made fun of for my weight and my race well before I decided to dress like a princess.
I’ve been told that I’m “cute in the face,” and, “You’d be so cute if you lost some weight.” I’ve been told that I “sound white” and I’ve even been told that I “act white,” because there’s apparently a certain way I’m supposed to act because I’m black. I’ve been told that I’m not a “real girl” because I play videogames and watch anime. I’ve been told I’m not a real geek because I’m a girl.
Screw the anonymity of the Internet, these things were said to my face.
When I decided to cosplay, I immediately went on the hunt for a black, plus sized character. I thought, “If I do someone who is white, or skinny, I’m going to get bashed.” I was already pre-paranoid. I came in on guard, right off the bat. A lot of diverse cosplayers do. They already know they don’t fit the bill.
There’s a worse thing to hear in regards to cosplay that not even the most paranoid plus sized beauty may be ready to hear.
“Be aware of your body” because “people aren’t going to want to see a 300 pound Superman.”
This hurts more because it always comes from well-meaning friends or cosplay icons who want to save me from the inevitable insults that will pop up from someone who can’t handle a Princess Peach with dark skin or a Princess Tiana who isn’t skinny. I get it, they want to protect me, but it’s not the most encouraging thing to hear.
When your plus sized friend makes the decision to cosplay, the first thing out of your mouth should not be, “People are going to make fun of you if you wear that, maybe you should wear something else.” We’re already on edge about being in this community.
Don't tell us to "be conscious of our body." We already are. We can't help but be conscious of our bodies, not because you tell us to be, but because society tells us to be. Don't assume that you're doing us a favor by saying, "I am supportive of all cosplay, I just want you to understand that there are some people who won't support you," or, "Be careful if you weigh this much and want to cosplay this character not everyone will like it."
Hearing that from a friend is almost worse than being picked on.
In the geek community, for every asshole you meet, there’s a whole crowd of supportive people. At times there’s so much support that there’s no need for you to respond to harassment. There are a lot of people in this wonderful circle that want to support you.
They’ll be there for you, too.
And you. Yes, you. The person who is reading this article and considering dressing up as that short skirted Sailor Scout or skin tight costumed hero. Your body type, your skin color and your very essence of you is just that: you. So wear it. Wear it with confidence and pride. Be that awesome cosplayer that the next new con-goer sees on their drive in with their father. Be the one who poses for that picture and smiles at them. Be the one who inspires them to also love their body and dress as whichever hero or villain they damn well want to.