Cosplay Shouldn’t Be About Looking Like A Character

There are some incredibly talented cosplayers out there, but often the ones who achieve widespread recognition are recognised instead for an uncanny facial resemblance to the characters they’re cosplaying. While, ostensibly, the point of cosplay is to resemble the character as much as possible, cosplay is so much more than that in practice. That’s why cosplayers are coming out to say “I cosplay characters because I like them.”

The project has been organised under the #ICosplayBecause hashtag, collecting images of both lookalikes and non-lookalikes with the common theme — it doesn’t actually matter if you look like the character.

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The movement was kickstarted by cosplayer Ginny Di, who posted about it on her blog, as well as composing the photo overlay that many are adopting — you can download a copy of it at the blog post.

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Ginny’s own frustration with the issue, she told Kotaku, came from her Arya cosplay. Her features had always lent themselves to the character, with what she describes as “the big eyes, baby face, and bushy brows of Maisie Williams in Game of Thrones.”

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Having that resemblance has its privileges for a cosplayer of course. “Being a “lookalike” for Arya had benefitted me so much,” Ginny said. “I don’t know where I”d be today if I hadn’t gotten that lucky.”

But the blowback for a lookalike comes in unexpected ways. Often people can feel pressure to only cosplay the one character, constantly reminded of the single resemblance.

“For YEARS I would get told “I just see Arya dressed as __” whenever I cosplayed another character,” Ginny revealed. “That was frustrating too because it made me feel like I was a one-trick pony and people only ever wanted me to do one thing.”

Ginny Di as Arya Stark. Photo: Ginny Di

Branching out is only seen as acceptable when the same actor or actress takes on a new role, for example, when Maisie Williams appeared in a recent season of Doctor Who as Ashildr. The reaction for Ginny was an assumption that she would naturally cosplay this other character she now had a resemblance too, even though the suggestions were unwelcome.

“People kept telling me I should cosplay her character even though I’d been super vocal about how much I hated Moffat’s Who.” Ginny said.

“People who knew I didn’t watch anymore were still suggesting I pick it up again solely so I could cosplay Lady Me/Ashildr. It just seemed like it didn’t even occur to anyone that I might not want to specifically watch a show I didn’t like anymore… to cosplay a character I didn’t know or care about.”

Interestingly, the whole conundrum turned back on Ginny the other way — after years of being told she only looked like Arya, one day she suddenly didn’t look enough like Arya.

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“While I’d gotten a few “would make a better Yara Greyjoy” comments in the past, they became REALLY frequent with my season 7 costume — like, to the point where I was getting two or three comments like that every day.”

Ginny Di as Arya Stark. Photo: Photographer of Life

With both Arya and Yara appearing more, and in similar hairstyles and clothing, Ginny understood why it might happen — but that didn’t make it any easier to hear with such frustrating repetition.

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“It didn’t matter much at first, but each comment bothered me progressively more, until each one just felt like someone was saying “your Arya is terrible! stop cosplaying her!”

Of course this is a far more common phenomenon with live action source material, when people have the actors’ faces in mind whenever they picture the characters. But even then, some fandoms are far more known for it than others.

“The ones I know of for sure are Game of Thrones and Once Upon a Time, although I’m sure there are others where it’s rampant,” Ginny said.

Margaery Tyrell cosplay by Santatory. Photo by Ookami cosplay photography

There are definitely a lot of high-profile lookalike cosplayers in the Game of Thrones scene, and Ginny’s not the only one who’s struggled with the reaction to that.

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Norwegian cosplayer Santatory is known for her uncanny resemblance to Natalie Dormer, but she’s had to come out recently just to request a break in the “you should cosplay Margaery instead” comments:

For some, it’s not even a matter of being the ‘wrong’ lookalike. When a majority of popular characters tend to be white, slim and conventionally attractive, a whole lot of talented cosplayers can find themselves instantly dismissed because they don’t share these traits.

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“There are cosplayers who do much better work than me who aren’t recognized the way I am, because their face isn’t “right” for characters.” Ginny told Kotaku. “It’s ESPECIALLY bad when it comes to body image and race. I can’t even begin to imagine how hurtful it would be to be a cosplayer of color trying to cosplay characters I love and being constantly told that I can’t because of the color of my skin.”

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These kind of broad limitations go beyond just live action mediums — being the ‘wrong’ race or ‘wrong’ body shape can be applied to everything from anime to video games. “It’s just another version of the same dismissive idea,” Ginny said. “That your actual cosplay is irrelevant and all that matters is your face.”

Top: Michael Sheridan, DrosselTira Cosplay (photo: Adaman), Soylent Cosplay. Bottom: Morgan Danielle, Tilliel Cosplay (photo: Yozora Photography), ChadHatter Cosplay

This is why #ICosplayBecause started — and why so many cosplayers, lookalikes and no, have embraced it whole-heartedly. Let’s remind everyone what cosplay is really about, the original blog post proclaims. Ginny said she’s been so glad the message is resonating with other people.

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“It’s been spreading a ton, and I have loved seeing people’s personal stories about what cosplay means to them and why they’ve connected with the characters they have.

“One guy admitted that he had made a puppet for his first cosplay, Rocket Raccoon, because he didn’t feel confident becoming his favorite characters, and said he was going to try Starlord now.”

Even though everyone’s responses have been so different, the heart is the same: “They all come from the same place of unapologetic fandom. Everybody is basically saying ‘yeah, I love this character, nothing else matters.’”

This story originally appeared on Kotaku Australia.

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