Hey all—I’m a cosplayer! And I do it for a lot of reasons… mainly because I never got over my love of Halloween. Silly, but true. Unfortunately, as many con-goers will tell you, cosplaying can invite certain types of attention that you’d just as soon avoid.
It’s never acceptable, but you should never feel powerless either! Here are just a few tips I’ve gathered over the years—I thought I’d share them in case they prove useful to anyone in the future. And for the purposes of illustrating these points without using images of actual cosplayers without their permission, I will be using pictures from Star Trek. Obviously.
A quick note before beginning: This list of tips is in no way ever meant to suggest that it is the responsibility of the cosplayer to prevent their own harassment or discomfort. It is only here to provide information, so that defending oneself is easier when you encounter someone who does not respect you, your personal space, and/or your body. And hopefully it will make cosplaying a little more fun in the process.
These tips come from personal overall experience, and should only be applied if they seem workable to you. Mileage varies depending on your own outspokenness, ease talking to strangers, and how safe you feel in any given environment.
1. You Don’t Have to Let People Take Your Picture Just Because You Cosplayed
People cosplay for so many different reasons, and often it’s partly a communal thing. Your best friend wanted to dress up as Sherlock and begged you to be John. It happens. So you’re really more in costume for you, for your friend, for other Sherlock fans. That’s cool. If someone asks for a picture, you can tell them sorry, but no thanks. You can also ask what the pictures are for—personal collection or professional use? Or you can pretend you didn’t hear them and just waltz off.
What? You have crimes to solve!
Just in case you are comfy getting your picture taken, though...
2. Control Your Imagery
Good cosplayers will always tell you—before you hit the convention floor, you should have some poses picked out for photographs. For one, it’s more fun for photographers when you add some character to the scene. And you’re in costume! The whole point is to get to be that character for the day, so own it!
There’s a more serious side to this, however. By picking your poses, you are in control of your own imagery. As a cosplayer, that is absolutely your right. Someone might want to get a funny photo, like you as Wolverine eating frozen yogurt while waiting in line for the Adventure Time panel, which wouldn’t be horribly offensive (or maybe it would be depending on how serious you are about Wolverine). But if someone spies your killer Ripley cosplay and their immediate request to you is, “Do something sexy!” don’t ever forget that you can always shrug your shoulders and say, “Sorry man, these are my poses.”
And speaking of that…
3. Watch Out for Requests
When there are seven people taking your photograph at the same time (this can and does happen), it’s common for someone to call out for your attention, or maybe to ask you to pose in their direction. Because these requests can come so fast, you might not think before acquiescing. So someone says, “Can you turn around—I need a shot of the back of the costume.” You turn around and strike the pose, and only then start thinking about how your costume is skintight and your pantyline is about to be commemorated in pixels, or maybe that you just never intended to give anyone pictures of your backside—but it’s already happened.
First of all, no one “needs” any picture of you. But the con is hectic and crazy and you want to let people get photos while also doing what you want to do there, so it can be hard to focus on the moments when someone might take advantage. Try to give yourself time. A moment to breathe, a second considering what you hear before deciding what you want to do. If a request isn’t cool with you, give a straight no, or a hard time about it, or laugh it off if you’re concerned about fallout. (You are in no way obligated to call someone out if that is a scary proposition to you.) Stay in charge of yourself. You’re rocking that Poison Ivy outfit; command the respect that you both deserve.
Of course, it can be rough to spot this behavior when you’re accounting for so much. Sometimes you need an extra set of eyes….
4. Have A Buddy Looking Out for You (If You Want One)
If you’ve got a friend that you would like to employ as your spotter, that can come in handy. Some creepers at cons are known for getting stealth shots of cosplayer behinds without their knowledge. Your friend could be on duty blocking a free camera view behind you (or you could chose to only take photos when there’s a wall behind you). Depending on how worried you are about parsing out the not-cool requests, you could also give that friend leave to call off anything that goes sideways.
It’s all about your comfort level; if you feel perfectly confident standing up when someone is crude, you do your thing. But if you find yourself tongue-tied in those situations, it is more than okay to have your con buddy intercede. You could have a secret nod in place, or just let them call it like they see it. Then they can step in front of the shot and tell people to mind their business because you’ve got places to go and people to see. That’s what friends are for, right?
5. Beware Getting Singled Out
If you’re with a group of cosplayers (especially when you’re a team or a pair—the whole Scooby Gang or Indiana Jones and Sallah, for example), you’re typically there for the group experience. Photo-ops for crews can always feel just a tad more special than having it together on your own. It makes the fantasy of playing that beloved character a little bit more reality. Suddenly someone asks to get a shot of “just you.”
Why? Often there are only two reasons: 1) Your costume is crazy complex and insane and demands singular photo inspection or 2) you’re attractive and that person wants a picture of you alone. This is entirely your call, but you can always simply stick with your buddies and let that person know that you’re a package deal.
And for those “up close and personal” requests….
6. Always Set Boundaries For Hands
Most people are really cool about this; they want to take a picture because they’re excited to have a shot of them with an awesome-looking Sailor Jupiter. You pose, they pose, you have a fun time and everyone moves on. But every once in a while someone mistakes permission to get a picture together with permission to touch.
Everyone has their own markers for this. Some people are fine with a friendly hand around the shoulder or arm around the waist. Sometimes you’re fine with it until one person gets a little too close. Because it is so awkward to let someone know you’re uncomfortable, many people allow it when they don’t want to be touched—and you should never feel like you have to do that. It is fine to simply say, “Nope, no hands,” or to let people know before you pose for the picture. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for it, or an apology on your end if they overstep. You don’t know these people—protecting yourself comes first.
Because these situations can get awkward so fast, it’s important to remember….
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Your Tone
We all want to be friendly at cons—we’re among fellow fans and everyone is excited to be there. Most conversations start off as blithe exchanges with people that we have never met. Because we’re in happy-shared-fan-experience mode, it can be strange having to shift gears when something doesn’t go to plan.
Weird piece of advice? Practice. Practice what you would say to someone if they got fresh with you. Having the rejoinders on hand goes a long way to make sure you’re not standing there dumbstruck when you want to be quickly slapping down unwanted commentary or behavior. We all know it’s easy to think of retorts or what you would do different long after the fact. It’s because you’ve had time to mull it over, so get a head start on mulling now. It’s impossible to be ready for everything, but you’ll have some of your bases covered. Know what you’ll say if someone takes you aside for an interview and immediately asks about your sexual preferences. Know that you can always end interactions and walk away. Know what each of your friends is comfortable with so you can lend a hand if they get cornered. Know how to drop a smile so fast that the hall goes cold. Don’t be afraid to make it clear that you’re offended or angry.
Also, watch out for specific booths asking for pictures. Usually it’s harmless, but no one wants to become a cosplayer body pillow without knowing it.
Those are the basics, but there’s much more. If anyone has their own advice, feel free to share in the comments! And enjoy cosplaying, everyone!