It snuck up on me, but Wizard World Chicago Comic Con is just a month away. Many fans have started their costumes. These cosplayers (self included) invest all sorts of time, money, and love into their outfits. They deserve utmost respect.
As someone who has been dressing up for over a decade (yikes!), I've heard a bevy of comments from onlookers. Most people are polite and gracious. Attention is fun! More often than I'd like to admit, though, things get uncomfortable. Many cosplayers- women, especially- are faced with everything from sexual remarks to "geek cred" pop quizzes.
I could write for hours on consent, homemade vs. store-bought, and other hot-button issues. However, this article is going to stay light. I'm going to assume that my readers are intelligent folks who genuinely want to uplift cosplayers.
Here are 5 cosplay "compliments" I've heard that fell short, followed by how to do better. For the record, my friends and I have heard these sentiments regardless of costume type- simple or elaborate, sexy or not.
1. The "Compliment": "You look WAY better than the other [character name] I saw today!"
Why it's Awful: Whether or not you realize it, this is a personal attack. You're saying that another cosplayer- a human being who did their best- failed. No, you don't know that person's name, and you probably won't see them again, but it's still hurtful. The person getting this "compliment" doesn't feel great, either; you've created competition where there hadn't been any.
What to Say Instead: "You're the best [character name] I've ever seen!" It's equally effective without calling anyone out. Plus, who doesn't like being the best ever?
2. The "Compliment": "Aww, your costume is WAY better than mine!"
Why it's Awful: You've put the cosplayer in a socially awkward spot. If they accept the compliment, they're essentially saying, "Yes, I AM better than you." If they say "No, you look better," then they are downplaying their own achievements. You're forcing the person to put you OR themselves down.
What to Say Instead: "I'm really excited to see another [character name]! Your costume really inspires me to improve mine." This carries the same sentiment without demanding patronage. As a bonus, it often leads to a conversation about your favorite character or fandom.
3. The "Compliment": "Did you buy your costume?"
Why it's Awful: I get what you're trying to do here; the costume looks professional, and you're saying so. However, think of the weaker side of store-bought: cheap Halloween costumes. Yuck! You could be implying that the cosplayer got their gear at Party City, or that they aren't talented enough to make something on their own.
What to Say Instead: "I love your costume. Please tell me about it!" This gives the person permission to share whatever construction details they are comfortable with.
4. The "Compliment": "Mmm, you look sooo hot! Can I get a pic? ...Uh, what are you?"
Why it's Awful: Whether or not the cosplayer looks fantastic, you're being shady. You've prioritized a picture of their body over their hard work and passion. While there's nothing fundamentally wrong with telling a cosplayer they look good, it's all about the order of delivery.
What to Say Instead: "I'm sorry, I don't know what character you are, but you look great. What series are you from? Thanks! I'd love a picture- may I?" 'Nuff said.
5. The "Compliment": ".........."
Why it's Awful: Yes, this one is a bit vague and tricky. I'm inspired, though, by the cosplayer at Anime Midwest this weekend who was kicked AND had her prop broken during a photo shoot. Unacceptable.
No matter what you want from a cosplayer, always, ALWAYS ask! A photo? Ask. To hold their prop for a closer look? Ask. To touch their body in ANY MANNER? Ask, ask, ask... and politely accept if they refuse.
Not everyone is comfortable with the same interactions. Me, I'm cool with an arm around me, but don't you dare touch my wig or weapon! For others, this is reversed, and some don't like physical interaction at all. These are all fine ways to be. Remember, cosplay is not consent.
Post below with some of your favorite (and least favorite) cosplay compliments. I'd also love suggestions for cosplay-related articles. Photography etiquette? How to choose a character? Consent? I could ramble about all of it, so tell me what you'd like to hear, gentle reader.
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