On Cosplay: My Humanity Is Not Optional
I should have known the conversation would to go to shit when she described me as “bodacious” in her opening. The word by itself isn’t a big deal, but it set off my radar for incoming, fat-focused fuckery. “Bodacious” is a specific way of referring to fat people; it’s a signal that my fatness is an important aspect of how they see me. Other words that do the same thing are voluptuous, rubenesque, fluffy, curvy…they are all meant to be complimentary descriptions of my fatness. And it’s a microaggression because we live in a fat-phobic society that openly discriminates against and marginalizes fat people.
Because this woman was a stranger and I didn’t have any experience to draw on, I let her first comment slide. Next, she asked me to join in a group cosplay. I assumed it was for a character I’d done before but it wasn’t. She wanted to cosplay a group of Black women from a specific cartoon. Four of the women are varying heights and slim. The fifth member is short and round. Guess who she wanted me to cosplay?
The reality is that I am a fat, Black woman who cosplays and because media panders to white men, there are not a lot of characters out there who look like me. And while that’s important, I didn’t start cosplaying because I wanted to dress like characters who resemble me. I wanted to dress as characters who were either fun or spoke to me. My very first cosplay was Dark Phoenix, and I chose that cosplay because I was fighting my own self-destruction and I often felt like I was failing. Dark Phoenix’s story spoke to that part of my personality and that part of my life. I cosplay characters because I see parts of them in me. And every time I’ve participated in a group cosplay, the choice of character has always been mine.
So to be asked to play a character because I’m a fat Black woman and the character is a fat Black woman is a new experience for me.
My reaction wasn’t positive. I sat back and reflected on it for a while. Then I asked why they asked me to cosplay this character and they confirmed my assumption. In fact, they were confused that I questioned it. Clearly, I’m fine with being fat so why would I have a problem cosplaying a fat character?
And you know, I could live with it if many of the fat, Black women characters weren’t dehumanized into a punchline or a desexualized mammie figure. I’d feel better about it if the pop culture representations of my physicality were articulated into fully actualized people. Instead, they are the tropiest tropes that ever troped and it’s an insult to ask me to cosplay that with no consideration to whether I relate to that character in any way. She had no other justification for the ask except that I’m fat so I should be ok with being asked and since I could, and did, say no, it shouldn’t have been a big deal. Then came the accusations of insecurity and how I’m being ridiculous because I “look just like the character.”
Lawd, save me from these superficial, limited perspective people who like to flatten my depth into one easy thing. Save me from these people who value the superficial over the humane. Save me from these people who, when challenged by my humanity, say “you just don’t like yourself, that’s why you don’t want to cosplay someone who looks like you.”
She fat-splained why I cosplay characters who don’t look like me…because again, for her it’s all about the look. Fuck any of the many reasons people do this. Hell, most people don’t look like the characters. It’s not about that. It’s about the challenge of artistically capturing that aspect of them using cosplay. That very act itself is at the core of why many people do it. Which is not to say that some don’t do it cuz they look like a character. I mean, I know a white guy who has cosplayed every white superhero out there, they’re all that bland and interchangeable, just like him.
That she, a Black cosplayer, cannot see how her ask is fucked up. She who is part of a group of people that’s always told not to cosplay cuz they don’t look like the character. But you know, accuracy. Cuz accurate cosplay of fictional people that are envisioned by the artists who drew them that day is always the goal.
So I said no. I’m not going to be assigned a cosplay. It rubbed me the wrong way to be steered in that direction so I’m out. And she’s okay with that because it’s really important that I have her approval of my feelings. *eye roll*
If she had provided any context for picking me other than the superficial, I might have been able to roll with it. Might. Maybe. Ok, probably not cuz it would have felt like a lie. She sees my fat and not me, that much is clear. And in her head, that’s all I am. Except I’m not and I won’t tolerate someone trying to make me into something so limited. And while that probably wasn’t her conscious intent, but it was her conscious impact. So much so that she questioned my discomfort with it. And for a moment I wondered if what I was feeling was wrong, but feelings are not wrong – they are indicators that something else is.
It’s not easy living in a culture that only values your beauty while embodying the very things that society says are ugly. It’s not easy divorcing my self-worth from how others judge me. It’s not easy embracing and loving who I am and doing things I enjoy that make people see me, knowing that these acts will also cause people to attack me for having the audacity to want to be seen. For feeling as though I have the right to be seen. For demanding I be seen.
I can’t stop people from seeing me how they choose to see me but I do have the power to eject it from my life. Yes, I’m a fat, Black, cosplaying woman and I love who I am. But I choose who and how I cosplay with the entirety of who I am and I don’t take requests. Especially not superficial ones.