A bimonthly format seems to be working better for this interview series, as we all end up being busy with conventions and projects. In case you missed my last Beneath the Layers post, you can read it here.
This month’s interviewee is a fellow Hibari cosplayer. Lauren is a full-time college student from St. Augustine, Florida. Between studying theatre and psychology and working two jobs in the summer, she finds time to attend six in-state cons and two out-of-state conventions. When she’s not working on cosplays, she spends her free time sleeping and hanging out with friends. I am very happy glad that Lauren contacted me after seeing one of my Beneath the Layers posts (and I encourage anyone else who wishes to share their story to do the same).
NOTE: As this interview series aims to help banish harassment and bullying of cosplayers, any inappropriate comments made toward the interviewee or cosplayers in general will be deleted.
1. How long have you been cosplaying, and what is your favorite cosplay?
I’ve been cosplaying for roughly seven years now. It’s always so hard for me to pick a favorite cosplay of mine mostly because I have some that I do often due to my dedication to the fandom (such as Katekyo Hitman Reborn!) but they’re not ones I’d favor over another. I love cosplaying Stocking from Panty and Stocking because I feel like it’s really easy for me to come up with poses for her character and I always am pleased with how I look as her. The wigs for her sort of take away from it, being hard to manage especially at cons, but I suppose she’s the closest to being my favorite.
2. What is the best part of cosplaying? The worst part?
For me, the best part of cosplay is the people. I’ve met so many amazing people and grown closer to those I already knew. I’ve got friends all over the U.S., as well as in Europe and even parts of Asia. My current girlfriend and I have been dating for almost six months now, and we met through a love of cosplay on forums almost two years ago. I believe being able to meet and connect with people who share the same love and passion as you really makes the amount of time and money spent on this hobby really worth it in the end (though, yes, seeing yourself look awesome in costume also is a really great reward).
However, I feel like the worst part also is the people. While you have the people mentioned above, you have the people who really just ruin it: the people who think you should only cosplay characters that are your natural skin tone, hairstyle, eye colour, etc. The same people who think everyone who isn’t a size zero should not cosplay certain characters or girls should stick to cosplaying just girls and males cosplaying males. My best friend got negative feedback on an amazing cosplay once solely because her skirt was not pleated while the characters skirt was—something that I really feel like was not a reason to view her cosplaying skills as poor.
3. Expanding on what you said earlier, what are your thoughts on race and cosplay debate?
I think the whole issue really should not be as big of a deal as it is. A dark Sailor Moon is as acceptable as a light Nick Fury. At the same time though, I see nothing wrong if a darker person wants to use make-up to appear a lighter color or if a lighter person wants to use make-up to look darker, as long as the reasons behind both are for accuracy. It’s no different that painting yourself red for a Kneesocks cosplay or grey for a Homestuck cosplay.
4. What is your response to the stereotype of cosplayers being attention-whores?
Honestly, my response is that not all of them are though that’s not saying some are not. There are some people who cosplay certain characters because they love the character, series, and/or outfit… and there are some who do it solely because of the popularity of a series/character or how little the character is wearing. (Not saying you shouldn’t cosplay something popular.
5. Please describe one or two incidents where you were sexually harassed, bullied, or discriminated against while in cosplay.
I actually never used to think about stuff like this because up until last year I never cosplayed female character. However, this last December, I cosplayed Shura Kirigakure from Ao no Exorcist at a small con near home. I was so nervous about it because I had never in my dreams seen myself cosplay a character in short shorts and a bikini. After having some friends talk me through a panic attack about it the night before, I set out with my group (which included a Yoko [Littner] and Jessica Rabbit). My enjoyment of the day did not last very long: we’d just walked into the Starbucks in the convention center when a guy, who I clearly remembered taking a picture of our group, approached us and started making conversation. Everyone was seemingly okay with it, except me.
I only really spoke when I was being spoken to due to the fact that I was already out of my comfort zone and was dealing with pre-existing social anxiety problems. The guy was trying to get into my head, commenting how the others were party girls and I was the one who stayed back and was aware of everything. None of my friends picked up on how uncomfortable it was making me. The final straw was when the conversation turned to who had the best boobs—a conversation I’m perfectly fine having with my friends, but not with some guy who just approached us. I quickly left, claiming to be cold, and spent the rest of the day walking around with one other friend.
The rest of the day was filled with people asking me how I felt about cosplaying that [character] and if I had any idea what people were thinking when they see me walking around in just shorts and a bikini—something that I feel like people who do cosplays like that already know. If they don’t, it’s not a random stranger’s job to tell them. It made me extremely self-conscious and even more uncomfortable.
Since then, I have not had any more issues like that. I’ve worn a similar costume to a different con and had nothing even close to that happen, and I had so much fun the next time I cosplayed her. Most recently, my best friend and I wore just bikinis to a con (as characters’ bathing suit variant) and no one at the con did or said anything that made me regret doing that costume.
6. How does the experience differ when you’re dressed as a male character versus a female?
I feel like when I cosplay a male character I have a harder time remembering not to stand like a girl. I naturally stand with a hip out and hands on my hips whereas cosplaying a male, I have to not jut my hip out and be careful not to accidentally stick my chest out too much. Past that, I can’t really say that I’ve had any super different experiences between the two. A few times people have been surprised I was a female when cosplaying a male, but that’s just about all.
7. What makes a cosplay stand out in your eyes?
The amount of fun the person is having in it. I know people who will cosplay whatever character in their group wants them to cosplay, regardless of if the person actually wants to do it or not. For me, cosplaying becomes significantly less fun (and I know I’m less motivated to put my all into it) if it’s something I don’t want to do.
I know a lot of people are thinking, “What about putting actual effort into it?” There are times when you can’t afford a wig or aren’t comfortable using contacts or makeup. More than anything, I believe effort directly ties into the idea that you are still having fun. It’s more satisfying to look back at a cosplay and think, “Yeah, I didn’t look as good as I could have, but I had so much fun that I really don’t care how bad I looked” than it is to go, “Well… At least I looked good. Can’t really say I had a lot of fun.” Cosplay is literally the shorthand for “costume play”. You lose the fun, or the “play”, and you’ve lost more or less half of the whole concept of cosplay.
8. When does a costume become inappropriate or in poor taste?
When people decide to cosplay certain things just to be rude about it. I’ve read stories about people cosplaying series like Homestuck just to be rude to others cosplaying it. It all has to do with attitude: you can look like you just walked out of the video game or anime, but then you turn around and put down other people cosplaying from it? That’s a big no-no for me—same with the people who get mad or upset when they see someone else cosplaying the same character. It happens so instead of being angry about it, you should go and swap ideas with the person.
Also, people who strive to be in-character, especially when you are cosplaying a nasty character. Know your limits, and be mature (e.g. don’t pass a bucket around the table at a restaurant and spit into it) because what you do is reflecting onto the fandom and it makes other people want to avoid cosplayers from that fandom.
9. Some of my interviewees mentioned that anime con-goers seem to be less receptive and even hostile to non-anime cosplays. Have you encountered any of that?
Personally, I have not. Having a lot of friends who are into cosplaying from comics and music artists, I hear their stories about getting hassled about it. The whole thing is a little ridiculous; cosplay who you want to cosplay from what you want to cosplay.
10. What can cosplayers do to protect themselves from harassment and bullying?
Honestly, I feel like you’re always going to have someone who just doesn’t like how you cosplay. The best way to handle it is to try to just laugh it off, especially seeing as nowadays, the harassment and bullying comes from anonymous users on-line. They don’t even have the courage to show who they are. As for harassment and bullying at a con, I’d still say try and shrug it off. If it persists, let con staff or really anyone know that you are having a hard time and are suffering because of someone else there.
11. What should cons do to help prevent harassment and damage to costumes?
I feel like especially at big cons there really is not a way to completely stop all harassment. Most cons have the “bikini rule” (you have to have a minimum of a bikini on) for girls and a similar one for guys. A lot of cons have also forbidden signs that are not props to your cosplay, as well as the infamous yaoi paddles.
For the most part, the cosplayer needs to be mindful of their cosplay and have a means of preventing damage to it as best as possible, such as picking up and carrying your six-foot train or not going into the dealers room with your long sword or huge wings with you. It is also fellow con-goers job to try and avoid causing damage to others’ costumes. We all just have to work together to have fun and not destroy anyone’s stuff, even on accident.
12. How can the relationship between cosplayer and photographer be improved?
For the cosplayer, don’t try and tell the photographer how to take pictures, just as the photographer should not try and tell the cosplayer how to cosplay. I feel like the most important thing for a photographer is to have a little knowledge of the series and character so you know what poses and angles are the best for that character. Again, know your limits and be mature. If you (the cosplayer or photographer) are uncomfortable with what the other is asking you to do, let him/her know and either agree to not do it and continue shooting things you are both comfortable with or end the shoot right there and agree to not shoot together again.
13. How has your life changed for the better as a result of cosplay?
My bank account says no, but I always remember having such great fun in just a single weekend. I feel like I’ve become really open-minded to things; you can really learn a lot from talking to cosplayers. Putting on wigs, make-up, and fake lashes for cosplay really helped me soar through the stage make-up class I had to take this past year. More than anything, cosplay has become a means in which I can express myself and just really let loose and be myself with my friends and others.
14. What tips do you have for on managing time and money?
Thrift stores and your own closet. I get a lot of feedback asking how I made things, only tell them that it’s a jacket or something I got at the thrift store and just added what was needed to it. The same goes with wigs: a lot of sellers on sites like eBay have stores elsewhere online that are cheaper. Even searching for “long red wig” as opposed to “Kuroshitsuji Grell wig” will find you wigs that work just as well and cost half the price.
Managing time is something I will have issues with. A lot of times it still comes down to packing the glue gun and finishing it at the con. I definitely try and get a head start, but it quickly turns into “Oh I have three months before I need this!” Then next thing I know, it’s become “I need this tomorrow; why didn’t I finish this three months ago?!” My best recommendation would be to pace yourself and try your best not to wait until the night before.
15. Anything else you would like to say to fellow cosplayers and con-goers?
Never forget to have fun. Try your best not to let a few negative comments stop you from doing what you love to do. For me, the most important things for cosplaying are to have fun, be respectful to everyone else at the con, and don’t let things ruin the con for you.
A big thank you to Lauren for doing the interview and supplying the photographs.