Cosplay is, at its core, a very aesthetic hobby. Sure, there’s lots of objective techniques and practices that are used to get to that aesthetic, but the final product is usually one we ultimately take in with our eyes.
So when you’ve got an existing character that you’re trying to emulate, you’re trying to capture the aesthetic of that character. Of course, cosplay is more than just dressing the part; cosplayers take it a step further and take on the demeanor of their characters. (That is where the “play” in “cosplay” comes from; it’s a shortened form of “roleplay.”) But to the public at large who sees cosplays online, it’s all about how you look. And anytime there’s a hobby based on looks, you’re going to get haters.
Let me start by saying I’ve had it easy when it comes to cosplay comments. It’s very rare for me to get anything close to what other cosplayers have gotten. But that’s not to say I haven’t gotten my fair share.
I’m a 5’1″ Filipino woman. I have dark hair, dark eyes, and dark skin. I’ve cosplayed characters from animes, video games, TV shows, and movies. Most of the time, I look nothing like those characters cause they’re usually white or Japanese. But I’m not cosplaying as a character because I identify with their race or skin color, I cosplay as a character because I identify with their personality and morals. Also because some of them are badass and I want to feel like a badass too!
The one cosplay I’ve done that has gotten constant criticism is my Ramona Flowers cosplay, from the movie “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” (I would’ve liked to do a comic accurate version instead, but I already had the dress! And of course you can already see in that link that someone felt it necessary to point this choice out.)
Now, there is PLENTY to criticize about this cosplay. How about the wig? Or how I didn’t bother putting on a hair net underneath so you can see my natural hair poking out? What about that sad excuse for a hammer? So much that can be commented on. But the number one comment I got on this was
“You should’ve cosplayed as Knives instead.”
In case you’re not familiar with the Scott Pilgrim franchise, Knives is Asian. She dates the titular character until Ramona Flowers comes along and sweeps him off his feet. Knives eventually tries to copy Ramona’s style to win Scott back but ultimately fails. (Spoilers? Sorry.) So when someone comments that I should’ve cosplayed Knives instead, it bothers me for a whole slew of reasons.
Just because I’m Asian doesn’t mean I want to only cosplay Asian characters. And if we wanted to be even more “accurate,” I would only be allowed to cosplay female Filipino characters. Hmmmm… When’s the last time I saw a movie, TV show, video game, or anime character that’s Filipino? I’m gonna say “never.” We’re the butt of jokes, usually as a member of the working class (and by working class, I mean prostitution) and that’s about it. So excuse me for not wanting to cosplay as that.
While we’re at it, let’s talk about this racist double-standard. Me cosplaying as a white person is not cool, but it’s totally fine for a white person to cosplay an Asian? Let’s take an example from the same franchise: My friend Jenjen cosplayed as the aforementioned Knives at the same convention. (And I loved her for it! I wanted to steal that scarf so bad.) Pretty sure I didn’t hear anyone complaining then. So why am I the one getting singled out?
In the end, arguing with racists on their logic is a lost cause. Sure, I want to do my part to end ignorance but you gotta know when to stop. With some people, you’re just wasting precious time and energy on someone who will never change their mindset.
Here’s a message to all that haters:
You don’t get to choose who I cosplay. That decision is up to me and me alone. I’m the one who took the time to put it together. I’m the one that paid money for supplies. I did the work. You just sat there and judged. Anyone can do that. You’re not special.
I got into cosplay because I loved to do what every little kid loves doing: playing dress up. My first cosplay was Android 18 from DBZ. If the internet had been around back then, would I have comments telling me I’m inaccurate cause I’m not an android? Doubtful. Would I have gotten comments telling me I’m inaccurate cause I’m not white or light-skinned? Probably. I’m thankful that the cosplay community was relatively quiet online when I first started out in the hobby. I don’t think I would’ve continued and improved as much as I have today if it was as widespread then as it is now. I for sure would’ve been discouraged, seeing fellow fans torn down because their skin was too dark or their waist was too wide. Little 10-year-old Ash would not have survived. But thankfully 10-year-old-Ash didn’t have to put up with all this hater crap, so she got to let her freak flag fly until cosplay became mainstream and cool.