Don’t Dress as Slave Leia Redux

A year and a half ago, I wrote this article about the folly of dressing as Slave Leia.

After a year of attending cons, meeting new people, and reading the internet, I have some additions and revisions.

It’s a bit long, so here’s a quick summary:

Don’t Dress as Slave Leia…

Unless you actually want to.

Does that seem too simple? Does it seem ridiculous or obvious? In all honesty it should be. However, many of my opinions were shaped by the fact that the Slave Leia cosplayers that I’d met when I wrote the first article wore the costume despite not really wanting to. It was a small sample but I specifically recall three reasons that I had heard: “It’s hot”, “my friend/boyfriend convinced me to”, and “I’m working” (ie. I’m being paid to dress this way)

Now, however, I have met people that actually did want to wear vibration-enabled panties and dress as Slave Leia and others that would love to if they had the self confidence to do so, and I’ve been blessed with a wealth of opinions on the subject, some solicited, some not so much. With my new-found expertise, I’m going to go over the whole thing all over again and find out how wrong I am all over again.

Argument the First: The Character
I have previously argued that dressing as Leia did during her enslavement to Jabba is, in a way, celebrating the disempowerment of a strong and capable woman. It would seem, however, that this is not the only way to read the scene. Yes, Leia is stripped of power and dignity and chained as a plaything for a monster. However, she is not broken. She suffers the indignities while waiting for an opportunity to strike and when opportunity comes, she chokes her captor with the chains used to bind her.

Differing opinions on the interpretations of narrative isn’t exactly news to anyone. However, recognizing that this is happening seems important. It means that two people in the same costume could well think that they’re dressed as entirely different characters, as could anyone seeing them. Are you enslaved sex-object Leia or Jabba-choking bad-ass Leia? Are you adventuring intellectual Indiana Jones or misogynist asshole Indie? Mechanical genius Kaylee or sex starved Kaylee? Whiny and annoying Anakin or Darth Fucking Vader. The point is that what the character we’re dressed as represents depends on who’s looking, and we can neither select nor dictate how others will see us.

Argument the Second: Nerd Girls
Before you get irate, this isn’t about “fake nerd girls”. That’s the next section, so save your ire for later. This is about the impact of super-sexy costumes on the real nerd girls.

Here’s the problem, there’s a preponderance of very sexy female costumes at parties and cons. I’ve heard from several women that this is intimidating and alienating. For a lot of geeky girls taking their first awkward steps out into the broader nerding life, the Slave Leia costume and those like it appear to be both an ideal and an expectation. Some choose not to dress up because they know that they can’t compete with the Hollywood bodies on display, some simply don’t come back, and an unlucky few develop emotional and eating disorders.

This is serious.

This is bad.

This has a major complication.

Sometimes people like to feel sexy and to get a bit of attention. For some, being able to wear the Slave Leia costume out in public is a victory over personal insecurity. For others, it might be the reward for careful exercise and diet. It might be living out a bit of their own fantasy. It could be the gleeful expression of genuine fandom. Who am I to say that they shouldn’t be allowed to do that? Quite the opposite, I’m wholly in favor of all of those things. I like that costume parties and cons give opportunity for people to play at being something a little more exciting than mundane life can accommodate.

So on one hand we want a welcoming, healthy and supportive environment for everyone and at the same time we want people to be free to express themselves. Tied up in that is a massive popular media, body-image, slut-shaming, prude-shaming quagmire. Fuck it, I give up. Next topic.

Argument the Third: Real Nerds Dress as Voltron
So you may have notice that the “fake geek girl” thing exploded like a festering boil all over the internet this year. When I wrote the first post I was rightfully taken to task for the title and my lack of coherent argument. Since then, I like to think that the majority consensus on the internet has sorted this issue out. There are, of course, pockets of douchebagery which will take time to fade and even though the verdict is in, culture takes time and effort to change, but I think we’re headed the right way.

That being said, there is something that I believe would help move things forward: give a shit about what you dress as. This should be equally true for both sexes, but unfortunately there is a real problem caused by the imagined fake geek girl issue that makes it more of a concern for women. I mentioned earlier that my first encounters with Slave Leias, those that spawned my formative opinions, were with women that didn’t specifically want to wear that costume. It didn’t mean anything to them.

Not knowing the character or caring about their source material gives the impression that there is a such thing as a fake geek, an impostor using our precious idols to carry out clandestine and insidious operations. Well that’s a load of crap, of course. Most people wearing a costume that they don’t care about are in it because it A:Looked awesome so they bought it or B:Borrowed it from a friend who does give a shit. But the fact is, it comes off as false and gives ammunition to idiots.

I advocate strongly for choosing a costume that speaks to you, from something that you like and care about, helps you find others that feel the same ways and fosters an atmosphere of fanish exuberance. So yes, if Leia rocks your world, dress as her. But if you’ve never even seen Star Wars, then find something that you can get excited about. Don’t dress up because you feel obligated, feel obligated to dress up how you feel.

Argument the fourth: Regarding the Feeding of the Trolls
This is an appeal to consider how others might feel about how you dress from a very different viewpoint.

Think about the boys.

Think about how they feel.

Turn safe-search off and type in Slave Leia.

Got it?

That costume is the fodder for the onanistic fantasies of a generation. Slave Leia is an expertly crafted sexual icon and there is a good chance that any adult man you encounter, particularly at a nerd convention, has at some point in their life defiled tissues to the image of Carrie Fisher in her gold bikini.

By no means does that give anyone the right to mistreat someone for wearing it, but it is something worth considering. Do you want to be a stranger’s fantasy made flesh? Your answer may well be “Yes! that’s hot,” but it may also be “Eeeeewwwww! That’s gross.” My point is that when putting on a costume consider the feelings of others, even the creepy ones. Those feelings are real and for the most part, out of the control of the feeler. Think about how it might make people might feel and how you want people to feel about you. You can’t control for outliers, but you might be able to pick the centre of your bell curve.

Argument the fifth: Argument from ubiquity
I’ve heard from a couple of places that slave Leia is a bad choice of costume because it is done so much. But the same argument could be made for Storm Troopers, Dr. Who or Harry Potter.

There seem to be two premises for this argument which I aim to dissect.
1: It shows a lack of creativity
2: It’s boring to see yet another one of those

The lack of creativity may sometimes be true, but far more often getting the costume together required personal learning and creativity on the part of the creator. Sure the same problem has been solved a thousand times, but it is probably the first time that the individual is trying to solve it, and they may be very proud of their creation.

Alternately, maybe they don’t care about being creative, maybe they just love dressing up, maybe they want to be another one of those. There’s a lot to be said for literally wearing your fandom, no matter how populist it may be. You can instantly find others that love the character as well. You can also find the others that went to the trouble of making the same costume and you can compare quality and craftsmanship while geeking out on the awesomeness of Star Wars or Adventure Time or whatever.

So you may be sick of seeing slave Leias and want something a little more esoteric or original, even just a creative spin on the old model. Well, that may be how you feel and I can’t blame you, I feel the same way sometimes. That being said, there is something that we have to remember and I’m going to type it very slowly to help it sink in.

T h e y a r e n o t d o i n g i t f o r y o u.

People wear costumes for themselves, at least in the context of parties and cons. They are not there to personally entertain any of us. If you don’t like their costume, you are not their target audience. They may not even want an audience at all. Maybe they just want an excuse to dress up, or its a thing they do with their friends, or they bought the costume on impulse and won’t have a chance to wear it anywhere else. The point is, none of us has the right to pick, pick on or pick apart the costumes of strangers.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to have opinions. By all means, judge them. That’s only human. But temper your judgement with the understanding that you may be judging them on criteria they aren’t aiming to fulfil. They might be playing a very different game, but that’s a completely different post.

That was really long.

So, rant over. Conclusions?

Not everyone shares your opinion of a character.
Sexy and revealing costumes can be alienating to some and empowering for others.
Don’t wear costumes you don’t understand.
Try not dress your friends up in costumes they don’t understand.
Other people have feelings, too. Some of them are licentious.
People don’t all play the same way when cosplaying.
They’re not doing it for us.

This has been mulling over in my mind since Dragon Con. And the conclusion that I personally came to, is that for the next con season, I’ll be dressing as Slave Leia. More on that here.


Ryan is a professional nerd, teaching engineering in the frozen north. Somewhat less professionally, he is a costumer, author, blacksmith, juggler, gamer, serial enthusiast, and supporter of the Oxford comma. He can be found on twitter and instagram @studentofwhim. If you like what I do here, feel free to leave a tip in my tipjar.

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  1. It’s kind of troubling that you put the “they’re not doing it for you” in the section about ubiquity rather than the section about “feeding the trolls”. The “feeding the trolls” section, well, it kind of sucks. No matter what I’m wearing someone may decide to integrate an imaginary version of me into their masturbatory fantasies, but that is very decidedly not-my-business. The whole “don’t dress as slave Leia unless you are comfortable with other people masturbating to an imaginary version of you” is, or at least ought to be completely irrelevant. I say “ought to be” because there is a genuine problem of people breaking the not-my-business barrier. It is one of those instances where if you don’t talk about it, it does not exist. What people do in the privacy of their own brains is theirs, and so long as it does not negatively impact their social interactions with others it remains entirely not-my-business. The issue isn’t “don’t dress as slave Leia unless you are comfortable with other people masturbating to an imaginary version of you” it’s “don’t dress as slave Leia unless you are comfortable with other people TELLING YOU ABOUT masturbating to an imaginary version of you”. The telling you about it part, that’s the problem, because that’s sexual harassment.

  2. @ladydreamgirl. I can’t disagree with you. I kind of wanted to put “they’re not doing it for you” everywhere, but the article was aimed at costumers more than anyone else so I put it mostly where other costumers appear to need the reminder.
    As far as the fantasy fodder, I put it up as something to consider. It’s something that happens and it’s worth thinking about when picking a costume. It will affect your experience so it’s worth a think about what you’re comfortable with.

  3. I agree with @ladydreamgirl in that Argument 4 runs counter to They’re Not Doing It For You. It comes off as victim-blaming. I can see where that would be useful if you’re wearing something that has a oppressive history and where its public display contributes to oppression (e.g. Nazi or KKK imagery), but it seems that the only potential problem with Slave Leia is that it turns people on and may lead to unwanted sexual advances – which is really not the cosplayer’s *responsibility*. The trolls are going to find any reason to feed on you, Slave Leia or no – it shouldn’t have to be up to the cosplayer to mitigate harassment.

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