Borderline Offense: What to expect when wearing revealing cosplay

Hello, good people of WordPress.  Today I was going to write a post about one of my favorite video games for the PS2, (one that I consider to be a hidden gem,) but instead I was inspired to write a post concerning cosplay.  Specifically, this post deals with the “problems” revolving around revealing cosplay.  By revealing cosplay, I am indeed referring to female cosplay that reveals some amount of cleavage, midriff, buttocks, etc..  I think you know what I mean; essentially, you know it when you see it.  I won’t name-drop particular cosplayers here.

But why am I bringing up this topic?  There are a few key reasons.  One stems from the recent circulation of controversy concerning a 17-year-old female at SDCC.  The issue is vague and strange, but it essentially goes like this:  a female minor was found bloodied and without identification some night while attending SDCC.  Although the injuries have been traced back to a fall, accusations of sexual assault still surround the case.  I remember seeing early posts about the incident (and a few can be found here, here, and here), as well as a picture of the girl in question.  Since the girl has been identified as a minor, pictures of her have been removed from these news reports, though I still remember what she was wearing.  It was certainly a bunny suit, something that resembled Haruko Harahara’s red bunny suit from FLCL, though this might not be an exact match.  To be brief, I consider it “revealing.”  And since the beginning of cosplay history, revealing costumes have been a recurrent issue in the cosplay world.  It is an issue which I will speak about today.

In addition to this news, I have also encountered smaller-scale controversy surrounding revealing cosplay.  In one instance, a female cosplayer posted photos of herself wearing next to nothing; she wore a hat, thigh-high stockings, underwear, and a gun holster that was just able to censor her breasts.  She removed the photos after receiving negative feedback from some of her friends and watchers and then stated that she was proud of the photos, although her self-confidence was shot from the criticism.  But lo and behold, shortly after removing the photos this cosplayer re-posted them after receiving some positive encouragement from her fans.  I have been following this cosplayer on Facebook for a while.  She still receives criticism on her more racy photos, perhaps even from people close to her.  This may bother some people, as it had once bothered her.  I read her post about feeling betrayal from people she loves.  I’m sure many other cosplayers experience critical comments from people who are friends and family.

I’m here to say that this is expected.  In fact, I’ve created a list of what to expect when wearing revealing cosplay.  You can expect the following:

1.  Criticism.  Even harsh criticism.  Especially from family members and friends.  These are people who care about you, and some of them may think that posting nearly nude pics of yourself on Facebook may attract the wrong people, and detract the right ones.  This is not to say that you are wrong for posting pics of your revealing cosplay.  Your body, your life.  And this is not to say that all true friends will dissuade you, just as all true friends will not 100% encourage your choice to post revealing pictures on the internet.  It is simply a consequence of life that people, especially the people you know, will have criticisms concerning your life.  Take, for example, a situation that I will soon face: I have just graduated early from college with a high GPA, yet I am going to take an unpaid internship with a magazine in the fall.  I know I have family members who are criticizing my decision because they think I should take for a paid position, especially because I have a degree.  I expected this.  And because of these critiques, I could change my mind.  But for now I will defend my decision despite the criticism I receive.  A cosplayer who posts revealing photos or wears a revealing outfit can expect to do the same.

2.  Stares.  And yes, stares from creeps included.  Not because you’re looking for them, but because they’re looking for you.  A huge part of cosplay consists of being looked at, after all.  And while there are people who say, “I’m wearing this cosplay for myself and no one else,” I can’t believe that these people would go out of their way to create a costume and wear it in public solely for themselves; there must be some degree of interest in an audience if that’s the case.  (If you want to wear a cosplay just for yourself, wear it at home, right?)  So if you’re wearing a costume that shows off your butt, breasts, and belly, you should at least expect that people will be looking in those directions.  Of course, sometimes staring can cross the line of “admiration” and instead enter the territory of “harassment.”  I cannot define this line.  Was he staring at you for three seconds too long?  Was she moving in too closely to see down your shirt?  The best definition is that it is up to the individual to define what sort of attention is okay and what is not.  Simply know that what you’re wearing, even if it is “for yourself and no one else,” will be seen by everyone else around you, and there will be some people who are more than interested in admiring the anatomy of your cosplay.

That being said, I think it is also necessary to list what not to expect when wearing revealing cosplay.

1.  Sexual harassment.  Because nobody should ever feel that their actions or appearances permit others to invade their personal boundaries.  Period.  As I said above, certain undefinable degrees of staring can be considered harassment.  Certainly obscene gestures, facial expressions, and comments are considered harassment.  And any unwanted touching – be it breast, butt, leg, arm, foot, or even face touching – are most certainly classified as harassment.  You do not encourage others to harm you when you wear revealing cosplay.  You have a right and an obligation to yourself to speak up and fight back against those who you feel are harming you.  Your cosplay was not asking for it.  You were not asking for it.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

2.  Verbal harassment.  It is similar to criticism and similar to sexual harassment; perhaps it is somewhere in between.  But if it is non-constructive, comments that criticize a cosplay can fall under the category of verbal harassment.  I do not believe that a cosplayer should expect to be called a slut, a whore, a playboy, or anything else that is insulting and deprecating.  Like sexual harassment, I hardly think that a cosplayer ever asks to be verbally harassed.  I think you can tell the difference between criticism and verbal harassment based on intention and constructiveness.  Who is advising you, and why?  Are they trying to help you, or hurt you?  These lines between what is okay and what is considered harassment are so very difficult to determine, and I don’t think I’m capable of defining them.  In so many ways, it just comes down to how something makes you feel.

These four points are a basic summation of what I think one should expect (and not) when wearing revealing cosplay.  There is also one basic rule of thumb: if you’re comfortable, wear it; if you’re not, you can change.  (Yes, I skillfully combined two points into one rule of thumb using the semicolon.)  I don’t know if this is how some people feel, but I think there is a lot of pressure on female cosplayers to be sexy, to show a lot of skin.  If you’re the kind of person who is comfortable with that – and I mean truly comfortable with what you’re putting out there and what you may potentially receive – then by all means go for it.

But don’t think that your cosplay is “less” or “worse” just because you’re showing less skin.  I know that I have added some coverage to my character’s costume for an upcoming convention because I was not comfortable wearing her exact outfit.  I still show some stomach, but I’m okay with that.  I’m also okay with the expectation that some people will stare and some – maybe my mom? – will make sneaky comments encouraging me to put on a jacket.  I know what I’m getting into, and I encourage you all to familiarize yourself with these points as well.  Know what’s ahead, know what to expect and what not to expect.  Also know that your gut is usually right.  Most of all, have fun!  That’s really what cosplay is all about.

There are many other points that could be made about revealing cosplay, but I will leave you with this.  Any questions, comments, or critiques?  Let me know!

I would also like to refer everyone to Geeks for CONsent, which is a great group that represents safe cosplay.

Thanks for reading!



4 thoughts on “Borderline Offense: What to expect when wearing revealing cosplay

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