“Do it right or not at all”

The title of this post comes from a shirt put out by Hot Topic a while back:

Never mind that “cosplay” could just as easily be a noun, or that they’ve just defined “to cosplay” as “to do something right or not at all”.

Those familiar with the tenor in the cosplay community these days will understand why this shirt raised so many hackles. On the one hand, we have Heroes of Cosplay, a Syfy “reality” show in which, to quote Syfy’s “About” page, “passionate fans put their imagination and skills to the test to make a name for themselves in the competitive world of cosplay.” I didn’t watch the show, which did plenty of its own hackle-raising, but I think that sentence says enough: their idea of cosplay was that it revolved around fame and competition.

Couple this with the internet, where Thumper’s maxim might be rewritten “If you even think you might possibly have anything at all to say, say it.” No niceness required. This means that cosplayers (and people in general) can come under fire for basically anything: How dare you cosplay that character while being black/indian/white/overweight/underweight/gay/handicapped/a man/a woman/tall/short? You name it, someone out there will criticize you for it. Because they can.

Against this insistence on perfection and the unspoken idea that if you’re not famous or actively trying to get famous, you’re doing it wrong, have arisen ideas like cosplay equality and blogs/pages promoting underrepresented cosplayers, whether they’re plus-sized, not white, newbies, or something else entirely.

So you can see why this shirt offended so many people. The idea that there is a “wrong” way to do an activity that is supposed to be fun for everyone is flawed and offensive, unless by “Do it right” they mean “Have fun”, which I doubt.

That said, a confession: “Do it right or not at all” is how I try to cosplay.

Now, I should specify that my definition of “do it right” is something along the lines of “do it as accurately as possible [without sacrificing sanity].” For me, trying to get my costumes to look nice and polished, and to look as much like the characters as is reasonably possible, is part of the challenge, and therefore part of the fun.

Granted, I’m not a flat-chested 12-year-old girl (Toph), a boy (Jun), a fox-turned-mostly-human (Kit), or even a giant blue and white amoeba thing (see previous post). Even if accuracy is your goal, there are limits to what you can achieve, even with serious undergarment reshaping and makeup. Almost no one can live up to the standards set by Anime Character Anatomy (except this Sailor Venus — look at her legs! THEY’RE AMAZING!), and that’s probably a good thing. But I try to get close. Even if I love a character, I won’t bother cosplaying him or her if there are elements to the design that I just don’t think I could pull off, whether because of my body type, my lack of skill with certain materials, or sheer physical/biological impossibility (anime, go take a crash course in physics and the laws of gravity!). You’ll find that most of the characters I’ve cosplayed or have on my list are short(ish), small, and have light skin. Why? Because I’m short, small(ish), and have light skin. Would I cosplay a 6-foot-tall weightlifting champion? No — I don’t have the height or the build and I just don’t think I could do the character the kind of justice I’d like to unless I were specifically doing it as a joke (which people have done very successfully).

But would I deny another short, small person, or anyone else at all, the experience of cosplaying said 6-foot-tall weightlifting champion? Also no. And that’s what I think is important to remember: everyone cosplays for different reasons and with different goals in mind as regards the end product and experience. I frowned at Heroes of Cosplay earlier, but I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with competition (I love attending masqs!) or wanting to be famous as a cosplayer. Some of my cosplay friends compete and actively work to promote themselves, and that’s cool. Others put on their costumes only long enough to do photoshoots or MC convention events, and while I can’t understand putting so much hard work into a costume (not to mention makeup and wig-work) and then only wearing it for a few hours, that’s their prerogative.

The problem comes when people assume that their way is the only acceptable way to participate in an activity that, at the end of the day, is supposed to be fun and creative. It has been noted across the internet that geeks, who for so long were marginalized and mocked and therefore banded together to celebrate their commonalities, are now doing the same marginalizing and mocking within their own community. People (especially women) are accused of being “fake” geeks, and cosplayers are disparaged because they don’t live up to someone’s personal standards, to name only two examples. I think it’s human nature to assume that your way of doing something is the best/most efficient/most fun, but there’s a difference between acknowledging that you approach cosplay differently than someone else, even admitting outright that you think your way is best, and being cruel and insulting to another cosplayer for being different. Stay tuned for a future post on tolerance and cosplay equality.

For me, cosplay is about having fun and “derping it up”, but in order to have fun and be derpy, I have to feel that I’ve done the best work I could, or else I fret, even if it’s just at the back of my mind. (Looking at you, Mami Wig Mach 1). It’s a family trait–ask my parents about their bell choir’s standards sometime. And yes, I tend to most appreciate cosplayers who also use cosplay as an opportunity to employ and improve their sewing and crafting skills in order to create the best possible product. I love looking at beautifully made costumes, regardless of the size/gender/skin color of the person wearing them. But buying a costume because you want to dress up as your favorite character, or stapling together cardboard instead of buying Worbla ($$$$) and a heat gun to make armor, doesn’t make you any less of a cosplayer.

I propose we amend Hot Topic’s shirt to read “cosplay: do it.” I just wrote a long post about all the tension in the cosplay community, and all the hate the internet might throw at you, but at the end of the day, what the internet or anyone else says doesn’t really matter, even if it hurts. Let’s go back to focusing on our mutual love for geeky things and wacky-colored anime hair, and remember that there are all sorts of ways to celebrate what you love; that, I think, would be “doing it right.”


4 thoughts on ““Do it right or not at all”

  1. Pingback: Cosplay what you love | PhD: Doctor of Phabric

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