Thursday, August 14, 2014

Body Shaming IS Bullying. Period. by Raven

I'm fairly new to cosplay - I've been to only four cons so far.  I've done costumes for both Denver cons, and the Wizard World San Antonio Comic Con. Because my self image isn't the greatest, I've been really nervous about doing cosplay for conventions - and my experiences in the past haven't helped with that.

When I did costumes for the first Denver con that I went to, I did a Lady Joker on the first day, and my Crow costume on the second day. I got a lot of positive comments - James O'Barr (the creator of The Crow) had nice things to say about my Crow costume, too, when I went to pick up some art I had  commissioned from him. But I also heard some negative things - like, "Is that a cross-gender Crow? Isn't she a little out of shape for that? What would Brandon Lee say?" and "What would O'Barr say?" I wanted to yell at them, "Hey! I'm right here!" And I knew what Mr. O'Barr would say, since he had already said it to my face.  I tried to stop listening, but I couldn't stop my heart from buying into that crap and it ruined my con  experience.

A similar thing happened the following year at the Denver comic con. My boyfriend, Matt, and I did our  couples costume - Cobra Commander and Baroness. I was nervous about it, because of what had happened the previous year. I saw a woman who had my body type who was about my age, and she was shamelessly wearing a slave Leia costume, and she looked really great! I walked up to her and  complimented her on her costume - it was really well done. I asked her a few questions about it, like how long it took to make, what materials, and so on. She pleasantly answered all of my questions, but as I started walking away she  said  "Aren't you a little... heavy... to be Baroness?" I just sighed  and kept walking. There it was - body shaming. And yet, the thing that I was most embarrassed about was my internal reaction to her comments - the urge to say something equally rude back to her - I didn't, but man, did I want to.

When I started thinking about costumes for the San Antonio con, I was trying to think about costumes that would be fun, but then I started playing that whole "you're too fat for that" loop in my head. Matt encouraged me to cosplay whatever I wanted to cosplay. He reminded me that it's not about what other people think - it's about having fun and being whatever I wanted to be. He also reminded me about one of my favorite cosplayers, Ivy Doomkitty.

The Wizard World San Antonio Comic Con turned out to be a much better experience for me. I met some really great people, saw some really well-done costumes, and had a great time. This time around, I had no issues like I did in Denver. I also got a chance to talk with Ivy Doomkitty herself at her table about the issue of body shaming. She told me about some of the stuff she's gone through as a professional cosplayer. She had also shared the same experiences on her facebook page, which I'll link to here for brevity's sake: 

by Ivy Doomkitty.

I highly recommend reading her full post, because it's very encouraging. But if it's tl;dr for you, here's what she said to me in person:

"I had issues with low self-esteem when I was little. When I first got into cosplay, my first costume was a Star Trek Red Shirt costume. People were for the most part really great and supportive - but there were those who would call me  names - 'fat-ass,' 'cow.' and even 'she-male.' Really mean. But for every one bad comment, there were 20 good comments. The best advice that I got was to not let the bad ruin the good. Don't listen to the negativity - focus on the  positivity, and don't live for them. Live for yourself." She says that she moderates her fans on her social media as best she can, and has zero tolerance for bullying and body shaming.

Matt has been doing cosplay off and on for a long time. His first costume was for Halloween in 1982, and that was when he decided that he wanted to do more cosplay. Here's his view on the issue:

"Body shaming is bullying. Plain and simple. And I know what it feels like to be bullied - picked on, made fun of... I can relate to that. I spent a lot of years being picked on and bullied growing up. I was never bullied for cosplay personally. I've been lucky enough that I never really had any bad experiences personally with regard to cosplay.  But I know that it does happen, and calling it  body-shaming is just putting a different name on the same problem. It's still bullying. And it still hurts. It's the same type of judgemental behavior that we all try so hard to overcome outside of the cosplay world, and it's sad that it happens in a community where we are all here for the same thing - to celebrate the things we love."

Mailekalani (Second from the right, above) has been doing costuming and props since 2001, when a friend of hers asked for help with a Middle-Earth themed wedding. I asked her if she had ever been bullied or body shamed. She said it started for her in elementary school when a girl called her fat. When she was in gymnastics class, she noticed the differences between her size and the other girls' sizes. "When everyone is in a leotard, it's kind of hard not to notice." Her goal is to be able to create props and costumes on a more regular basis. She said that since she started doing cosplay, she hasn't really ever had any experiences with being body-shamed. She says that it's largely due to the social culture in Hawaii. There really aren't many events in Hawaii but she has gone to costume parties and small events and is always complimented.

Sara (Hope Summers, above) was in theatre in high school and college, and she's been doing cosplay for a long time.  Earlier this year, she was commissioned to do some costume work for an X-Men group cosplay for a con in Dallas."I had some issues with that group  cosplay when we first got started. One of the guys heading up the group said he just wanted me to sew costumes, not be in the group. My friends stood up for me and worked me in anyway. He said he didn't want the people commissioned to make the costumes to cosplay with the group, but some of the other members were making commissioned costumes too. I just don't think I fit in his ideal of the 'look' he wanted." I asked her if she thought that was discriminatory. "I think so. He said there was no more room in the group when I asked at first then he kept adding other people." I asked her how the situation was resolved. "I just stopped talking to him in general and when the con came around, I was just there. Apparently there are some photos of him looking pretty pissed. BUT - after the con, he gave me credit for costumes and made sure I was included in the cosplay group page on Facebook. I think he made it good so it was forgive and forget. I doubt he'll ask me to help with anything in the future, though." I asked her how this affected her feelings about cosplay. She said that having been involved in theatre, she's used to rejection. She just tries to stay positive and enjoy herself. Her advice for cosplayers was, "Just do it! If you're having fun, it doesn't matter what other people think."

Body-shaming IS bullying. It is discriminatory. And it sucks. I let the issue ruin my experiences in Denver. However, I'm done letting the bullies win. I had a really great time at the San Antonio con, and I'm not going to let bad memories of the Denver experience ruin any more experiences I will have in the future. Cosplaying is for everyone, and we can't let other people's prejudices shut us out.

*Thanks to Ivy Doomkitty for permission to link to her Facebook post and for the interview at her table! And thanks to everyone I talked to for sharing their experiences!

Raven Knighte is addicted to cheese and popsicles, and is being slowly indoctrinated to cosplaying and learning the art of staying in character. Her favorite pastime is proving that it actually can't rain all the time, by refusing to believe that rain exists.

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