What is Inappropriate Cosplay?

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

In October, I traveled to Seattle to speak about the Psychology of Cosplay at Geek Girl Con. It was an amazing panel organized by Dr. Andrea Letamendi, a clinical psychologist and cosplayer, and included Jessica Marizan, Chaka Cumberbatch, and myself as panelists. We discussed a ton of really great concepts, and the inevitable topic of “inappropriate” cosplay was brought up and discussed by the panelists.


Now, the main focus of these debates is often skimpy/sexy cosplay. While I tend to be more modest than many other cosplayers, I have no problem with revealing cosplays. I have worked with children long enough to know that the human body, contrary to what many believe, is not damaging to the average child’s psyche. I know I’ll probably get emails about that statement, but it’s true. The cosplays that really worry me are the bloody and violent ones. Those can really freak out kids in a way that cleavage never could.

This is NOT the cosplayer I saw, but this is the same basic concept.
This is NOT the cosplayer I saw, but this is the same basic concept.

My best example of this is from a convention that I attended in 2012. I was dressed up as Wonder Woman, and as always, was having a blast posing with kids. One of the most excited fans was a little Superman, proudly wearing his foam muscled outfit from the Halloween store. He flexed his muscles and flew circles around his parents to show me how fast he was. “Cute” doesn’t quite cover it. Later that day, I was wandering the halls and I ran into a mutilated Superman cosplayer limping around and posing with people. From a makeup/costume viewpoint, he really looked incredible. He really resembled Superman and his massive injuries/blood looked real even from up close. I was admiring his work from a distance, when I saw my little Superman friend from before stopped dead in the middle of the aisle. The look of horror on his little face made my stomach drop. He started crying, and had to be carried off by his parents.

We are portraying characters that people love, and in some cases, look up to as personal heroes. This is especially true for children, who are a significant portion of the con-going population. We have to balance self-expression with our responsibility to respectfully portray these characters that have left such a deep mark on pop-culture. The last thing our community needs is policing and limiting of creativity, but we need to be empathetic. Be reasonable with the blood effects, or save it for select events and photo shoots. If we have the passion to step into the shoes of the most powerful characters in fiction, surely we have the power to step into the shoes of young fans and their families.


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  • I was raised at conventions and I remember one year when I was about five that there was the one guy who wore a bloody costume consisting of a bloody blue button up shirt, bloody denim overalls, and a realistic Hatchet in his head. Now, I’m seventeen and I still remember this cosplay in detail. My parents had to carry me out of the room during the masquerade, which I was in, because I was terrified. So, I understand this completely.

  • I will be attending my third convention in July and one of the things I love about conventions is that it is an open friendly place; all types of people, all ages from all kinds of backgrounds. When it comes to cosplay, I think that it’s one thing to dress up as a zombie from The Walking Dead that scares a young child. Those kind of shows are not made or marketed towards a child friendly audience and so will just be regarded as something scary by the child. However, taking a well known character that is loved by children (Superman, Batman, Spiderman etc) and making an admittedly creative scary cosplay out of it, I think should best be left for Halloween. It’s common sense to see how upsetting it would be for a child to see a beloved character looking dead/scary.

    I agree with the comment in the article though that the human body will not have an impact on the child’s psyche. This will only happen if adults react to the human body and cause the developing mind to associate the human body with something “bad” or “wrong”.

  • Definitely food for thought. As a long time cosplayer and now a parent, I can definitely relate to this. Most people say things like “do whatever you want” without regard for the feelings of others.

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