I was struck by this article by Phaedra Cook on All That’s Cosplay.
Not surprisingly, cosplay (“costume play”) tends, like most cultural activities, to be primarily thought of as being for the young and conventionally pretty. Cook did not discover cosplay until she was well over the stereotypical target age for cosplayers:
Cosplay wasn’t a “thing” when I was in my 20s and 30s—at least as far as I knew. For that matter, I was far too busy raising three kids, running my own graphic design and IT businesses and maintaining a marriage to have much in the way of hobbies. The first pop culture convention I ever attended was San Diego Comic-Con in 2009. Talk about starting big! …
The first year, I was in awe of the cosplayers running around in elaborate costumes and, quite frankly, a little jealous. …
The second year, I didn’t want to be left out. I did a half-assed “cosplay” of Death from Sandman which consisted of a black tank top, black jeans and the appropriate squiggle drawn out to the side of my right eye. I thought I looked okay until I saw someone who put some real effort into it and looked 100% better than I did. My ego, at that point, was crushed.
One of the things I personally like about cosplay is the range of costume quality–everything from the kind of “half-assed” costume that Cook describes through very complex, extremely representational efforts can be seen in cosplay venues. Everyone involved (even if their egos are crushed) is getting some kind of pleasure out of the effort.
Again unsurprisingly, how much effort you put into your costume isn’t the major factor in how much attention you get:
I realized that most professional photographers didn’t have much interest in taking photos of my cosplays, and that hurt. My husband did, of course, and he is an excellent photographer. So did Andreas Schneider, who is absolutely amazing and I was so incredibly flattered when he chose two of my photos for the Cosplayers Canada SDCC magazine that he produces and sells. (Get a copy of the 2014 one for yourself. …)
On the other hand, one photographer half-heartedly snapped off a few shots and made it quite clear that he was only interested in shooting hot chicks. Most other photographers didn’t even look at me twice. I was never even up for consideration. They’re looking for young, thin women and I just don’t qualify.
Cook describes her journey from feeling over-age, inappropriate, and unappreciated to finding out what her efforts are all about:
It stings, but something else happened along the way: I was getting an incredible amount of support and positive feedback from women my own age, as well as many younger people, even those who do not cosplay themselves. …
Why go through all this time and expense at my age? Why not just grow up?
Well, being a grown-up is highly overrated, first of all. Grown ups don’t have enough fun, frankly.
Second, cosplay encourages me to work out and take good care of my skin, nails and teeth. I look good for 46 and many people think I’m in my 30s when we first meet.
Third, despite some of the snubs, cosplay has helped me build my self-confidence. It takes a whole lot of guts to stride confidently down a public street to a convention center in costume. The cat calls and jokes I hear along the way aren’t “fun,” but I’ve learned to handle them with grace.
Fourth, I never feel more vital, energetic and young than when I’m in costume. It’s an act of rebellion. There’s a segment of society that discards older women and thinks they should be relegated to a role of caring for others. If you’re a sexy older woman, you’re denigrated as a “cougar,” like there must be some inherent immorality surrounding it. Cosplay is my way of giving the finger to those people.
She leaves out one reason that I think is very important. She describes in the article that because of cosplay, she has taught herself to design costumes, to sew (” who knew that sewing an inset ‘V’ was a geometry exercise?”), to work with unfamiliar materials. In a time when so few of us work with our hands, and make actual physical things, this is a huge advantage to any hobby that calls for these skills.
Readers of Body Impolitic may be frustrated with Cook’s body image issues — I know I am. Despite her efforts to appreciate herself as she is, she still feels unhappy about her weight, and is already planning more “age-appropriate” costumes when she is over 50. I would rather see her celebrating her size, and plannign her 60+ Catwoman, or Princess Mononoke. At the same time, I see in her article the trajectory toward even more self-acceptance. And I love how she’s getting there.
It’s not just older women who need to get the message of being vital and caring for themselves. I want younger women to know that there should be no fear about getting older. Whether or not you feel confident and sexy has everything to do with how you take care of yourself and whether you assert your right to be the person you want to be.
Thanks to Geek Feminism for the pointer.