Thursday, February 19, 2015

Is There Really Room for Self Love in Cosplay?

(Photo: CosCouture and Titan Cosplay)
Cosplay is a huge piece of the fandom pie. From once-a-year-at-Con cosplayers, to those who travel hundreds of miles every year to cosplay all around the Country, to sneaky cosplayers who construct costumes so subtle they can be worn to work, cosplayers (it seems) are everywhere. Some view cosplay as a way to embody their favorite characters and to bring their inner warrior or hero or evil genius out. Some just love the art of creating elaborate costumes and intricate armor pieces. Some revel in the spotlight and the attention they receive while wearing the costume of a beloved character. Whatever their reasons, cosplayers are generally a dedicated and creative bunch of people. Given, however, that the basic idea of cosplay is to dress up as a character (often from a comic book, video game, cartoon, etc.), and that many characters are drawn with a very specific, exaggerated, and sexualized physique, is cosplay really an area of fandom that fosters self love and body acceptance?

For me, this question came up when I found and shared this "breastplate" contraption to a social media cosplay group I'm a member of:

All of the gravity defying cleavage, none of the nip slip danger. (Photo via RocketNews24)
Now, overwhelmingly, the reactions to this that I have seen from cosplayers have been positive. Most thought using something like this would be a great way to comfortably wear uber revealing costumes without the constant fear of accidental, unwanted exposure, or (if slightly modified) would use it as a genius way to keep the girls supported without having to try and hide a traditional bra, or to give women (or men) without large breasts an instant, comfortable way to increase their bust size for a particular costume without using wadded up socks and multiple bras. Some very clever seamstresses even said they would love to use something like this on their dressforms to more accurately represent their personal body shape during the costume design/creation process.

There have been, however, several women who have expressed some very real concerns about the 'breastplate' contraption and what it may represent for female cosplayers. Their concern is that this contraption is meant to give women the largely unnatural "ideal" breast shape depicted in over sexualized media. Essentially, they fear that this is yet another way to send the message to women that their bodies aren't good enough. In many ways, it's a very valid point. Women (in particular) are bombarded daily with media telling them all the ways they could and should improve their physical looks. From a very young age, we have been taught that fat is ugly and breasts are "dirty pillows" and should be covered up (unless you're a slut), but it's also absolutely essential that they be round, perky, and immediately available for the male gaze at any moment in order to attract a mate. Everything from our complexion to our choice in heel height is casually observed and critiqued on a daily basis by our peers and strangers alike. We've all heard the term "sex sells" and as women we have been systematically taught from a shockingly young age that our society has an extremely limited definition of what is attractive and sexy, and that it is our job to do everything humanly possible to adhere to those strict standards of beauty. It's a never ending cycle, full of self loathing women torturing themselves to try and fit in. So, the question is: Are women who use contraptions like the "breastplate" just conforming to the patriarchal "ideal" of commercial beauty instead of loving their own, natural bodies?

Here's the thing: There is no way to answer that with a blanket yes or no. There just isn't. Are there women who will look at that "breastplate" (or any of the thousands of female characters one could cosplay as) and wish that her body could look like that? Of course. There are women all over the world who are starving themselves or force-feeding themselves or getting a dangerous amount of plastic surgery because they are convinced that the only way to be happy is to force themselves into their society's beauty mold. There are also, however, a huge number of women who would look at that "breastplate" and see nothing more than a practical piece of costuming not unlike a wig or contact lenses. That doesn't mean these women hate their bodies. To make that assumption is just as wrong as it is to assume that a scantily clad woman is promiscuous or that a modestly dressed woman is a prude or oppressed.

We should absolutely be raging against the lack of diversity in the body types we see in the media. This is a very real thing that is harming people everyday, and should be addressed continuously until it is no longer a thing. We should be standing together and fighting against the bullying and harassment of women cosplaying a character with a different body type than her own. We shouldn't, however, think less of a woman who cosplays in provocative/revealing/sexy costumes or uses items like the "breastplate" to modify her figure for a costume. Is she somehow less worthy of our admiration as an artist because she fits into society's limited definition of what's sexy, and/or chooses to use tools to create a costume she is proud of and feels empowered in? Absolutely not. We are all most beautiful when we are comfortable in our own skin, and how much of that skin we choose to expose or how we chose to do so is our decision and our decision alone. One of the main ideas of feminism is that we, as women, have the right to make our own choices. Whether or not you agree with a woman's choice in clothing or costuming is completely irrelevant to her freedom to wear it, and to attempt to police her decision is wrong. Period. There is no dress code in life, or cosplay.

So, yes, there is absolutely room for self love in cosplay. In fact, I feel it's a huge part of it. Whether a cosplayer strives to be screen accurate or chooses to modify a design to fit her (or his) body type/comfort level, what they're doing is a courageous labor of love. When you cosplay, you are literally draping your body in art and displaying your masterpiece to the world. What's more loving than that?

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