Cosplaying While White
I am lucky.
I look like 90% of the women on the big screen, the small screen, on the covers of novels and in the pages of comic books.
I am white, skinny and have learned how to use makeup (as well as a few laser surgeries) to cover the birthmark on my face with which genetics graced me.
That doesn’t make me a good cosplayer.
In fact, it means that I can be a little more lazy with my costumes than someone who doesn’t share the basic physical characteristics of a character.
Like this one. This is jeans, a white blouse and a pair of cowboy boots from my closet. Topped off with a wig and some creative makeup to give my very pale skin a more tanned look.
But it’s recognizable as River Song, if you’re familiar with the source material (The TARDIS probably helps.)
As much as I love being Batgirl, My Batgirl isn’t the best one out there. It’s a purple bodysuit, not cut quite screen-accurately, made out of the wrong fabric and beginning to show its years. My red hair is a different texture than the red wig that the character wears. And I look *nothing* like Yvonne Craig. But it’s recognizable. People love it. I get celebrated for it. Just by showing up.
I get away with a lot of shortcuts. I don’t need to make sure the details are perfect. I don’t need to hunt high or low for the perfect accessory, or perfect my poses. I am immediately, and unconditionally accepted as presenting a valid cosplay of that character, whether or not I really have any resemblance to the woman I’m imitating. There are a few negative comments on my costumes, occasionally. Usually having to do with the fact that my chest is not big enough for comic book standards, but on the whole, the reaction is positive.
But here’s the thing: I don’t need to defend my presence and my choice to engage in the activity of cosplay (all gender assumptions aside). As long as a photo is taken by a decent photographer, the overwhelming response to my presence in the cosplay world and the geek world at large (again, geek girl issues aside) will be positive (if sometimes problematic from a gender standpoint). I don’t need to compensate for my color, or my weight or my height or my physical abilities. I don’t need to justify my presence by being absolutely perfect. I don’t have to face that higher bar for being judged as “doing cosplay right”. I am “doing it right” by being a conventionally attractive white woman in spandex. End of story.
Making the costume and showing up is the end of the effort I need to put in. The same isn’t true for women who are the “wrong” color from the geek world’s standpoint. Or who are the “wrong” size. Or who don’t wear makeup. Or who are genetically male and present as a woman.
I love being a superhero, and being perceived as one. But just because I look the part expected of me doesn’t make me better than anyone else. In fact it mostly lets me get off a little easier than the next person.