My Nerd Girl rant about ‘On/Off’ cosplay

Those of you who follow my blog know that I’m a fan of cosplay. I’ve even featured some my own pics that I took of cosplayers I’ve encountered at different cons. Some of these feature women in sexy costumes. I have no problems with this, because I understand that these fans are modeling the characters that they love, and for women, this usually means dressing skimpily. That’s just how the folks who create our beloved characters choose to design them. Any arguments you or I may have about the objectification of women in character design can gladly be held another day.

I follow a cosplay Tumblr which showcases very interesting, intricate, creative, and well-done cosplays. Sometimes the photos come from nerd cons, sometimes they’re professional cosplay photos taken of (presumably) professional cosplayers. A trend I’ve noticed lately has my hackles up.

One day while scrolling through my feed, I see a pair of fully exposed breasts. I’m talkin’ nips and everything. A few photos later, I see more nips. No warning, just nips in my face.  One was supposed to be the Grim Reaper, the other I can’t recall. A few days later, I see a sort of “split screen” photo of a girl doing Assassin’s Creed cosplay, fully clothed in the panel on the left, then BOOM, on the right, nips AND vag. She’d taken off all of her clothes, save for the thigh-high boots.

As I hurried my feed away from the photo, I didn’t feel disgust, but a deep sense of despair. And wonder. Wonder at why that was necessary.

You see, and if you’re a regular reader then you know this, my nerddom emerged quite early in my life. However, I did take a sort of break from it (I never let go of books or video games), but in my early adult life, I tried to fit in with the mainstream. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say, it didn’t take long to learn that it wasn’t for me. So here it is, I’m back, and glad to see that we, the misfits who were pointed at, laughed at, made fun of for not being pretty/handsome, for not having hot bodies, clear skin, straight teeth, vision that worked without the aid of (usually horrific) eyeglasses, for not being graceful when trying to dance, smooth when trying to ask out that guy or girl we liked, those of us who stood on the fringes of popular society, we have made for ourselves a place where we can be accepted for who we are, what we look like, what we’re into. Cosplay is ostensibly connected to nerddom, and while I don’t want to imply that everyone who cosplays is a gangly, awkward unconventionally beautiful geek, it is to me a medium where everyone who is a fan – absolutely regardless of looks, but especially for those of us who may be perceived as aesthetically lacking – can shine without being judged negatively…for the most part.

I can’t rant about ‘On/Off’ cosplay and laud the open acceptability of the cosplay community without acknowledging that it’s not all good when it comes to women cosplayers. There is a movement brewing now where women who cosplay at cons are letting people know that cosplay isn’t consent – that just because a woman cosplays as a sexually suggestive character, it doesn’t give anyone, male or female, the right to touch, grope, or otherwise harass the cosplayer. Some people feel that if a woman who cosplays as, well, shit, damn near any video game or comic book character (as these characters usually wear skimpy, form-fitting outfits and are often comically endowed), then they deserve whatever treatment they get, ’cause don’t they know what to expect when they arouse the sexual desires of horny virgin teenage boys who wish that these characters were real so that they can do God knows what to them and then suddenly, holy shit there she is? A woman can’t possibly expect for a male such as this to view her as a human being who has boundaries that need to be respected? She can’t possibly think that this person isn’t a sex-crazed lunatic who doesn’t have enough self control to not honk her tits in a crowded convention center? It’s preposterous if she thinks so!

As far as harassing scantily-clad cosplayers go, I look at it this way: typically a cosplayer is paying homage to a character from their fandom who means a lot to them. I’m sure that there are some posers who are dressing up as “wet tank top and braless Lara Croft” for the attention, but I don’t think it’s the majority of female cosplayers. I truly believe that for the majority of cosplayers, they are putting their hearts and souls into their craft, and are merely set to display their passions for their favorite characters, or the art of cosplay itself, at cons – they are not there to incite boners, be hit on, picked up, felt up, or otherwise harassed. I simply do not feel that, for the most part, when people cosplay as sexy fandom characters, they are doing it for sexual attention, or to cause sexual arousal.

I in no way can say this for ‘On/Of’ cosplay. From what I’ve seen so far, I’m not sure if it can even be called cosplay. Only in one instance have I seen a model in the ‘On’ mode of ‘On/Off’. Every one else has been almost completely naked, save for some scant items of clothing or accessories that may lead the viewer to believe that an attempt at cosplay is being made. I won’t proclaim to be the fandiest in the fandom, but I don’t know when any of the actual characters being “cosplayed” in the photos appear naked in their respective franchises. So the question remains, “How can this be considered cosplay?” These photos cannot be said to be a celebration of or homage to these characters if the cosplayer is not wearing the actual character costume, or the character is not known to be naked, ever. As a heterosexual woman, I’m looking like, “WhyTF is she naked?”; I’m distracted from the character she’s supposedly portraying. I can only assume that heterosexual males who view this cosplay are similarly distracted, though probably for different reasons.

Because this type of “cosplay” is so overtly sexual, I feel it’s harmful to the fandom community,both females AND males. For females, it can begin to put pressure on women and girls who just want to hang out at the comic book stores in their message tees and sneakers to have to meet an aesthetic standard that they didn’t have to be concerned about before, and for men and boys it can further reinforce the notion that females are chiefly sexual objects.

And sure, it can be argued that there is no difference whether a woman cosplays as Red Sonja or as totally naked Hermione, they’re BOTH doing it to incite sexual arousal. In a nutshell, the difference is Red Sonja is a celebrated comic character who just happens to be drawn sexily, so to celebrate her is to dress in kind. Yet to take a naked “cosplay” photo of yourself – breasts and vag in full view – wearing only a Hogwarts neck collar while holding Hermione’s wand as a Griffindor house banner hangs on the wall in the background is a complete bastardization of the character and, like most fan fiction, obviously done to be sexually arousing. I welcome debate in the comments section to tell me otherwise.

Ultimately, upon my return to nerd fandom, I thought I’d found, for the most part, at least, a refuge from the misogynistic, overtly sexual nature of how women are portrayed, and portray themselves, in the mainstream entertainment world. I can’t in any way ignore that there is some measure of that here, too; I mean, I identify Otaku, and, well, I don’t have to say more than that, do I? Yet, in my experiences with other fans, at cons, on the YouTubes, or fandom groups I frequent, I never felt the need to personally be more than who I am. Neither is the pressure there, yet, at least, to get completely naked. For me, the experience is more cerebral, more about knowledge and passion. The younger girls I see around the community appear to feel the same way. I just hope that the advent of ‘On/Off’ cosplay doesn’t present the situation where even here in the fandom women and young girls begin to feel that they have to be more than just smart, knowlegable, and passionate about their respective fandoms, but they also have to be sexual objects readily available for the wants and desires of their male peers who are free to always be as they are and do not ever have to compromise themselves for acknowledgement or acceptance.

Remember that time in Star Wars with the naked Storm Trooper? Me neither.
Remember that time in Star Wars with the naked Storm Trooper? Me neither.