Alright. I hope you’re ready for an essay cause that’s basically what this is!
When I first started cosplaying  (Back when I bought a Jedi costume on Amazon for $30 and sprayed my hair red for a Misty cosplay) I was TERRIFIED of truly delving into the cosplay community. All I saw and heard online were people trash-talking each other from their comfy little cliques. "You’re too tall." "You’re too fat." "You didn’t even make it yourself, you can’t call yourself a cosplayer." "Your costume sucks, you should give up." etc. But I enjoyed my first con and decided to do it anyway.
The next year, I debuted my favorite character and first "real" cosplay (Sailor Venus! Bought her for $100 at the time with a simple wig) and wore her for about 4 years. I only went to one convention for my first 3 years of cosplaying so I was pretty inexperienced. (I’m on 5 now, so I usually say I’ve been cosplaying for 2 since that’s when I started wearing more than just Venus at a con). Aaaaanyway, when I debuted Venus I was met with a lot of mixed reception. I’m naturally 5’10" and get to 6’0" after her heels. So a lot of people felt the need to tell me I was too tall for her (she’s 5’2" for reference). People felt the need to tell me that my skirt was too short for my body type. That my wig was bad. That my tiara was too unrealistic. Mind you, this was the first time I’d ever worn a wig and the first cosplay that was actually legit. I was devastated. I love Sailor Venus, I feel like we are the same person. And yet people wanted to judge me. Though there were many people who were very complementive and kind; restoring my faith in humanity!
For reference, here is my first time wearing that cosplay vs. the last time before I sold her (to make my own version).
Thankfully, I met a local Texas cosplayer at RealmsCon about 4 years ago who was running a couple of panels and she seemed pretty cool. Mika Nicole and her confidence, badassery and attitude really changed everything for me. She complimented me. She gave me a couple tips for the future to help me keep my wig on, to practice in my heels and just general stuff that a wee baby cosplayer didn’t know. She was SO kind and accepting. Her skills are phenomenal and I’ve admired her work ever since.That experience really gave me the confidence to let myself dive into cosplay head on. And I am glad I did. But that’s not the way it is for everyone.
There is a negative, judgmental mindset in nerd culture that really screws with people and pisses me off. And that’s what this whole post is gonna be about moving forward.
Not everyone in the cosplay community has the time, money, skills or patience to make costumes. Sewing is stressful. Wig styling can be frustrating. Materials can be expensive. People make creative decisions for personal reasons for certain cosplays. Some people like to put twists on costumes, others prefer canon. Everybody starts SOMEWHERE. I have never seen a celebrity cosplayer, cosplay judge or experienced cosplayer post or say something about how great they were at cosplaying when they first started. Like all of us, they started as awkward little birds who had no idea how to cut a wig, sew anything or make armor or boots or weapons. We aren’t perfect, and the mindset that we should be perfect from the start is just unfair to all of us. Cosplay is CREATIVE. There’s thousands of ways to do something and each way has its own benefits for different people.
There’s several separate mindsets that fuel negativity in nerd culture. It’s a sad truth, but it is a truth. Though many people would rather not acknowledge it, I think it’s something we shouldn’t ignore. Pebbles cause ripples too. I think the recent ascent of cosplay from being a “niche” hobby to something more mainstream has seen an uprising in nerd cliques that has caused negative blowbacks against people in this community. New cosplayers are scared to cosplay and lack confidence; not so much out of fear of “normies” but rather other cosplayers. (And yes, I am aware this isn’t the ONLY reason someone may be lacking confidence, but it certainly doesn’t help). Nerds can be just as bitchy and catty and rude as any other social clique. We aren’t excluded from being classified as shitty people just because we’re nerds. I say that because I’ve met people at conventions who seem to think that nerds are allowed to be assholes where others aren’t just because they think they’re hot shit. So, moving on to these cliques…
The first, and the most frustrating to me personally, is the "elite" mindset. The group of people who seem to think that if you don’t make everything yourself, don’t use certain brands, don’t use Worbla, don’t pour hundreds of hours of work into a costume you are somehow nothing compared to them and their skills. Their judgment is a dark cloud in our community. It’s evident on Instagram, Reddit, Facebook – anywhere people can post their opinions. I’ve seen sub-Reddits dedicated to roasting cosplayers’ photos and costumes that took them forever to make. Tearing them apart from wig to ass to shoes. All because someone chose a different colored wig, didn’t add yards of extra detailed lace or other fabric or doesn’t have a perfectly finished costume. This sort of behavior makes new and experienced cosplayers feel inadequate. Of course, some people are immune to the words of others, but that’s not everyone! I’m shocked by how awful humanity can be to each other. I find it especially upsetting because nerd culture has been ragged on for such a long time by social constructs until more recent years. And yet nerds love to tear into each other for no good reason.
Another mindset is similar; that you can be a "fake nerd". That somehow, if you don’t know or like certain things, you just don’t fit in. God forbid you have other interests outside of nerdy-cosplay based things. Or indulge in something that’s currently popular and caught your interest. Then you’re just "basic" or a "fake nerd" (Fake gamer girls anyone?? Fake fans because you love SAO? Fake anime fan because you only watch English dubs?) This mindset creates upset and arguments in our culture. Like somehow "I don’t drink Starbucks/I’ve watched ALL of Doctor Who, not just the new series and never wear makeup" makes someone better than someone else who does drink Starbucks and has only seen New Who and wears makeup every day. In cosplay, it’s also highly evident. How dare you cosplay new Voltron without watching the original. How dare you call yourself an idol cosplayer when you haven’t even SEEN Idolm@ster and only like the Love Live! "trash". How can you call yourself a gamer if you didn’t play Final Fantasy? Screw that. You do you, boo.
Though I can’t say I’m surprised by the existence of this clique; or any clique mentioned in this post, my point is that they suck and get on my nerves. People can believe whatever they want. They can believe everything I go against in this post, and it’s fine. But I’m gonna talk about it because it pisses me off and I’m passionate about this topic! -End mini rant. continue on!
I’ve been minorly targeted by some in this “false-nerd” mindset. I’ve only been watching anime and gaming for about 6 years myself. Before then, I was a theatre-nerd and was dedicated to reading books and watching live-action TV. I honestly thought anime was dumb (I really dislike people shoving things in my face, which is what happened with my well-meaning friends and anime). And I didn’t grow up with gaming consoles. They were always my brother’s and he didn’t want to share. The anime I’d seen was always so forced upon me that I wanted nothing to do with it (aside from Pokemon, Sailor Moon etc.). When I got to college though, I became interested in anime after seeing a couple shows on my own (Chrome Shelled Regios was my first full anime!). I’ve had conversations about this in lines at conventions; I’ve mentioned my fairly recent descent into anime and asked for recommendations and the person I was talking to just stopped and said "Oh. So you’re not like, really a nerd are you? Why are you even here?" Well damn, looks like I got caught by the nerd police. Guess I shouldn’t tell them I love SAO either. But then again, some people are so set in their ways that the best way to handle them (for me anyway) is to smile and walk away.
I get frustrated with this group because I really love anime and the variety that it comes in. I like talking about what someone else likes or doesn’t like about certain anime so I can watch new things I wouldn’t have considered before. (Ie. My favorite anime is Fruits Basket and cutesy style anime, but I LOVED Tokyo Ghoul despite the darkness and gore. I surprised myself! Yay recommendations!) So coming across people who think less of me because I don’t bleed anime is just really annoying. I think having an open mind is the greatest way to live life.
Moving on, there’s the group who thinks less of cosplayers for utilizing social media platforms to earn money. Patreon, Ko-Fi, Instagram accounts etc. Not necessarily in "lewd" ways, but in general. First of all, if someone has the skills and confidence to want to try making some money on the side; go for it! Cosplay is NOT always cheap/affordable. So putting tutorials, fan-signs/prints and just asking for donations is honestly very smart. There’s a market for it. Whether it’s of lewd nature or not shouldn’t matter. Cosplayers are fun and confident. They’re also sexy. They’re creative and talented. I get exhausted by people dragging cosplayers for selling boudoir shoots, bikini shoots, nudes and whatever else people decide to market. People put themselves out there in the hopes of fueling their hobbies, meeting new people and helping with their bills. There really isn’t anything wrong with it!
Now granted, it’s not my cup of tea. I don’t plan to head in that direction specifically and I’ve actually never been on a Patreon site even to subscribe for anyone; tutorials or otherwise, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to complain about someone choosing to do so for themselves. People complain, "Ugh. So-and-so is doing that now. It’s really annoying to see that all the time." OK, so unfollow their social media. If you’re upset and don’t want to see that part of them, then don’t. You can’t choose to be accepting of “everyone” in this community and then reject people who don’t do what you do. I mean, you can, but you aren’t being truly accepting in that case. You’re not better than someone just because you don’t choose to engage in certain aspects of cosplay. Cosplayers are people. We have dimensions and emotions and varying interests. There’s more to every cosplayers besides what they choose to wear and how they choose to present themselves.
Now with this I do understand that boudoir/bikinis etc. can get boring. Putting a wig on and saying "I’m this character now!" rather than embodying what that character would wear or do in that situation can be exhausting to see on repeat depending on what content people enjoy. I personally am more likely to enjoy content of that sort if it’s in a style/characterization that actually suits them. However I’ve always liked seeing what different people like to do with characters. I think cosplayers who are brave enough to take a character out of their comfort zone are pretty cool. “Sexy” shoots may not be the most fascinating to some, but the motivation and interest behind it fascinates me. But again, if you’re bored/tired/frustrated by it, don’t follow it. Fanservice sells, it always has and thus, this is also a part of our community.
So again. People new to this community get turned off by all the drama and negativity flying around. I’ve been in contests where cosplayers who are competing in their first ever costumes are getting criticized (rudely, NOT constructively) by journeymen and experienced cosplayers. Dude. Just entering in a contest is a victory! Making something from nothing is a victory! Be proud that your community is growing instead of trying to squander anyone who dares step into ‘your’ territory.
My bottom line is basically that nerd culture is really almost anything BUT inclusive. I see and hear and read people saying how inclusive this culture is. That we accept anyone and all ideas. Sadly, that’s not really true. It isn’t how humanity works either unfortunately. This culture has a tendency to push aside people who aren’t "good enough", people who aren’t "the right type of nerd" and people who choose to express themselves differently. This is really just the tip of the iceberg but I wanted to speak my mind about it, because I can. On THAT note; anyone else can speak their mind too. So this whole post is pretty moot since I’m not going to yell and scream at people for simply expressing their right to say something back to me or something akin to what I’ve talked about so far. But if someone is getting unnecessarily harassed for something stupid then I won’t be quiet there either. We don’t have to like or agree with each other. It would just be really nice if all of these little nerd cliques could come together and enjoy each other’s differences and company without getting macho or catty. Which is what we do at conventions for the most part.
Now, most of this negativity is spouted online rather than in person (aside from particularly snarky or unfiltered people) so gauging the true negative impact can be difficult since in-person experiences are often so positive. It’s just that I’ve met a lot of newbie cosplayers in contests, in panel lines and at booths who are scared to let themselves loose in this community. Just like I was. So I do my best to reassure them. Because for all of the people who leave others behind, there’s loads of people in this community who will stay on the back of the trail to help them along the way. I like to hope that I’m one of those people, but I guess I’ll have to see if I’m still a "fake-nerd."
If you’ve read this essay, thank you! I’d love to have a discussion about your viewpoints on this topic, so please feel free to respond! I plan on turning this into a series; touching upon all of the points of judgment and the negative effects it has on our community.
If you’re looking for awesome positive-boosting cosplayers here are my recommendations of people who have personally touched my cosplay soul!
The Dangerous Ladies A Canadian cosplay group full of talent! They let me pick their brains for 6 months via Tumblr while I made my very first handmade cosplay!
Southern Cospitality Cosplay A local Texas cosplay group who has an excellent presence to put your mind at ease and boost your confidence.
Mika Nicole The Supergirl who started it all for me!
Cosmic Coterie A Texas based cosplay group of ladies bursting with talent, tutorials and positive, upbeat members!