Cosplay. It’s a word that’s been on the lips of almost every geek lately. It’s surrounded by controversy, currently a major representation of the misogyny that women encounter in the geek subculture. People love it, hate it, live it and breathe it, or merely accept it. It’s a fundamental part of conventions, and as the years have gone by cosplay has gone from the few and the hardcore to a massive net of costume enthusiasts spreading across the globe. If you go to a convention and you’re NOT in a complex costume, you are the minority. Image sharing websites like imgur and tumblr explode with cosplay photos, and it has made its way so dominantly into pop culture that “cosplay” has even been trending on twitter a few times over the last few months.
But despite its intense saturation, there are still many people who are a little unsure about what exactly cosplay is. What does cosplay mean? What makes people want to spend hours and hundreds if not thousands of dollars on representing a fictional character? What is cosplay?
Cosplay is a shortened form of two words – costume and play. The early 90s saw the rising of cosplay into popular culture, although it probably originated initially in Japan. It is the practice of portraying a fictional character – at times completely identifying as that character while in costume (and thus acting as if the individual was that character to add to the authenticity of the experience).
It is of my own opinion that cosplay is not merely costuming, but a very unique form of performance art. It is most widely associated with comic books, anime, video games, and most things that are geeky in nature. It has become such a massive subculture within the geek world at this point that is is essentially synonymous with the idea of a convention or a gathering of individuals who subscribe to more “geeky” interests.
From personal experience, I have found that people cosplay for a multitude of reasons. Be it love of a character, enjoying the attention of being in an elaborate costume or portraying a loved character, or the appreciation from peers from completing a complex costume… there are many motivations for donning spandex or cape.
I reached out to my social networks and asked an important question of cosplayers: “Why do YOU cosplay?” These are some of the responses that I received:
“Cosplay is about two things. First it’s about expressing the things you love. Those people who play DnD and wear wizard hats while they do it should understand. It’s one thing to run around talking about how you love Assassin’s Creed and it’s another entirely to be like “whoo I’m an assassin!” (or assassin’s girlfriend/future wife, as the case may be, but that’s because she was easier for me to pull off and I wanted to do a more complex costume.) Let’s face it, a lot of us wish we could live in video games/tv shows/movies/comic books/animes, because it’s so interesting. And it’s nice to devote a part of yourself to something. Making cosplay takes a ton of time but that’s half the fun for me. It sort of consumes your life for a bit.
The second part is community. I’ve met a ton of amazing people who like the same thing I do because we saw each other across the room wearing shows that the other one liked. And, yes, having your picture taken is a lot of fun, but a lot more of the pictures that are taken are not ‘wow you look hot/badass (though, yes, that does happen) but OH MY GOD YOU’RE ____!! I LOVE THAT CHARACTER/SHOW/ETC and that’s just awesome.
And let’s face it: the best part of cosplay is when a little kid sees you and gets excited to meet you/the superhero or whatever you’re being. There’s pretty much nothing better.” – Sabrina Ranellucci
“Cosplay, for me, is like a badge of pride. Growing up, I was often told to be ashamed of my interests, that I needed to fear not acting enough “like a girl,” or that it was a phase I would eventually grow out of and learn to be ashamed of. Instead, I learned to embrace fandom as part of what makes me who I am, and cosplay is a large facet of that. It allows me to wear my interests on my sleeve (literally), and be proud them. Sure, it can be a challenging, frustrating hobby, but for all the hard work, watching the costume and the character come alive is really reward in itself.” – Kaitlyn Montague
“There are lots of great reasons to cosplay, and while I have several I can point to, the real driving force for me has been self-confidence. I spent many years of my youth feeling awkward, ugly and unwanted by my peers. I hung out with my fellow nerds in school, and while I was accepted there, it wasn’t enough because I wasn’t happy with myself. Cosplay has helped turn that around. It’s helped me be more comfortable not only with my outward appearance, but more confident emotionally. It’s hard not to feel confident strutting around in Poison Ivy’s leaves or wearing your best pair of ass-kicking Black Canary boots.” – Mac Beauvais
” 1. Cosplaying is my prefered method of being social. I got into it because my friends started doing it and it looked like a blast! Nowadays I can’t imaging going to a convention and NOT cosplaying, that’s just crazy.
2. I also am into it for the technical challenge of building costumes and props. Building props is now my professional career and making new and exciting costumes keeps me on the bleeding edge of costume fabrication technique.
3. Lastly, I really enjoy taking up the visage of my favorite characters from video games. Who DOESN’T want to be Commander Sheppard and look like a total badass?!” – Bill Doran
“Defining why I’m passionate is a lot harder than just “doing”. I’ve always enjoyed dressing up, and wanted to sew (I make most of my costumes except a few) and cosplay lets me do that. I get to bring My favorite characters to “Life” so to speak, and seeing others (especially kids) light up with joy, makes it worth all the trouble I put into everything.
And me? Why do I cosplay? While I think these responses pretty much summed up the feelings of cosplayers in general, the reason I cosplay is because there is nothing more exhilarating to me than to portray a character that I grew up loving. I led a lonely, isolated childhood, and comic book and other fictional characters were my best friends for many years. Superheroines taught me to be a strong, badass specimen of a woman, and so embodying these pillars of kick butt femininity is such a rush for me. There is nothing more rewarding than BECOMING that character for a day or a weekend – like dressing up like Wonder Woman and people calling me Diana. I cosplay because I love my fandoms – and I want them to be real.
And what about you? Why do you cosplay? Why do you NOT cosplay? Has reading this made you more curious about dressing up or do you have a newfound respect for cosplayers? I’d love to hear your thoughts.