By Matt Pattinson
For many, cosplaying is a harmless hobby done purely for fun.
For some, a hobby that helps people to emphasise exactly how much they love a character, and for others, it is a way of being able to express themselves in a way they struggle to do so in what can be considered their “normal”, day-to-day life.
Indeed, many consider cosplay to be an ideal way of coming out of their social shells and overcoming barriers that might otherwise stop them from socialising with other people, and through cosplaying, they are able to make new friends who share many things in common with them, whether it be their interest in cosplay, to their favourite anime, to how they basically go about their lives.
However, there is a growing fear that people are being driven away from cosplay, due to the rise of elitism in the community. Some might ask, what exactly is cosplay elitism and why is such a concept causing people to turn away from what is surely meant to be a fun, harmless hobby?
For student Charlie Cadwallender, 17, elitism in cosplay can be owed to it gaining more exposure online. “I certainly think it’s becoming more frequent, but it seems to be overly harsh online.
“Whilst it is obviously a problem faced in person as well, people tend to be quiet about it, whereas on the internet, it’s much easier to speak your mind without facing consequences.
For Charlie, the extent of cosplay elitism often depends with how much skill a cosplayer has. Image courtesy of Charlie Cadwallender.
Charlie also feels that skill plays a large part in being the victim of elitism. “Bodyshaming and ethnicity are big parts of the issue, obviously, but I think a lot of people insult the skill level, too.
“I’ve been cosplaying for two years. I’ve seen people nit-pick cosplays for the most ridiculous of things, and I think sometimes they forget cosplaying is not a career choice everyone can throw tons of money at, it is simply people showing how much they love a character.”
There have been cases where cosplayers have suffered harassment for how they choose to cosplay a character.
In 2015, German cosplayer Kou was the target of death threats, after she released images showing her cosplay of the Steven Universe character Garnet, considered by some fans to be an ethnic minority character.
The majority of the threats directed at Kou involved her use of skin-toning makeup to match the colour of the character, and accused her of using blackface. In response, Kou deleted the images, and became a victim of what many would consider malicious cosplay elitism.
Incidents like this bring something into perspective: How do the cosplayers themselves feel about the idea of elitism in their community? For some, it is an extremely serious issue that is becoming more commonplace, whilst for others, it is simply an exaggerated mind-set that exists only in a small minority, one that can be found in virtually every other community.
However, for some cosplayers, the issue of cosplay elitism is more about the exposure it gets. Sarah Aherne, 18, is currently studying at Leeds College of Art. Having been an avid cosplayer since 2012, she feels that cosplay elitism has always had some form of presence in the community.
She commented: “I don’t know if it’s growing more serious, but it has been an issue for quite a few years now, and it does cause a lot of problems.
“Though, I wouldn’t say cosplay elitism is becoming more frequent. Rather, it is simply gaining more visibility.
“Cosplay is becoming more popular, and people are getting recognised for it, so I think that’s causing people to up their expectations on cosplay and change their views [on] how people should cosplay.”
Incidentally, some cosplayers feel the issue is being exaggerated.
Samantha Coulson-New, 26, has been cosplaying for nearly three years. She is an organiser for Casually Sadistic Cosplay, a Liverpool-based guild founded to help organise cosplayers in the city.
She said: “It honestly depends on how people view elitism and the attitude some people have.
“Some people take negativity to heart and are potentially put off cosplaying because they think everyone else has that opinion but when it comes down to it, everyone is just cosplaying and having fun.
“Some are better at it and will look down on anyone who cosplays anything less than perfect, whereas others just want to have fun and don’t care what people think.”