In defense of Fat Cosplay

I feel a great disturbance in the force. As if a million voices cried out in entitled indignation at having to see a fat person enjoying their life and were suddenly not silenced. Indeed, they won't shut up about it.

Its a disturbance we feel every July coming out of San Diego and sporadically the rest of the year at conventions around the world. Pity the poor convention goer who must endure the sight of fat people doing stuff. I mean, don't they know they are fat?!?

I know I shouldn't be surprised. These are issues of privilege, after all, and privilege means never having to have the slightest iota of self-awareness. As a geek/nerd/etc., though, I find it especially disappointing when my fellow geeks wallow in what entitlements they do get. Thus we get the positively absurd sight of people angrily lashing out to protect the sanctity of adults dressing up as cartoon characters.

The arguments are always incredibly silly. "Character X wasn't fat!" is always a go-to. How much nit-picking do you think Wolverine cosplayers get if they are taller than 5'3"? Or Hulk cosplayers for being too short?

"Fat people just shouldn't wear those costumes. They aren't flattering." Hello, body policing. Who says they aren't flattering? Oh, that's right. The people who think fat bodies are irredeemably ugly. God forbid a small number of fat people decide that maybe they won't live their lives by no-win rules about what they are allowed to wear. That's not even getting into the ways appropriating fashion standards for conventional bodies onto unconventional bodies can expose the absurdity of those standards. Think of the Gender Bent Justice League where cosplayers swapped genders on DC Superheros, but retained the scantily clad costumes on the now male bodies. Seeing a male Huntress or Power Girl is a reminder of how dehumanizing portrayals of women get taken for granted. Fat cosplay can have much the same activist purpose in drawing attention both to the objectification of thin women and the way fat bodies are made invisible. Lest any of the cosplay police complain about getting politics into their fun, they are already doing it themselves. They are taking just as much of an activist position on cosplay as the Gender Bent Justice League is. Difference is, they are activists for the status quo.

"Its just not healthy." I swear, you cannot talk about fat people doing anything in their lives without running into this one. Its the fail-safe for those who want to police fat bodies for not meeting aesthetic standards. If someone challenges aesthetics, just pretend its all about health. Tell me, though, what other health standards are enforced for cosplayers. Do we measure people's blood pressure and cholesterol? If you have cancer, do you not get to cosplay? What about the myriad of diseases more prevalent in thin people? Are they forbidden from any moment of fun? As usual, health is a concern stated because our culture has deemed this an acceptable reason to hate people.

Cosplay is about having fun. Its about self-expression. There should be no "Cosplay Police" at all. People get to make up their own minds on how to express themselves and their fandom. Some people are going to want to dress up as characters they look like. Which is awesome. I get that mentality. Other people are going to be drawn to the characters they like. And that's cool, too. Its bizarre that people think there must be rules about playing make-believe.

That's not what they think, though. They just think there are rules about being fat. It all comes back to privilege. Its obviously absurd to try to codify pretend. Its obviously hypocritical for geeks and nerds to slam people for defying conventional norms. Thin privilege is a bigger problem than that. Its just how privilege acts. Of course you can't try to police make-believe, but you damn well can police fat bodies. Thankfully, I gather most cosplay communities soundly reject that line of thinking. Just another reminder that really has nothing to do with the act of cosplay and everything to do with attacking people for the crime of being publicly fat.

I've never cosplayed myself, but I envy the hell out of people who do so it really upsets me when I see someone's beautiful expression of self demeaned by rank bullies. It just wasn't something I feel like my generation did much to begin with, and even there I never really found myself in a community of geeks where I could really feel comfortable exploring that. It bums me out, though. I'd love a great looking Star Fleet Uniform (from Next Generation, of course). I'd love to use my white jacket to cosplay as the villainous Gideon Graves. I went as Jedi for Halloween once in college and you can't tell me holding a lightsaber in your hands isn't flat out awesome. I also remember how "on display" I felt when I wore my white suit and I can only imagine how amplified that feeling would be when cosplaying. Fat or thin. Doing that is incredible and I am in awe of everyone who does it and utterly disgusted with everyone who tries to belittle it for interfering with their pristine sense of aesthetics.


sweeny said...

"Cosplay is about having fun. Its about self-expression." exactly!!!

I love cosplaying (and just constuming in general), and I love seeing outfits on fat bodies. Although as I live in a regional area cons are hard to get to (plus I am in Australia, so there are less anyway. Alas! but I digress).

Emerald said...

Oh, yes. I was annoyed when on one recent Comic-Con article (was it on HuffPost?) there was a photo of two Wonder Women just generally being awesome, and some commenters were implying they didn't have the physique for that role. Um, she's a comic book character, guys...

Hubby and I are cosplaying for the first time next month (assuming we have our stuff together by then), and our fandom, Doctor Who, is interesting in this context. Of course if you want to be, say, a Silurian, you have to spend hours messing around with latex and specialist fabrics (and people do, and it's amazing), but there's a fair amount of work in getting the look of the more human(oid) characters - the BBC likes designer gear, so getting River Song's 'actual' jacket or belt is possible, but not if you're much over a UK size 12. But - the creativity is all part of the fun! (Now I just have to alter a nerf gun...)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for speaking out about this. This kind of double-standard crap really bugs me as a proud nerd and as a proud fat person.

Well-Rounded Mama

beep said...

I love you with all of my fat and nerdy heart. Not to say I haven't been one of those who wallow over who they can't portray.

Jess said...

Great post.

I am a thin person, but I would like to shit on all the people who pass such harsh judgment on anyone's appearance, be it in the category of weight or not. Small-breasted women are similarly decried in a lot of cosplay. People will find any reason to feel superior to those around them, and a chuckle at another's size is an easy nugget of charcoal for someone to add to their easily-toppled pedestal of self-denial. It is extremely true that people who ridicule others are not totally comfortable with themselves. The people everyone really wants to be around most are those who are having fun.

-your friendly neighborhood Anti-Fuckwad crusader

Anonymous said...

Bless you! I've been taking my skinny kids in costume to Otakon in Baltimore for eight years now and this is the first time I dressed up in my plus-sized Steampunk splendor. But I have to say, in eight years, I've only ever encountered an antic spirit of joy among the fairies, aliens, magical schoolgirls and giant robots. Large and cross-dressed middle aged Sailor Moons seemed to get as much love as the cute, slender girls in mylar bikinis, or maybe I'm just blinded by the spirit of the otaku.

John Garcia said...

Well said... and sometimes us fat people wear "sensible" costumes ... ya know, not revealing at all and whatnot, yet we still get tons of hate. Last year, in Anime Expo, I dressed as Kamen Rider Kabuki (imagine a demonic samurai aesthetic).... I was fully armored. I got lots of people appreciating how well the costume was made, I was even put on the live broadcast to Japan. But when I cae up on screen, I can see the live comments from people from the internet... and boy, are trolls brutal especially when doing it from the safety of their own computer screens.

It doesn't even end there. When I was cosplaying at SD Comic Con, the damn NEWSPEOPLE would shoot me (some withut my consent), and then make fun of specificaly the fat people.

After that, it's refreshing to read something liek your article. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Last summer I went with my husband to a con. I had a detailed post typed out, but I feel like if he ever ran across this and knew how humiliating and painful the experience was, it would interfere with his ability to enjoy them in the future. I will say this - it was the first time in 30 years that other people's body image judgments of me made me cry. It's not the frigging victorias secret runway and I *thought* it was supposed to be someplace more safe from the bs of the "outside" world but it was the most judgmental place I have ever been.

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