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Cosplaying While Fat Roundtable: Experiences With Community and Cosplay

Are there any experiences, positive or negative, that stand out to you as a cosplayer?

JG: One of the most memorable things that happened a few years ago at Otakon was a big cosplay meetup I was part of basically taking over a bar in Baltimore. Some 40+ adults in various stages of costumed, storming a tiny bar, with a bartender who was stoked because we all drank so much and tipped well. In a more broad sense, cosplay has given me so much on a personal level. Three of my bridesmaids as well as the officiant were all people I met through cosplay. Cosplay gave me skills and experiences I feel I would have been hard pressed to learn otherwise. On the negative side, I will never be able to shake the feeling that no matter how good my craftsmanship is, no matter how good with wigs and makeup I get, I will never … be as cosplay popular as others. Most days it doesn’t bother me too much, but it does get me down sometimes that I have to work twice as hard and have my cosplays be immaculate … to get maybe half the acknowledgement because of my size and skin tone.

CloudKBD: I was so confident in [my Zarya from Overwatch cosplay], but the first time I posted her online, the reception that I got was… less than encouraging. I got mentions online of looking fat or too masculine, and it was so bizarre to me. … It was also one of the first times I’d ever been challenged about my commitment to a game that I cosplayed. I had a lot of people come up and like, sort of quiz me about my knowledge of Overwatch, which was wild.

While I was at Youmacon 2015, I was cosplaying with my now-fiance. Someone walked up to us, stared at us, and [blatantly misgendered us]. Misgendering happens all the time, especially since cosplay sort of blurs that line but for someone to … be disrespectful was unreal.

Positive things! I got proposed to while my fiancé and I cosplayed Dragon Age, which was super awesome, especially since I met my fiancé through cosplay. It really shows how important and amazing the community can be to facilitate our really nerdy romance.

What’s your favorite cosplay you’ve ever done?

TK: That is such a complicated question. I really love so many of them for different reasons. I love being powerful characters, especially if they have a range of discordant emotions. I enjoyed cosplaying Hellboy because he was a monster who wasn’t monstrous. I love being women characters who are antagonists, because that’s how strong women are often portrayed. Dark Phoenix and Typhoid Mary are two of my favorites for exactly that reason.

JG: Robin from Fire Emblem: Awakening. I placed third in a cosplay craftsmanship contest with it and was super proud of it. I made 90 percent of the costume from scratch, with whatever I didn’t make being altered by me. I must have spent several hundred dollars and easily 150+ hours working on it. I even made my own piping for it! To this day it’s probably my most impressive and involved work.

CloudKBD: My Zarya! I feel so confident in her, because I feel like I can actually sort of do her body type justice (I just need to learn how to lift 512 kg, now…).

What’s your favorite cosplay you’ve ever seen?

TK: I am a huge fan of duct tape, so duct tape cosplays are my favorite. One year there were duct tape Disney characters: duct tape Ursula, duct tape Ariel, duct tape Belle, etc. I loved those cosplays!

JG: Once I saw someone do the entire Kirby Robobot and then I never saw them again and it hurt my heart because I couldn’t take a picture of them in time, but it was very, very good!

CloudKBD: Oh no, that’s such a hard question. There are so many amazing cosplays that always inspire me? I’d say any cosplay by Jin (behindinfinity) is incredibly inspiring due to their craftsmanship and just because Jin is an all-around amazing cosplayer who spreads so much love and positivity into the community!

Are you inspired by other cosplayers?

TK: I am. I love seeing people being witty and original. It’s fun to see the many different interpretations people have of characters. I’m fascinated by the witty ones because my brain doesn’t work that way. But seeing people change the costumes around is liberating in many ways. It’s amazing to see.

JG: Yes! I’m friends with loads of talented and wonderful and friendly cosplayers, and I’m lucky to have them in my life. One that stands out though is Garnet Runestar. I met her when I first got into cosplay, and we became friends. She’s a plus-sized cosplayer who has never let size stop her, and whose seamstress skills are at such a level that I could only hope to be half as skilled. She was even part of the USA team for the World Cosplay Summit a few years ago! I admire her so much and look up to her as what a plus-sized cosplayer can be.

CloudKBD: Oh my gosh, there are so many inspiring cosplayers out there… I get super mushy about the cosplays of my friends, though. My fiancé (inkycosplay) is so incredibly talented and they always blow me away. My friend Neil (prinncox) is also such a crazy talented cosplayer. We all sort of support each other as a trio in terms of fighting against lacks of visibility and that support is so important. We push each other a lot, and pretty much give each other the confidence to say “screw it, cosplay what you want to” whenever we can!

What have you learned through doing cosplay?

TK: I’ve learned that I’m an artist in my own way. Creating cosplay looks is a very creative process. I don’t draw or paint pictures, but I will take time to craft items and put together looks in fun and interesting ways. It’s an outlet I didn’t understand I needed until I started doing it and didn’t want to stop. I’m planning to let cosplay take me into as many directions as I can imagine.

JG: Sewing and crafting skills, for one. How to pack suitcases efficiently. Makeup skills.

CloudKBD: In terms of physically, I’ve learned to sew! I’ve also learned prop/armor building. Building props/armor is one of my favorite parts of cosplay, especially decorating it to make it fit the series (like cell-shading or weathering). It’s super trial and error still, but I really feel like I’m getting better at it! I’ve also learned that … the difference between a con community and an online space is wildly different, and the cosplay that gets a ton of positivity in a convention space doesn’t necessarily get the same reaction online. Because of that, I’ve learned that making friends at conventions is amazing and creates a really supportive found-family of overall awesome people, because in person, people are so genuine. I think seeking out that genuine community is so important to feeling confident and worthwhile in cosplay!

If you could give just one piece of advice to aspiring fat cosplayers, what would it be?

TK: Cosplaying a character isn’t always about looking like the character. It can be about resonating with the way the character makes you feel…so don’t limit yourself to your appearance. There are intangible facets of yourself that make you into who you are. Cosplay is a fun way to explore that. It’s helped me to find my voice and trust my judgment. But it’s not for everyone and don’t feel pressured to do it unless it’s something YOU really want to do.

JG: Sometimes people suck. And it’s hard to not let it get to you. But if you surround yourself with good friends who cheer you on, then that’s what matters most. Cosplay for you first and foremost.

CloudKBD: You’re valid for feeling insecure. I’ve pressured myself into cosplays that I haven’t been comfortable in because spaces have told me “Forget the masses! Cosplay whatever you want! Screw the haters!” but that sort of attitude is something that we need to come to at our own speed. Fat cosplayers have had years and years of people telling us that there are so many things we can’t be, and it takes a long time to unlearn that. It’s okay to take the time to nurture that confidence instead of trying to force it. Know that you’ll rock that costume as soon as you’re ready to get to it.

(featured image: TaLynn Kel)

Samantha Puc is a freelance writer, editor, and social media manager whose work has appeared all over the web; she collects it at her portfolio site, The Verbal Thing. Samantha lives in Rhode Island with her spouse and three cats. She likes Shakespeare, space babes, bikes, and dismantling the patriarchy. She also likes vegan food. For more, follow her on Twitter.

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Samantha Puc (she/they) is a fat, disabled, lesbian writer and streamer whose work focuses primarily on LGBTQ+ and fat representation in pop culture. Their writing has been featured on Refinery29, Bitch Media, them., and elsewhere. Samantha is the co-creator of Fatventure Mag and she contributed to the award-winning Fat and Queer: An Anthology of Queer and Trans Bodies and Lives. They are an original cast member of Death2Divinity, and they are currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction at The New School. When Samantha is not working or writing, she loves spending time with her cats, reading, and perfecting her grilled cheese recipe.