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Heroine Addict: Defending Cosplay and (Variably) the Booth Babe

Wednesday 18th July 2012 by Molly Mahan

If you’re a consistent reader of Geekscape, or at least give a click to read my articles, then you are like to know that I partake in the act of cosplay. I enjoyed dressing up as a little girl (even if I didn’t do it all that often), and Halloween has always been my favorite non-religious holiday. Sure, you get to blow shit up on the Fourth of July in America, which is pretty cool, but there is rare a chance you can, quite simply, not be a you for a night. And that kind of freedom is invigorating. Since moving to Los Angeles and joining the Geekscape crew, I have been given the opportunity to attended conventions throughout the year, which has allowed for Halloween to seem like child’s play in the face of the art that is cosplay. I attended my first Comic Con in 2011, and as part of the experience I put together a Black Canary costume.

Since then, I have played that role at four different conventions, two film sets, and an “-ism” themed costume party (some people got “heroism”, other assumed “sado-masochism”–whatever works). In the process, I have nearly shredded the left leg of my fishnets (due to getting caught in the zipper, running into crap ’cause I’m a klutz, etc), nearly passed out due to heat exhaustion, and fallen over multiple times due to my inability to properly run around in heels–even twisting my ankle twice ’cause I was drunk. (Wee!)

Maybe I should work on my balance first …

For my 1st anniversary as a cosplayer, I  decided it was a perfect time to prep a new character. So I settled on a character (Emma Frost), a costume (White Phoenix a la Endsong), and began to do my homework so I could properly represent the part at the convention (reading everything from The New X-Men to her brief solo run) and trying to look awesome in photos (aka spending hours posing in front of the mirror to get her smirk down pat). It was fun, it was exciting, and it gave me pride when I put my costume on for the first time and it not only fit, but I felt confident in it. I admit it is a pretty fleshy costume (not that skin bothers me, I do go to the beach from time to time), but there’s something about dressing up like Emma Frost that made me feel powerful, a subject rather than object, and I think that’s a credit to her character. And her super awesome mutant abilities.

Then the days leading to Comic Con became fewer and fewer, and guides on “How to Survive” became more prevalent. Although, it was my second SDCC, I decided to click on a few, each saying the same thing: shower, chew gum, try to sleep, respect your fellow geek, etc. Helpful stuff. However, almost all of them also made sure to point out cosplayers and while telling Con goers to “look but don’t touch” could be helpful, claiming we all have daddy issues is quite another, and it goes to show just how few people seem to understand what cosplayers do and why we do it. (Spoiler alert: It’s not because our daddies ignored us and/or gave us too much attention as children).

First: Cosplayers are people, too. Second, cosplayers aren’t just female. There is an incredible amount of men who cosplay. From the elite 501st (while not all male, is predominantly so), to the Waldos, and even the dude Slave Leias. These guys are putting themselves out there as much as the women, sometimes showing as much skin (if not more thanks to bare chests on guys not violating some silly decency code), yet they aren’t mocked for having an Oedipus complex of some sort. And why is that? I’m not 100% sure I can even attempt to answer that question, but it is one that needs to be asked and one that needs to be addressed.

Ash Ketchum and Pikachu … gotta catch ’em all, amiright?

 I’m obviously not saying we should start accusing the men of cosplay of being attention whores or having parental issues or anything else. Rather, I am saying we shouldn’t be attacking the women in such a way either. Cosplay is an art. Sure, it can be fetishized, but so can ponies from Canterlot and Ponyville. Yes, the costumes can be quite sexy, but more often than not it’s because the we are trying to properly replicate the costumes from the comics or movie or tv show as much as possible, and even if we hate how sexualized Star Sapphire is, if she’s our favorite character, and we have the nerve to wear it, we will.

And no, it’s not the admirers or the fetishizers of cosplay that I’m talking to in this article. It’s the slut shamers (who are not defined by gender!) and those who think every girl in a costume is a mindless “booth babe” (i.e., woman who is paid to be attractive and hang around a booth at conventions, selling an item she may or may not be knowledgeable about). Booth babes are people, too, and they’re doing a job they’ve been paid to do. If you hate them, talk to their employer. But in my personal experience, I rarely have ever been asked who I am or why I chose the character. I can only assume it’s the same experience for most cosplayers (male and female), so unless someone out there is always demanding, “Who are you dressed as and why?” then the complaint of oblivious attention whores seems, for the most part, rather unfounded. 

You bet she knows who she is!

That said, speaking as a cosplayer: It’s not all about you, the non-cosplayer. It’s about us. While you may think we dress up for dudes to get attention, we dress up for ourselves above all else, no matter our end game. We are part of the show, part of the greatness of Comic Con.  We work hard on the outfits, the concepts. We don’t just wake up and think, “Oh, I know, I’ll run around half naked in a costume that costs about a month’s rent to get some nerd boys and girls’ blood pumping!” In fact, sometimes it’s hoping we’ll get a job. That the attention will come from someone with a camera, so we can dazzle with our personalities (not just our tits and ass) and hopefully get a job. Be it a booth babe next year (we’re already doing half the job for free), or an announcer gig on some geek-central TV show. While you may look down on that, it is what sells and this economy isn’t all too great (I don’t know if you’ve noticed).

But it’s not just about that. It’s also about the craft and the characters, and trying to be people we love, and show off our creativity and personalities.

Prior to commissioning Emma Frost (I can’t sew, but my good friend Abby can and she runs her own shop called Cape & Cowl Creations), I wanted to do Daenerys from A Song of Ice and Fire. SPOILERS AHEAD! But I didn’t want to do just any Daenerys, I wanted to be Daenerys the moment after giving birth to her dragons. Meaning, I wanted to be naked, covered in soot and dragons. My original plan was to essentially make a bikini made of dragons. END SPOILERS! Obviously, it’d be a sexy costume. I get that. Curiously enough, when I was talking to Abby about it, I didn’t even think of the men when I was telling her about my ideas. Rather, I was thinking of the Slave Leia cosplayers and trying to 1-up them. Mostly because I hate Leia in Return of the Jedi and do not understand why anyone would want to be her. Nevertheless, people do, and that’s fine. In the end, we didn’t make the costume due to cost. It’d be expensive. In the mean time we made Emma Frost, and next on the list is a female Predator costume, hopefully in time for Halloween. In a few years, we may revisit Daenerys the Unburnt, if something else hasn’t come along in the mean time. 

How I really feel about Slave Leia

It’s funny talking to men who are cosplayers vs. men who aren’t about cosplay. Those who aren’t often think it’s all about attention or sex. While those two things may not be out of the equation, they are certainly not the only parts of it. We dress up because it’s part of our identity as geeks. We want to be these characters, we want to show off our craft, we want to play dress up in ways we haven’t since we were kids. We want to show off our creativity and how clever we can be, especially if it’s a group or a specialty cross-over cosplay (like the Playboy Bunny Avengers or Superheroine Disney Princesses, etc.). We don’t just want (if it is what we want) attention. For the most part, we can get that anyway, it really isn’t all that hard. And, ironically enough this year, I received more attention as the Red skirt than I did as Emma Frost and Black Canary combined. Except when, as Emma Frost, I was standing next to a Jean Grey and a Scott Summers. That’s because group cosplay is cruise control for cool, and it’d be hard to find even a cos-hater who thinks group cosplay sucks, especially when done extremely well.

Seriously, how awesome are they? [Photo by Pat Loika]

When talking to men who do cosplay, I invariably express my desire to do something hyper conservative to the point of others not knowing my gender. While my love of Star Wars has waned since high school, I have always wanted to dress up as a Storm Trooper for that very reason. I have since realized that after the third or fourth person informed me that I was “A little short to be a stormtrooper” I’d probably get bored and change. I’ve looked into other avenues and ideas for full body, nonsexy stuff, and each time I talk to my male colleagues they respond the same way. “Why would you ever do that? One of the best parts about being a girl is not having to wear much. You can be the character and let your skin breathe!” Definitely not the argument I was expecting for Babea Fett, but it is one–a legitimate one at that! Considering I did nearly pass out from the Canary costume not breathing in the chest, it is one I need to think about in the future.

So, before you (if you’re the kind to do this) go off saying cosplayers are just doing it for the attention, a lot of strumpets, etc., try thinking about why they do it as an extension of their geekdom. Geeks are so quick to claim that they have been shat upon by society, yet we also are very quick to shit on other groups. Either claiming our superiority because we know more about the topic, because we have the most collected of a product line, or because we don’t dress up in costumes in public. It’s ridiculous. Unless a cosplayer is giving you unwanted attention, there’s really no need to be offended. Look the other way, or stay home and watch the coverage from your computer. It’s a lot less stressful that way.

  • John

    I don’t understand people who make fun of cosplayers. First and foremost they are having fun embracing something that they love whether that is the character or just the character design. What’s to make fun of?

  • As Molly Mahan once said to me: “It’s okay to like things!”