There are two minds of cosplay at conventions. The crowd I run with does it for fun. You choose a character you want to dress as all day, hang out with other fans, and do anything with photos or contests because it's fun. So long as you aren't hurting anyone or breaking the rules, you're cool. Have fun. The other thought is that you need to cosplay based on what you look like. Bigger people need to cosplay as bigger characters. A fat Superman is a distraction because it's not accurate to the character and proves the cosplayer is clueless as to what their limitations are. These people will tell you to your face in front of a crowded show floor that your cosplay is bad and give you a bulleted of better characters or mistakes you've made with no shame.
The second episode of SyFy's Heroes of Cosplay tackled this issue head on and it wasn't pretty. Chloe Dykstra, host of Nerdist's Just Cos, was invited to dinner with some award-winning cosplayers on the eve of her first contest. They looked on in horror a Chloe expressed that cosplay is something fun for everyone. If you want to dress as a character, dress as the character.
Yaya Han, one of the most famous cosplayers in America, came up with the fat Superman example. She seemed shocked that anyone had a different opinion of copslay--fun rather than 100% commitment to accuracy--and chalked it up to Chloe being new to competitions. There was a false air of benevolence, citing online bullying for why you shouldn't cosplay as a different body type, but it was filled with arrogance.
This was the same episode where Yaya talked down to her former intern Monika Lee for going for a sexier cosplay. It was a constant thread of almost-slut shaming between Yaya's comments on Monika and her friend, famous cosplayer Jessica Ngiri, choosing more provocative costumes. Yaya again couched the complaints in a false modesty, claiming that cosplay is about craftsmanship and Jessica and Monika were only focused on showing skin. However, Jessica and Monika wore detailed cosplay in steampunk and very accurate streetwear styles the entire episode.
The first episode wasn't much kinder to the issue, focusing on Becky Young trying to lose weight for an awesome Merida cosplay. She was edited to look like her weight was the only thing that mattered in her cosplay and it was very upsetting. Becky put together a beautiful and accurate Merida cosplay, looked great in it, and sold the character during the contest. The show suggested through her own commentary that she only didn't win the top prize because she was too fat to really cosplay as Merida.
Here's where I have to step in with personal experience. I've met a good chunk of this cast at conventions, Yaya included. None have ever been rude to me or any other cosplayer for showing up and having fun. Yaya, in particular, is on this show as a judge and I think she's being asked very leading questions in interviews to come across this negative towards casual cosplayers. It's not the Yaya I've had the pleasure of meeting in the past. The editing on the show is creating caricatures that don't even come close to reflecting reality.
What SyFy's trying to do with Heroes of Cosplay is make a hybrid between trashy reality shows like Real Housewives and high skills competitive shows like Face Off. It doesn't sit right. With all the recent stories of harassment at conventions, the "Cosplay is not Consent" campaign, and all the fake geek girl shaming from industry figures, SyFy is wasting an opportunity to show the artistry and community that has built up cosplay into a central theme across most US fan conventions.
It's upsetting to see extremely talented designers, fabricators, and fans turned into caricatures of reality TV villains and victims. No one is portrayed as a hero because the edit insults them or mocks their insecurities. The quality of work these contestants put out is wildly entertaining without the added he said, she said drama. The competition aspect of cosplay is drama enough without warping reality for reality TV tropes.
I hope that Heroes of Cosplay pulls itself together. These people deserve more than what SyFy's put out in the first two episodes. The super-judgmental cosplayers who will walk up to a 10 year old and critique their cardboard and duct tape costume without being asked are an extreme minority. One person telling another cosplayer they shouldn't be dressed as a character will be booed or removed from any major convention at this point. Perpetuating the hateful side of cosplay is not good TV; it is nothing but a wasted opportunity.
Worst of all, the show might actually discourage people from cosplaying. Cosplay is for everyone who wants to cosplay however they choose to cosplay. SyFy needs to get the tone right to not turn this hobby into another geek cliche to mock.
Thoughts on Heroes of Cosplay? Share them below.