Chances are, if you’re a cosplayer, or even just a cosplay enthusiast, you’ve heard this phrase. Maybe you’ve even uttered it yourself. Maybe not this explicitly, maybe you’ve overhead someone else say “I love that character design but I can’t do it because I haven’t seen that show.” or something along those lines.
There is this quiet, insidious fear lurking just under the surface that if you as a cosplayer violate this unwritten rule, that you will be revealed as that most dreaded of fears…
… a fake geek girl.
This is not our fault. This is an unwritten rule for our defense — from the gatekeeping that is often leveled at people (usually females) from the more toxic parts of our community. Every cosplayer has a story of when they were grilled to the minute details of their costume, expected to “prove” that they “deserved” to be considered a “real” geek by their impeccable knowledge of the tiniest trivia in that IP. It’s not pleasant.
I’m here, however, to challenge that notion. You don’t have to be an expert in a character to cosplay them. Hell, you don’t even have to know the first thing about them. That’s okay!!!
What I think people forget is that cosplayers choose what characters they portray for a variety of reasons. Those reasons are usually because they have an emotional connection or appreciation for that character… but not always. I chose Starfire not because I liked the character but because I wanted to cosplay with two of my best friends as Red Hood and the Outlaws. I chose Mileena not because I enjoy Mortal Kombat (spoiler alert, I don’t) but because the build was fun and I enjoy people’s reactions to her. Most recently, I chose Tifa … because I already had all of the pieces for her outfit from other cosplays.
Does that make any of those cosplays “less valid”? No. Does it make my work on them any less “worth”? No. Does it make me “fake” if I can’t ever remember Starfire’s real name? (Koriand’r. I had to google that.) Fuck no!
At the end of the day, if the reasons you choose a character are, to you, rewarding, then they’re valid reasons to choose a character.
Here’s some final food for thought: you, as a fan, should ALWAYS encourage people, even those who aren’t currently fans of that material, to cosplay from that source. Your reaction to someone saying “I don’t know anything about this character I’m wearing” should be “great! Let me tell you why they’re so awesome!!!”
Often, those cosplayers become avid and voracious fans of the material — exactly what happened with me and League of Legends. I loved the cosplays I was seeing from it, and so I started watching and playing it. Now I follow the Competitive League avidly. The more fans of that material, the more of that material you’re going to get. Why does Spirit City carry three or four Harley Quinn cosplays every year? Because she’s POPULAR. Increased demand → Increased supply. Simple math.
At the very least, even if they don’t become a huge fan, those cosplayers will still increase visibility of that material. I wear Mileena often and am not a huge fan of Mortal Kombat, but I have heard time and time again from others “Huh, I should try it”. Even if I don’t convert to being a huge fan, others who see my work and are exposed to it may. And at the end of the day, that’s good news for existing fans.
So I challenge all of you. Find a character you know nothing about. Cosplay them. You might find a whole new, amazing, interesting part of our geeky universe to devour. Nothing remotely fake about that. 🙂
As always, cosplay on!