What is “Cosplay”?

Art Article Archives Cosplay
Ursula Cosplay at Phoenix Comicon taken by The Geek Lyfe

Schrei205 as a Tier 8 WoW Warrior

I recently dared venture into the terror that is a Facebook comment section on a popular cosplayer’s picture. I know, what did I expect to find, that’s a terrible place, etc. It really got me thinking, though, as people were insisting that this picture they were replying to was not “cosplay.” This is a sentiment that I have seen more and more often in various settings. How could this not be cosplay? Who are they to say that this is not cosplay, and this person is not a cosplayer? What, really, is cosplay?

That question in itself is nearly impossible to fully answer. It is similar to trying to define what is and is not art. If we go simply by a dictionary definition, almost anything could be considered art:

art
noun
the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. –Via

The general description of cosplay supports the fact that it is a form of art, with Wikipedia stating that cosplay “is a performance art in which participants called cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character” and “a broader use of the term ‘cosplay’ applies to any costumed role-playing.” By this, anyone who is even just “dressing up” as a character could be considered as a cosplayer.

Rigid definitions are a great beginning for discussion, but they do not address the source of the feelings that lead to people saying “this is not cosplay.” These feelings arise because people may have a misunderstanding of what cosplay is, or maybe because they have a very specific view of cosplay. Like art, cosplay can mean very different things to different people. It can be all about the craft, the tiresome work over hours, days, weeks, months, and even years to bring a character or design to life. It can be all about extreme accuracy and attempting to bring the character straight out of the reference material. It can be all about the performance, the interactions, becoming the character for a short time. It can be about interpreting a character into your own style, or a style totally different from their original source to create something entirely new. What I want to emphasize here is that none of these are wrong. Cosplay is all of these things and more.

Cosplayers as Cindy and Lightning

I gained some perspective on this matter after taking a trip to the Phoenix Art Museum for an Introduction to Art class. My assignment was to find specific examples of specific styles of art, and try to find some that I liked. As I went through the museum, it was pretty clear that I liked the more traditional paintings, and I personally disliked almost all of the “modern art” exhibits. The fact of the matter was, regardless of how I felt about an exhibit, it was still art. Were there some that I personally felt were really low effort, or didn’t really fit what I thought was the “standard” of artwork worth of a museum? Absolutely. My opinion on some of them was certainly negative, but that did not change the fact that it was only my personal feeling. The artist who created those pieces had a purpose, had a message, and had a passion they wanted to express. My opinion of it does not change that fact.

This same exact lesson can be applied to cosplay, and all forms of art. There are some cosplay trends that I do not like at all. There are some cosplayers I do not follow because I do not care for their style. That’s just my personal taste, and that’s okay. That does not change the fact that they are still a cosplayer, and they are still expressing themselves through cosplay.

Cosplay is an amazing hobby, and for a small section of the community, it becomes their profession. This, too, does not change the fact that it is cosplay. A costume created for a sponsor may have less personal passion, but professional passion should not be discredited either. A professional may have different motivations, but the end result is still an individual engaging in cosplay. They all started from the same place of passion and creativity.

I’ve also seen some people attempt to diminish cosplayers who have not made the costume themselves. Going back to the Wikipedia description, it says nothing about creating the costume being a prerequisite to cosplay. In fact, the demand for pre-made costumes to buy has only driven up the quality of costumes available and made cosplay more accessible for everyone. It’s entirely possible that getting started in this way would only encourage someone to venture into the creation side of it as well!

Hardboiled Pompadour as Josuke from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

The main point I’m trying to get across is actually pretty simple, and the community says it all the time: cosplay is for everyone. Cosplay is about inclusion, community, expression, comradery, and most importantly, fun. Everyone is totally welcome to have their own opinions, their own likes and dislikes, but they should never allow those to lead to disparaging comments, disrespect, or hatred. Be constructive with your words, or keep them to yourself. Always try to remember that these are real people, and they are simply trying to share their expression of love for a character with our wonderful geeky world.

Ursula & Warrior photo by Deegan Marie Photography. The others were by Darth Mexican!

What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to leave them in the comments below! Also be sure to check out Schrei205’s page for updates on her cosplay adventures!

Schrei205
Cosplayer, gamer, streamer, procrastinator. Raid leader of the official Geek Lyfe World of Warcraft guild, Emerald Templars on Wyrmrest Accord.

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