Now, now. Put down that torch and pitchfork. This may be a sensitive topic many feel strongly about, but I am going to do my best to explain as objectively as possible why this trend is problematic. However, that does not justify any negative feelings towards the hard working women who may fit into this category of “Patreon girl.” Whether you feel they are “ruining cosplay” or just savvy entrepreneurs, I hope that we can all find some common ground in understanding the greater issues here, and work to solve them together.
What Is a “Patreon Girl?”
First off, we need to all be on the same page. Patreon is a site that allows creators to offer perks in return for the support of patrons, either monthly or on a per-post basis. This has been exceptionally great for creators looking to create full time, and fans looking for easy ways to support their favorite creators. Exploring Patreon will give you a huge array of creators providing all different kinds of perks. The explore page features creators by three categories of perks: community, exclusives, and access.
A lot of cosplayers that use the platform offer a huge variety of these perk categories. Some, like Kamui Cosplay, actually have no exclusive content at all. Others, such as AmberSkies, offer a huge range of perks that hit all three of those categories. These aren’t the type of “Patreon girls” that people are referring to, however. These are just two examples of a pretty “normal” use of Patreon, which nobody would bat an eye at. There are many cosplayers who provide only tutorials and work-in-progress pictures on Patreon, and while it is sometimes disappointing that work in progress pictures get caught up in this, I am glad that they have been able to monetize their skills.
The ones that I and many others start to consider problematic are those who are not only doing cosplay, but also offering “lewds.” These Patreons are not searchable by normal means due to their content. You can not go to the site and type in the cosplayer’s name to find them. When you navigate to one of these through a direct link, which is the only way to get there, you are met with a warning that they are producing content that you must be 18+ to view. This, in itself, is not a problem. These women are welcome to do what they want in their corner of the internet, just like everyone else. If they want to do lewds or skimpy cosplay, that is entirely up to them, and only them. They should not be harassed or shamed simply because they choose to express their art in a different way.
Where it becomes problematic is when it becomes incredibly pervasive within the cosplay community, and it begins to shape what the entire perception of “cosplay” is. What used to be a happy byproduct of the whole concept of dressing up as characters has started shoving its way to the front of the stage. It is great that more cosplayers are able to make a living through cosplay, but what does this mean for the community as a whole?
Why Is It Problematic?
The reason lewd cosplay becoming so prominent in the cosplay community is problematic is due to the expectations and perception of the hobby that it creates. It is becoming rare to see cosplayers with large followings that don’t provide lewd content. It is also rare to see cosplayers sharing their work in progress pictures publicly. This is a fairly recent shift, and for those of us who started a while ago, it has been extremely noticeable. Browsing the cosplay hashtag has become a minefield for those who try to browse at work or in public places. Seeing an amazing costume and wanting to follow that cosplayer may lead to lingerie shoots all over your feed too.
Not only is it much harder to follow creators when you’re getting a ton of lewd/risqué images in your feed that you don’t really want to see, but it also shifts the outsider’s perception of what cosplay actually is. A lot of these “Patreon girls” have much larger followings on all social media platforms than their non-lewd counterparts, and that leads to many of them being invited as cosplay guests to conventions. This leads to a wider audience being exposed to this cosplay guest, potentially clicking through to their social media, and seeing all the lewd content that is used to advertise their Patreon. When this type of content is what someone new to the community sees, it absolutely is shaping their perception of the hobby.
With that changed perception, it changes the expectations of cosplayers. A newer fan may come to expect to find this kind of revealing content from all cosplayers, and voice their opinions as such, pressuring a cosplayer into something they may not be comfortable with. A newer cosplayer may see this trend and think that this is their only key to success. They may see all of these incredibly fit and thin scantily clad people, and if they do not fit that body type, they may feel unwelcome. They may think that to be successful and be a guest at conventions, the easiest way to get there is to do lewd content to get the social media followers required.
I want to stress that in no way do I think that any of these women have any ill intentions, and in fact, most of them are absolutely wonderful people. I have the utmost respect for them and how hard they work. I am by no means saying that what they do is “easy,” but to deny that their path is a bit easier than a craftsmanship/costuming only focused cosplayer is to deny the reality that sex sells.
I also want to stress that I am not against sexy cosplay. I think it can be incredibly empowering to challenge yourself, especially if you’ve struggled with body image issues as basically everyone has. I have done a few more revealing costumes specifically to challenge myself and see what I was capable of and comfortable with. I have friends who occasionally do something a little more spicy, and I love and support them through all of it. It becomes problematic when it is, as I said earlier, no longer a happy byproduct of the hobby and instead the main focus.
What Does It Mean for Cosplay?
Whether you like it or not, as a cosplayer, you are influential. The more followers you have, the more your content gets shared, the more people see and are inspired or influenced by you. Every cosplayer shares a part in shaping our vast, diverse, and welcoming community. When more and more cosplayers turn to lewd content as a way to profit from their hobby and attach it very closely to their cosplay presence online, it is easy to see how this can shape the community as a whole.
More and more, it becomes harder for those who just want to see amazing costuming creations to find only the content they want to see. Many of my friends, and even prominent cosplayers like Kamui Cosplay, have posted about having to unfollow creators because their feed became full of pictures of people in their underwear. I have had to unfollow cosplay share pages due to the amount of lewd content shared. There are many, many cosplayers I wish I could follow for their costuming content and not their lewd content. Unfortunately, that just isn’t possible. This is leading to those in the community who do not want any lewd content on their feed becoming increasingly isolated. Slowly, the cosplay community is shifting and dividing between the non-lewd and lewd.
People who don’t want to see lewd content aren’t wrong for not wanting to see it, and people who post lewd content aren’t wrong for posting it. The problem exists primarily in our ability to filter these apart, and leads back to why this trend is a problem for cosplay as a whole. The perception of our community has shifted, and the demand within the community has shifted. Fans of non-lewd content are nothing in the face of the massive driving force behind sexual appeal. Increasingly, we feel alienated in our own community for not meeting this expectation as well.
What Can We Do About It?
If I had all the answers for every problem, I’d likely be making a lot more money than I currently do. I can only offer my own personal opinions and views, but as long as I can start this conversation, I’ve done my part. Something that would be immensely helpful is improved social media filtering, as well as proper use of hashtags for this social media filtering. If I could follow a cosplayer and never see something they tag as “#lewd” or “#nsfw”, it would be perfect. They could post what they want to post, and I could opt out of seeing those posts.
Additionally, I feel like we need to show love and appreciation for all cosplayers, but especially remember to not leave our non-lewd community behind. The foundations of cosplay are the hastily thrown together or thrifted costumes finished the night before a convention, the pain and suffering of everyone backstage at a competition as we all encourage each other, and the joy of seeing someone cosplaying a character from your favorite fandom. We need to remember our foundations and appreciate them. We need to not get lost in the sea of sexual appeal. All cosplayers should be loved, appreciated, shared, and celebrated, not just the ones who get the most likes.