Have you ever wished you could wear something, but thought you couldn’t because of your size?
It’s a common dilemma, reinforced by social standards that say fat people (especially femme-identified people) should keep certain parts of their bodies covered. Pretty much anything that jiggles, right?
And when it comes to cosplay, there’s this whole other level of expectation, thanks to the idea that people should only dress up as characters that they resemble. And, of course, that includes body size.
That’s why I was super excited when I saw that the ConGlomeration 2019 panel line-up included a panel entitled Body Acceptance in Cosplay by HarleenQuartz. And I’m so glad I went. It was a relief to sit in a room full of people of all different sizes, many in costume, ready to soak in this message that cosplay is for everyone.
And that you can cosplay anything you damn well please!
After the convention, HarleenQuartz Cosplay and her co-presenter/roommate, Sasspot Cosplay, agreed to answer some questions via email, so that I could share their message directly with you.
So keep reading to find out what they have to say about what cosplay means for them, how they create their characters, fatphobia and bodyshaming in cosplay, and a lot more!
But first, what the what is cosplay?!
The word “cosplay” is a mashup of the words “costume play”. It refers to the practice of dressing up like a character, often from a book, comic, tv show, movie, or video game. The idea is to represent your chosen character or fandom, and there are a lot of different ways to do that.
Cosplayers might try to replicate a character as closely as possible, through both costuming and the way they act and speak. Others might create mashups of different characters or genres, or create their own original characters (you’ll see examples of both of these further down). And still others just want to dress up like their favorite character… because it’s fun to dress up, right?
Still, the underlying expectation is always to represent the cosplay character accurately.
So cosplayers utilize wigs, apply makeup prosthetics, paint their skin, and more in order to transform themselves into their chosen character. And when an individual chooses a character that they physically can’t portray accurately, it isn’t uncommon for them to receive criticism (or outright harassment) from other cosplayers.
(And this is on top of the fact that female cosplayers already face harassment and even assault while in costume. #CosplayIsNotConsent)
I found some evidence through my ever-so-unscientific Googling that the one exception to this might be crossplay, when a person chooses to cosplay a character of a different sex or gender. But even then, male cosplayers who choose to dress as female characters sometimes face homophobic comments and treatment. So we really just can’t freaking win, can we?
But requiring accuracy in cosplay perpetuates discrimination.
This expectation of accuracy is extremely oppressive for cosplay fans who already face discrimination and marginalization in their day-to-day lives. The number of thin, white, able-bodied characters represented throughout all types of media far outnumber the fat, disabled characters of color.
And reimagining those characters with a different skin color, size, or ability? Well, that can bring the assholes out of the woodwork. I mean, have you seen the backlash against Disney’s choice to cast a black woman as Ariel in the upcoming live remake of The Little Mermaid? It’s horrifying, and unfortunately not that surprising.
In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a reimagining to incite negative backlash. Like when Maggie Gyllenhaal, age 37, was told she was too old to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man. Or the fact that even an actress like Jennifer Lawrence can be considered “too fat” for a role.
And you don’t have to be famous to experience criticism and harassment over the way you choose to present yourself. Obviously. So a lot of geeky fat femmes end up avoiding cosplay, even if they think it sounds like a lot of fun.
So the following interview is for you, my geeky fat femme, because cosplay is for everybody (and every body)!
Meet Two of the Women Challenging Fatphobia in Cosplay
HarleenQuartz Cosplay (HQ) describes herself as a small town girl with a plus size body who loves to cosplay. She did her first cosplay at Ohayocon 2012, and has been hooked ever since. She’s a strong advocate for body positivity, anti-bullying, and mental health. She also volunteers for the Ohio River Valley Cosplayers (ORCs), and works hard to make sure everyone feels welcome in the cosplay community.
Sasspot Cosplay (SP) is a plus size cosplayer, wig maker, and prop designer. She made her cosplay debut at Ohayocon 2018, and is also involved with ORCs.
How did you get started, and what was your first cosplay?
HQ: A friend of mine asked if I wanted to go to a convention with him and I said sure. I went to the website to look up the convention and saw people dressing up. I thought to myself: ” I need to do that”! So my first cosplay was a Spider Splicer from Bioshock using my old Halloween costume of Marilyn Monroe.
SP: HarleenQuartz gave me the final push. I had been interested for a while, but did not think I could do it. My first cosplay was Poison Ivy at Ohayocon 2018. I decided on it a week before and it was very rushed, but I had a great time.
Why do you cosplay? What does cosplay mean to you?
HQ: Why I cosplay has changed so much over the years of being a cosplayer. I started off just wanting to belong to something bigger than myself. Then I took a huge break and cosplay gave me the courage to leave abuse and find myself again. It means so much to me it’s hard to put into words. It’s an escape and not all at the same time.
SP: I have taken a step back to focus on work and wig commissions, but I love the crafting of a cosplay probably more than I love cosplaying itself. The challenge of figuring out how to execute something, the freedom to do your own take on something or to try to make it as exact as possible. To me, cosplay means expression. It means getting to step into another skin for a little while.
What’s your favorite cosplay right now?
HQ: Power Harley Quinn! I absolutely love wearing a onesie, tights, a wig, and a cape and just rocking it. I have done so many variations of Harley Quinn over the years she has just become a part of me at this point and when I step into that character I can be so goofy and so silly. One of my best friends KersleyGirl Cosplay cosplays my Power Girl and together we are unstoppable!
SP: Merida! I recently made a Merida wig that I am ridiculously proud of, and I have a bow that I made from scratch. Plus it is super comfortable and easy to put on, both of which can be difficult to find in a cosplay.
(I got to see Sasspot’s Merida wig at Conglomeration, and it’s amazing! You can check it out, along with some of her other awesome creations on her Facebook page!)
You mentioned during your panel that you’ve both had to deal with body shaming while cosplaying. How has this affected your experience?
HQ: At first it made me want to quit the craft for a while but I love cosplay far too much to let some internet or in person troll affect me. It just pushes me to cosplay more characters that are not plus size in nature.
SP: I went into cosplaying expecting some backlash. I am very plus-sized and some people seem to not be able to see plus size women as humans with human feelings. It has gotten to me at times, if I am in a vulnerable state of mind, but other times I feel like the haters just feed my strength and like I am the baddest of asses. I tend to be able to stand up for my friends more than myself, but since I have been cosplaying I have been able to stand up for myself more.
How do you handle fatphobic trolls when you’re in costume?
HQ: For the most part I try to ignore them. If it gets too bad convention staff are always more than willing to step into a situation and handle it, I have seen people be removed from conventions over racist and fatphobic comments before. Conventions have no room for that behavior. Depending on the character I’m in costume with I could also just lean into the joke, most people hate when you agree with them because at that point they have no ammunition left.
SP: It depends on how severe it is. I start with ignoring, but if I am at a con being harassed I will not hesitate to report the harasser to the convention staff. They cannot help if they don’t know there is a problem. This is something else I have been able to parlay into my real life as well, the willingness to ask for help.
(This is so important. It’s really good to know that convention staff are ready to back you up if you need help!)
A lot of my readers have never cosplayed before. Can you walk us through your process for creating a new cosplay?
HQ: Research. Research every character that you plan to cosplay. If there is no character, say you want to make an OC (original character) then go crazy on Pinterest or Google for inspiration. Make a list. If you utilize Pinterest, make boards. This is typically my walk through any time I plan to cosplay somebody new. I also am a huge fan of saving my money and stacking Jo-Ann Fabrics coupons or even just going to Goodwill to modify something already made.
SP: I think it is different for everyone, but for me step one is picking a character. Sometimes I choose based on making a group cosplay, others I just pick someone I like, look up to, or relate to. Then I decide if I want to cosplay as close to the character as possible, do a mash-up, or make my own spin on it. Poison Ivy has so many different options I usually do my own spin, but I did a DC Girls version for a group cosplay. Then you have to figure out what elements you need to bring your vision to life. Outsource where needed, Amazon is a great place to find base pieces you can alter. Figure out what props you need, how you can make them, or buy them! Wigs are my favorite to work with, so I tend to alter every wig I wear. Youtube is a really good resource for learning to work with new materials.
You made it clear during your panel that people can cosplay characters of any size, not just their own. But discrimination in cosplay exists beyond size as well. So are there any hard-line rules that people should follow? How do you avoid cultural appropriation or insensitivity while cosplaying?
HQ: Black-face, dressing as a nazi, klansman, etc. are all off the table for me. Also if you know something is in poor taste, don’t do it. You risk the chance of being removed from a convention or worse being put on a list of attendees that cannot attend. Do your research for culturally sensitive cosplays. Ask for advice!
SP: Some people disagree with there being hard rules, but I don’t. Black-face, cosplaying a culture (as opposed to a specific character from that culture), and dressing as a nazi, klansman, etc. are all big no-nos that I will never do and encourage others not to as well. If you are cosplaying an original character it is important to be sensitive to other cultures. Do your research. A quick Google search can help you know if an element you are unsure about is acceptable or not. Also use cosplayers you know as a guide, ask questions and respect the answers you receive.
What advice would you give a fat person who wants to start cosplaying, but is afraid of the negative reactions?
HQ: DO IT! DO IT FOR YOU! There are so many different shapes and sizes of people in this world you are beautiful and you can do anything you want to. If you’re afraid to take the jump don’t be, my inbox is always open.
SP: The same advice HQ gave me: DO IT. You are beautiful, you are strong, and you are not alone. Find people who lift you up and do the same for them. There is so much positivity in the cosplay community if you just seek it out and surround yourself with those positive people!
What can thin allies do to support larger cosplayers?
HQ: Help build each other up. I have a lot of thin allies in my life who build me up and who take into consideration that they are very privileged and preferred in the community. We share each other’s posts and give each other praise.
SP: I think it is what we can all do to support one another. Thin cosplayers get hate just like fat cosplayers do. I think it is important for all of us to think about how we would like to be treated. Telling someone they make “a great fat poison ivy” or they “have a beautiful face” is reductive. Don’t put qualifiers on compliments.
Is there anything else you want people to know?
HQ: I love you all you’re amazing and I hope this inspires somebody to start cosplaying because it’s incredible. You are incredible. Please be sure to check out my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Also if you’re nervous about cosplaying still consider getting involved with Ohio River Valley Cosplayers (ORCs)! A group of over 2700 people filled with an amazing cosplay family.
SP: You, you reading this: you are amazing. You are not your darkest days and your worst thoughts. You are loved and revered and deserve the world.
So what do you think? Have we managed to convinced you to try cosplay? Or is there something else you’ve been wanting to try, but felt like you couldn’t? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time…