In 2015, cosplayer Chaka Cumerbatch started the hashtag #28DaysOfBlackCosplay to highlight Black cosplayers, a group generally ignored by the mainstream (i.e. white) cosplay community. This year she continues the tradition with #29DaysOfBlackCosplay. It is an inclusive movement where anyone can post images with the hashtag and participate. Last year I was in the midst of buying a home and moving, so I completely missed the event, but this year I was ahead of the game. When Chaka sent out a call for cosplayers to be included in “featured” cosplayers being shared on various websites, I squeaked in under the wire. Now I can look forward to being featured with 58 other Black cosplayers. I feel pretty lucky for that.
The list of participants was made available to all the featured cosplayers, so that we can share each other under the hashtag. This gave me the opportunity to see who wanted to represent Black cosplay. Once I started going through the list, I noticed something interesting.
I’m the oldest woman on the list.
Not only am I the oldest woman on the list, but I’m the oldest by almost a decade. Well, eight years to be exact, but that’s a significant number of years. Once I noticed that, I decided to look a little closer at the demographics of the list.
Please note: this is not a study. It’s just some observations that I found interesting and they raised some questions.
As previously mentioned, 59 cosplayers participated, including myself. Of these cosplayers,
Of the 59 cosplayers, 43 are women and 16 are men. Here is the age breakdown based on gender.
Every time I look at this breakdown, it makes me pause, and I mean hard pause. In the group of people participating in this hashtag event, I’m the only woman over age 39. Hell, I’m the only woman older than 32. And while this list is not representative of all Black cosplayers, it does present an interesting snapshot and left me with some questions.
Question 1: Where are the 30+ women cosplayers and why aren’t they participating in this?
Question 2: Why is there such a steep drop in participation for women over 30?
Question 3: Why is there an increase in male participation over 30?
Question 4, which is identical to Question 1: Seriously, though. Where are the older women cosplayers?
I know I’m not alone. I have other Black women friends in my age group who cosplay. So what could account for this disparity? Is the perception that cosplay is for young people? Is it seen as unprofessional? Do older women have priorities that don’t include cosplay? Do I have a “peter pan” complex?
Am I *gasp* a narcissist? Maybe, but that still doesn’t explain why I’m only woman on this list older than 33.
I’m not going to pretend that I don’t understand many of the social dynamics at work. Popular women comic book characters tend to cater to the white, cisgender, heterosexual male gaze and are highly sexualized. Highly. Sexualized. With their boob windows, and tit/ass poses, their unnecessarily exposed abdomens, and their bikini armor, it would be impossible to deny that many popular female comic book characters are designed with the intention to titillate and arouse. This is nothing new.
Then there is the race layer. The whole reason #29DaysOfBlackCosplay exists is to give visibility to a group traditionally ignored by the mainstream (i.e. white) cosplay community. Many people have written what it’s like being a Black person in the cosplay community, including the originator of the hashtag, Ms. Cumberbatch. Again, nothing new.
Now let’s layer on the visibility of acceptable bodies. This plays out in the realms of sizeism and ableism. We rarely see fat bodies or disabled bodies, although I can only speak on fat bodies. I have been grudgingly photographed only to never have the pictures posted, despite seeing images of all the people photographed before and after me. I’ve joked that the only canon character I can do is Amanda Waller, and I hear they’ve slimmed her down, too.
Finally, there’s the layer of youth obsession in American culture. This layer tells us that only young, fertile bodies are acceptable for women. Any signs of ageing are met with extreme prejudice because being appealing to men in the most important thing. And please don’t forget that they mean white, heterosexual, cisgender men, which means you need to have full breasts, slim waist, flat stomach, curved hips, and thigh gap (I’m so mad that term exists). Oh and pale skin. That’s actually the minimum requirement.
These are the ideas that traditional cosplay sites cater to. When you visit “Best cosplay” lists, this is what you find. In fact, visit the cosplay galleries for All Things Cosplay, Cos Couture, and Geeks Are Sexy. It’s there. And yeah, yeah, not all cosplay galleries, but still. This is the “norm.” Go look.
I embody none of this, something that renders me virtually invisible in the cosplay spotlight. When I look through galleries, if they include Black women, it’s usually only if they are dressed as a Black character, like Storm or Garnet, are not in a large or disabled body, and look young. You rarely see cosplayers who cosplay outside of their race or size. In fact, you will see gender bending and cross playing by white cosplayer more than you will see any large, Black women bodies. Once you layer age on that, people like me disappear.
I won’t lie. Seeing myself all alone on this list activated some doubts. I honestly questioned what I was doing and why. If no other women my age are out here doing this, why am I? Maybe I shouldn’t be. Then I remembered my goal to make spaces for myself when I can’t find them. This is an opportunity to call attention to the lack of space for 40+ Black women cosplayers. I know I’m not the only one out here and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be in the spotlight. Representation matters so let’s represent.
And, to be clear, I know this list is not representative of all Black cosplayers. This is a small group of people with a very specific goal – to boost their cosplay signal and let people know that this is an activity for everyone. Since there is a space for anyone who wants to do it, let’s expand it.
This is my bat signal.
Black women cosplayers age 40 and over…represent! Where you at? We need to see you.