9 Body-Positive Cosplay Lessons We Learned at ConnectiCon 2017

Panel member and cosplayer Hannah Prum as Lolita ’90s Wolverine.

ConnectiCon 2017 is running from July 7-9 in Hartford, Connecticut, and GeekMom is covering the festivities. On Friday, we checked out Making It Fit: Techniques for Body-Positive Cosplay, led by veteran cosplayers Hannah Prum and Randompassingninja. The panel was funny and informative, and it offered a helpful mixture of practical and philosophical tips for hesitant and first-time cosplayers. (And also for parents introducing their kids to cosplay or helping their kids to be more body-positive.)

Here are some of the lessons we took away from that panel:

  1. Change the way you talk about your body and your cosplays.
    Who among us hasn’t said, “Oh, I can’t cosplay her because I’m not thin/pretty/jacked enough”?  Prum encouraged cosplayers to change that script, addressing the emotional reasons for not cosplaying a character. For example, instead of saying “I can’t cosplay her because she’s sexy,” a cosplayer might say “I wouldn’t feel comfortable in that cosplay because it shows so much skin.” In other words, making your concerns about the costumes themselves takes the weight of your judgment off your own body.
  2. When you choose a character to cosplay, realize you have a range of options; the character doesn’t have to look like you.
    Cosplays range from screen-accurate (an exact copy of Martin Freeman’s John Watson costume in Sherlock, for instance) to total redesigns (John Watson as a zombie Disney Princess). Do what excites you. Prum suggests choosing your favorite characters but also planning your costumes based on the kind of cosplay you’d like to make.
    “If you want to learn to make a ballgown, pick a character and put them in a ballgown,” she said. “If you want to make a bodystocking, pick a character and put them in a bodystocking.”
    She and Randompassingninja did just that a few years ago when they made Lolita versions of ’90s Wolverine and Cable.
    “I wanted to make a Lolita dress,” said Prum.

    Prum and Randompassingninja as Lolita Wolverine and Cable.
  3. Remember: actors have a team of people paid to make them look good, and animated characters are drawings.
    You are just one cosplayer doing it all: hair, makeup, costume design, modeling. And also, you’re a human being with organs. “Things are not going to sit on your body the way they look on a screen,” says Randompassingninja.
  4. Change your cosplay to fit your body, not your body to fit your cosplay.
    If you’re going to lose 30 lbs or start a workout regime, do it for you and your health, not to fit into a costume. Prum and Randompassingninja pointed out that most cosplays are finished at the last minute, but while you can finish a costume in a week (or a night), you should not try to reshape your body in a short period of time. They swear by shapewear and body contouring. Also, you can easily get a six pack by sculpting some craft foam.
  5. Make sure your cosplay fits your body.
    Does your costume fit? If it’s too big, take it in. If it’s too small, let it out. (Prum suggests cutting the back of the costume open, adding a panel of elastic and then covering that panel. I am not a seamstress, so I can’t tell you how this would work.) If need be,  make a dress form.
  6. When it comes time to wear that cosplay, iron it first.
    I hate this advice because I hate ironing, but they’re right. You spent so much time on your cosplay. Why wouldn’t you take another 10 minutes to iron it and make it look its best?
  7. Remember that cosplaying for a photo shoot is not the same thing as cosplaying in life.
    You may look great in the mirror but hate your pics. And that’s fine. “The mirror doesn’t lie,” says Prum.
  8. If you’re cosplaying with your kid, let them guide the cosplay.
    We all want our kids to like what we like and we geeks tend to be perfectionists, but let your kid choose their own cosplay. “Do whatever they’re most enthusiastic about,” Prum said.
    It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t look perfect, as long as your child loves it.
  9. Cosplay is pain, but it shouldn’t be mental or emotional pain.
    Some cosplays are physically uncomfortable, and that’s fine. You probably knew that going in. You’re spending eight hours in a monster costume or a corset and boots or an itchy wig or body paint! Of course it’s painful! You signed up for it. But cosplay shouldn’t make you feel bad about yourself. If you spent hours and money on a cosplay you hate, you don’t have to wear it. If it’s not right for you, and you feel uncomfortable in it, don’t wear it. Cosplay is, at its core, about having fun. So have fun, or as Prum says, “Don’t do things that make you miserable, y’all.”

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A.J. O’Connell is a freelance journalist and author who loves Tolkien, Star Wars, She-Hulk and writing fiction. Her first book, "Beware the Hawk," was published in 2012. A.J. lives in Connecticut with her husband and son. Her ideal day includes a lot of fiction writing, a lot of coffee and more comics than she can afford. Follow her on Twitter at @ann_oconnell.