DISCLAIMER: If you're actually looking for advice on choosing a character to cosplay, this is not really the post for you. I'm working on putting a good one together and will link it here once it's done.
So I was recently approached by another person who has their own cosplay blog (or perhaps they are just one of a number of contributors) about reposting or linking to an article about "How to Choose your Chatarcer to Cosplay," which I thought would be helpful for new cosplayers who follow this blog and are trying to put together their first few costumes. The article does have some tips, but also has a lot of problematic things in there too. I'm not going to repost the whole article word-for-word, because why would I do that?
As for the good points, here they are. Pretty much all the things you need to think about before you actually put the cosplay together, and then making sure you actually try it on before you go to the con. Minor issues in there but not anything I feel the need to hash out right now.
1. Chalk out Your Budget
2. Consider Your Time Limit
3. Pick Your Favorite Book, TV Show or Movie
4. Choose Your Character Wisely
12. Mind the Weather
7. Determine How to Put It All Together
8. Try Different Characters
9. Give It a Try before the Big Day
As for the rest, here's where things get particularly hairy.
5. Brainstorm with Your Companions
10. Make Sure No One Else Picked the Same Costume
Yes I'm going in a different order than she does, sue me. These are related such that I wanted to talk about them together. This is the first where I don't entirely agree with the article, particularly with point 10. While yes, having a unique character that is not being cosplayed by anyone else does help you stand out and may get you additional attention, I would encourage you not to base your decision too heavily on that point. If you & your friends are planning a group and your intention is to have as diverse a cast as possible, then yes you'll probably want to all have different characters. However, if you're looking for gatherings/photoshoots at cons and you notice someone else is bringing a character you were interested in don't let that stop you from cosplaying that character! I really like this quote from Bee on twitter: "cosplay isn't a competition - cosplay who you want and enjoy when others do the same." Cosplaying the same character as others is a great way to share your love for a particular character and a way to make new friends with shared interests.
6. Make Sure the Costume Fits Perfectly
This is a quote from the article that rubs me the wrong way: "The bottom line is your costume must look fabulous. If people aren’t taking your photographs, it implies that your costume isn’t as good as you fancied it to be."
First of all, people may or may not be taking your photo for a variety of reasons, and I don't want the new cosplayers who read my blog to get too hung up on this. Having your photo taken or not shuoldn't be the sole indicator of your worth as a cosplayer. Some people just don't take photos that much, so even if they see and appreciate your cosplay, they may or may not ask to take a photo of you. This is also a community where a lot of people are uncomfortable with certain types of social interaction. That can be a barrier for someone to come ask for a photo or even to come up and talk to you or compliment you on your cosplay. Lastly, obscurity is a big factor. If people are unfamiliar with your character, you're much less like to get your photo taken than if you're cosplaying a super popular character, that's just the fact of the matter. Take one of my most recent costumes for an example: Innes.
This is one of the most impressive cosplays I have from a technical standpoint. It fits very well, the intricacy of the pattern is both interesting and well-executed, and it just looks good on me (don't you agree ;-P ). However, this is not a well-known character so I rarely get stopped for photos at a convention in this. So don't get too hung up on whether or not people are taing your photo, your self-worth as a cosplayer should not revolve around that.
As for the other part of the statement "your costume must look fabulous," yes, we all obviously want our cosplays to look good and fit well, but the idea of having a "perfect" cosplay is something that's very toxic in the cosplay community. It all comes back to the point made in the last section: cosplay is not a competition. Unfortunately a lot of people in the community treat it that way and turn their nose up at people who have cosplays that aren't flawless. Here's my philosophy/advice on the matter: don't let anything stop you from cosplaying what you want to cosplay, so long as doing so doesn't cause harm to another individual or group. If you're new to cosplay and you've decided to DIY your first costume, the reality is it's probably not going to be perfect. Hell, I've been doing this for about a decade and none of my cosplays are perfect, but that doesn't make me any less proud of my accomplishments or any less comfortable wearing any of them, so I want to encourage all of you to have the same pride and confidence in your own work. As far as the elitism and toxicity within the cosplay community, just know that it doesn't represent the community as a whole. In other words: do your best to avoid the shitty people who will judge/insult/etc. your cosplays and embrace the other side of the community who will be thrilled to have someone new cosplaying their favorite characters or from their favorite series and rejoicing in that shared interest.
I realized I never really touched on my caviat to "don't let anything stop you from cosplaying what you want to cosplay," which is "so long as doing so doesn't cause harm to another individual or group." This is the only qualification i have for choosing a character to cosplay. What do I mean by harming another? Well, it's difficult to articulate in broad enough terms to cover everything, but you should always consider how you cosplaying in a particular manner might impact someone else. I think the best way to address this is with an example: Imagine me deciding to cosplay Barret Wallace from FF7. If you're unfamiliar with that character, here's a photo.
If I decided to do blackface so my skin tone matched his THAT WOULD BE A PROBLEM. In a similar vein you may have heard about the Nazi at Anime Matsuri, THAT IS ALSO A PROBLEM. These things should be pretty much no-brainers but I still felt like it was necessary to qualify my statement, lest someone use it to justify something like this, or claim that I in anyway condone/support something like this.
11. Don’t Rush with a Official Photo Shoot
So my initial thoughts here were primarily a difference in the interpretation of "Official Photoshoot" from what's being used in the article, so I want to clear that up in case anyone else has the same misinterpretation. When this article uses "official photoshoot" they are referring to paid shoots with professional photographers. That should not be confused with the organized photoshoots/gatherings at conventions, which often use the same language. Most conventions have organized photoshoots/gatherings for different series, and are often organized by attendees and submitted to the convention to appear on their schedule.
As far as this topic goes, I do agree with the article that you shouldn't rush onto paid photoshoots if you're a new cosplayer. They can be expensive and if you're less than 100% confident in your cosplay, you tend to might hone in on little things in the photos that might bother you, after all, we tend to be our own harshest critics.
I would, however, encourage you to attend the scheduled photoshoots/gatherings at conventions if your cosplay fits in! This can be a great way to meet and make friends with other folks who are interested in the same series as you are and a good way to show off your new costume.
13. Say No To Cross-Gender Costumes
This is one point that stood out to me, and while I do disagree with what it has to say, I'm glad for the conversations it sparked. Here's what the article says on the matter:
"When it comes to cosplay, there are a few things you should avoid. Though wearing a gender-swapping costume is technically possible, you shouldn’t do it because it can be quite precarious. For starters, you might hurt the feelings of LGBT community in your area as well as on social media where you will post your photos. [...]
Gender bending is usually discouraged because turning a male character into a female one (and vice versa) implies that there are only two genders. Taking such a stand is a surefire way to anger the LGBT community in your area."
Despite being a member of the LGBT commnity, as a cisgender person I fully realize and admit that I am not an expert on gender. I also acknowledge that I don't have the ability to speak for how other gay people might feel about this, much less people in different places than I on the gender and sexual spectrum. What I can offer is some of my own thoughts on the matter, and some of thoughts and insights from friends of mine who identify from many points on the spectrum.
Personally, I have very few issues with people crossplaying (cosplaying as a character different from their own gender), or genderbending (taking a character's presented gender and altering the design to present another gender); I have actually done both.
I believe that it boils down to the same thing you've heard me say this a number of times now: don't let anything stop you from cosplaying what you want to cosplay, so long as doing so doesn't cause harm to another individual or group. The issue of course comes up with the latter half yet again, so long as doing so doesn't cause harm to another individual or group. The article does make a point that you could hurt people as a result of genderbending a character, but it doesn't do a great job fully exploring why and how it becomes inappropriate, and I have an issue with the blanket statement of "don't do cross-gender cosplay." In my conversations with others about the topic, I think Thea puts it best:
"Costumes that change the gender or gender presentation can be cliched and perpetuate stereotypes, but they can also be creative, challenge stereotypes, make social commentary, etc. It depends on the character, the cosplayer, the costume, etc. There's a difference between a guy dressing as a male Wonder Woman and a guy dressing as a male Lara Croft, for example; one is almost certainly tone deaf while the other is likely to be satirizing the way men portray women. And while there are certainly points to be made about the gender essentialism and stereotyping typical to a lot of "genderswap" costumes, trying to get people to abandon /ever/ doing such a thing doesn't leave any room for people to do things like reinterpreting characters into specific fashion styles that happen to be gendered, OR for people who are themselves non-binary to play with gender expression through cosplay without people who don't know them harassing them for doing it."
It is true that some genderswaps and crossplays are done in mockery rather then in sincerity, and can often be misogynistic or hurtfully stereotypical in their presentation,which is very much against what I believe in, and against the idea of harming none. However, there is a lot of room for creativity, as well as personal growth and understanding that can come out of playing with gender expression through cosplay. Another friend brings up a good point with relation to cosplay being a very personal expression, using one's own body as a medium:
"i think cosplaying and genderbends are a little different than, say, fanfic or fanart. When its a cosplay it seems more like a design choice or a way to personally feel comfortable while still repping your favorite character. I know a lot of people feel weird about how they look presenting a certain way so i wouldn't fault someone for choosing to design something in a presentation they prefer"
This could be a serious barrier for someone if their favorite character presented differently than that person was comfortable presenting themselves.
The article does make one other point I wanted to further explore. It states that "turning a male character into a female one (and vice versa) implies that there are only two genders." While I understand the idea here, I disagree with the premise presented. I think changing the gender presentation implies that there are at least two genders, not that there are only two genders. Something my friend Teddy brought up in our conversation was a term I was unfamiliar with, "spectrumsliding." They used it as alternative to "genderbending" or "genderswapping." Evidently the term is used more often in fanfic and fanart than in the cosplay community, but I like the concept and intent behind it. This is what Teddy had to say about the word:
"I prefer it for a number of reasons, not least being the explicit recognition of gender as a spectrum instead of a binary. Also, it focuses to me a little more on presentation as being what’s important, instead of “biological” sex (which is ALSO not a binary but that is a story for another day). There are issues with it as there are issues with any label of this kind, but to my mind they are less than the issues with genderswap."
Thea commented on the word in our conversation as well:
"I'm kind of dubious on the 'spectrumslide' thing myself, for the record, just because I don't think it's an accurate description of what people are actually doing in many cases. Gender play/playing with gender, maybe?"
The bottom line is that while there is potential for harm to be caused, I don't want people to unconditionally rule it out. We need to be conscious of our decisions and how we present ourselves and think about how that may impact those around us. Isn't that how we should live our lives, even outside the cosplay community? I have one last quote to end on, as I think it really hits the heart of the matter and echoes my own thoughts:
"I know some people do the swaps because they don’t have the confidence of doing full male or full female (whichever gender the original character was). But just being able to cosplay the character makes them happy. I’m not sure if there is a rise in some conventions that people are getting offended or hurt, like people taking the swap just to far and to out of character to the point it is offensive. I’m not sure and if so I hope it can be dealt with in proper manner. But cosplay is about expression and happiness."
If you have any input of your own, please feel free to contact me or comment on the post! Thanks everyone for your continued support and interest!