The best part about cosplaying is that you can transform into any character you choose – no matter what size, shape and colour you are,” says cosplayer Farhat Chagla, who is fondly known as The Cosplay Mom in the local cosplayer community. Along with Arman Chagla, she recently organised a cosplay meet at All Rounder Shots, Pheonix Market City where enthusiastic cosplayers from Mumbai and Pune met to discuss their art and craft.
Though what she said is ideal, the truth is that we do not live in an ideal world with an ideal society. And hence cosplayers are not immune to body shaming or the prejudice against skin colour. This kind of predisposition is something that neither Thor’s hammer nor Captain America’s shield can protect you from. “Though I have not experienced something unfortunate yet, sometimes I get to hear about cosplayers facing harassment at events because people assume that they are ‘objects’ for their entertainment. Cosplayers have to sometimes deal with undue attention including harrasment and body shaming, which is totally unacceptable,” she adds.
Prithvi Verma, who showed up at the meet as Spark from Pokemon Go, believes that cosplayers don’t body shame among themselves, but those who do not understand the art and have their own convoluted assumptions about what cosplay is, go and indulge in unnecessary prejudices. “Most of the body shaming comes from the attendees at comic conventions who don’t understand the art of cosplaying and the effort we put into it,” says Verma, adding, “I had put in a week of work to get my pyramid head costume made and I was criticised, not on the quality of my costume, but on being too thin for the character.
This sort of predisposition occurs a lot at conventions. People judge cosplayers for being too fat or too thin, too tall or too short for the characters they dress like. But they don’t understand that all this does not matter when it comes to cosplay.”
Surya Sreenivasan, who cosplayed as Darth Vader from Star Wars, says that the negativity that comes from people who don’t understand the art needs to be kept at bay, and cosplayers shouldn’t let their prejudice bother them. “I don’t think this kind of negativity is worth any attention. It’s really just common sense and basic courtesy that you don’t go around calling people names and making fun of the way they look. Don’t do that,” she says.
Charlotte Rodricks, who cosplayed as Star Guardian Lulu from League of Legends, says, “No one should be pulled up just because they ‘dare’ to wear a costume ‘outside their body type’. Body shaming is still a major issue that cosplayers face at public events. I know someone who dressed as Spiderman and got to hear a lot of negative remarks just because he did not have a lean body. Not only did the attendees make fun of him, other cosplayers also indulged in passing snide remarks.” She hopes that as awareness of the art spreads, more and more people understand and respect it. “Cosplay is not about body type or colour or shape and size, but about embracing who you really are and expressing your individuality through your costume choice,” she says.
Gauri Karnik, who cosplayed as Edna Mode from The Incredibles, says, “Body shaming in cosplay is insidious, damaging and goes against the spirit of inclusivity that cosplay tries to promote. It’s not related to girth, but also skin tone, height or muscle mass – basically, anything that stops you from looking exactly like the character you are dressing as. I remember I spent a lot of my early years as a cosplayer extremely conscious of my skin tone because of a few comments made by my friend. But then I decided to embrace it and not be apologetic for something that is not a defect. Even my height has drawn a lot of comments over the years but it does not matter now. I have realised that you cannot stop people from talking and it’s pointless to waste my breath defending myself. But I try to shut down anyone who is giving other cosplayers a hard time by bodyshaming them.”