What is Inappropriate Cosplay?

Image courtesy of http://www.twoohsix.com/

Image courtesy of http://www.twoohsix.com/

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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  1. JerryO says:

    Well said, very well said indeed. Being the parent of two younger kids (2 & 7), I appreciate your thoughts on this. :)

  2. Aimee says:

    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.

  3. morningstar says:

    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”.

  4. Owl says:

    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.

  5. […] convention be “family friendly” in the first place? While I do think that cosplayers have a big responsibility to younger fans when they are at a convention, you cannot blame the DESIGNS on […]

  6. Leticia says:

    Cons are amazing events. Let’s be frank here though, it is not a place for children. These events take place in very large venues and with multitudes of people. There will be all kinds of people and cosplayers there. There is no such thing as inappropriate cosplays, just inappropriate places for children. Cons are for fans and cosplayers to interact and to strut their stuff! It is ridiculous to think that they need to be censored for the sake of small children who do not belong there. You have kids? great. You wanna take them out to a con or any ‘inappropriate’ place? Then brace yourself for situations where your children will see ‘inappropriate’ things and prepare them as well. Still don’t like it? Then simply don’t take them.
    There are plenty of places and events appropriate for kids and I’m sure children are better suited to go there. I, for one, do not attend events like cons to hear kids cry and have parents complain about how things are ‘inappropriate’. I go to have fun and to embrace and accept cons for what they are. There is no need to censor anything. It’s no mystery what cons are or can be, they shouldn’t come as a surprise to parents or anyone.

  7. Kimi says:

    I have to disagree Leticia. Comic conventions sell tickets priced specifically for children. They often have panels and programming aimed at children and families. Regular con-goers may not like that kids are there, but the events are specifically marketing to them. The comic companies make huge amounts of money off of selling cartoons, comics, animated movies, and merchandise to children. How can we simply disregard them as budding fans who will eventually keep our fandoms alive?

    Also, I have never seen warnings about cosplay on any convention website or advertisements. You say it’s “no mystery” what cons can or cannot be, but for first-time attendees, how are they supposed to know what to expect?

    I am not in favor of rules to censor cosplayers, but I do hope that cosplayers will recognize the responsibility that comes with any type of performance art and consider their audience and their venue.

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