Reign It In: Racism And Shaming In Cosplay Culture

I’ve been seeing a peculiar blog being shared around lately. It’s a blog based around an “Anti Western Cosplayers Movement,” which posits that Western cosplayers are ruining anime characters and being racist by cosplaying as Japanese characters.

Now, Poe’s Law dictates that actual extremism and parody extremism are difficult to distinguish from each other, so this blog could very well be an elaborate joke, but that’s not my point. Regardless of whether the “Anti Western Cosplayers Movement” is a joke or not, it espouses a sentiment that does exist within the cosplay community.

Cosplay is one aspect of fandom that emerges organically, regardless of culture. While the term is Japanese, the practice emerged in the West at early sci-fi conventions. Japanese and Western cosplay culture grew largely independently from one another until the anime boom, when the newfound popularity of anime and manga added to Western cosplay culture’s repertoire.

Plenty of Western cosplayers do idolize Japanese cosplayers, and it’s no surprise why. Every time cosplay photos come out from Comiket, we see a showcase of impeccable costumes on beautiful people. However, it’s no surprise at all that we see the beautiful cosplayers at Japanese events when we don’t live there nor attend those events.

Our cosplay community here in the West makes a point of publicizing all forms of cosplay, for better or worse. We have people like Misa on Wheels who are all about accepting all cosplayers regardless of race, body type, or ability, but we also have communities dedicated to making fun of fat or inaccurate cosplays.

There’s no doubt in my mind that there are plenty of cosplayers in Japan that don’t live up to the standard of beauty and accuracy set by the best of the best, but we don’t see them over here, unless they’re to be set up as objects of ridicule.

It feels weird that I still see people on Facebook and other places online asking if it’s okay to cosplay a character that doesn’t share their skin color. That question’s a no-brainer to me. I cosplay Lelouch from Code Geass and don’t bat an eye about it, but the fact that people feel the need to ask that question bothers me. As much as cosplay is a showcase, a work of performance art using one’s own body as a canvas, it seems like people have forgotten why people put on that performance in the first place.

Cosplay is a performance in service to a character. It’s what happens when you love a character so much, you want to become them, at least for three days at a convention. In the midst of “cosfamous,” competitions, Heroes of Cosplay, sponsorships, booth babes, and cosplayers charging for photos at San Diego Comic-Con, people have forgotten that cosplay is about appreciating characters.

The fact that so many cosplayers are caught up in all of this auxiliary nonsense means we need to rein it in. The culture of body-shaming that’s come to surround cosplay is a sign that we need to bring it back and understand why we’re all here in the first place.

Your costume doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to make your costume. You don’t have to be the same race, body type, or even gender as the character you’re cosplaying. If you think you’re doing your character justice with your cosplay, go for it. The majority of people who also like that character will appreciate what you’re doing. I’m proud of my performance as Lelouch, and people appreciate it.

For the few that don’t appreciate it and make that known to your face, a nice, noncommittal shrug followed by, “Well, I’m not trying to impress you” will do just fine. As for the ones who don’t appreciate it and make fun of you online because they lack the stones to say it to your face, or the racists who start an entire blog dedicated to why non-Asian people shouldn’t be allowed to cosplay, take solace in the fact that they are a minority and that nobody likes them but other people who do the same thing.

Heroes of Cosplay, among other things, really set something off in the cosplay community. We started to understand how we looked to people on the outside looking in, and we realized that certain aspects of our culture weren’t representing us well. We started to change. The cosplay community is going places, and when we do, the weight of these people’s cruelty and bigotry will stay their feet and they will be left behind.