Like many of us nerds, we can be who we are at conventions and among likeminded friends. In school or in the workplace, we feel we have to censor ourselves in order to blend into the status quo. For those of you who rock Lolita to class or have an alpaca plush sitting cozy on your desk, kudos to you. However, when co-workers are discussing what happened on “Girls” and you’re more hyped up for the next season of “Game of Thrones,” there is a sense of holding back. You feel compelled to vent about what you saw on the Red Wedding last night; you can’t stop thinking about it. Yet, no one would really get it if you started to let it all out.
As someone who works with kids, I have spent most of October reflecting on my own experiences being an “outsider” during middle school and high school. My environment “got better” in college – I was independent; I could find a personal circle of friends, I could cosplay to anime club without any reservations, I could write about fandom experience in my Communication and Asian American Studies courses. Yet, I’ve always been used to “don’t care what they think” mentality – as long as you’re happy with the world around you, then everything is all right.
I also realized I had a “nice girl” personality. Meaning, I didn’t like physical confrontation, rather I tact and diplomacy; something the bullies didn’t have. Even when I did confront people verbally in middle and high school, it always came out awkward and it was always thrown right back at me. It was not fist fights or verbal altercations; being a girl it meant gossip out of spite. I was fairly intelligent, yet “slut shamed” because I had really good grades because I was ranked at the top of my class. It’s hard to confront where the gossip begins; even when I attempted to make peace with enemies to try to talk out our differences, it still went on. Even when I found out the girls dean was gossiping about me to other teachers about how I know HTML, basic programming, web design, etc must mean something I’m something deviant. Luckily, I had good relationships with the English teachers; I spent my lunches discussing classic movies, literature, and Broadway with them.
I’ve had to let go to friendships that were toxic in the cosplay and Lolita community because I was tired of seeing bullying in places where I felt “safe to be me.” I remember when discussion forums were great places to meet likeminded people – there was a lot of us in the fanddubbing community that helped out each other on our college applications when we weren’t figuring out Cool Edit Pro. I get that we don’t necessarily have to be friends, but I miss having that inclusiveness – or at least have respect for one another because conventions are a great venue to be who we are so as long as we don’t harm one another.
One thing I never got from the anime community is the shaming of people who are into Japanese culture. It’s one thing to think you’re Japanese and keep babbling on about pop culture things like that one Saturday Night Live act, but it’s another thing to put people down for even wanting to study the Japanese language. I really have no problem if someone wears cat ears or a Naruto headband in public, if they’re not hurting anyone, then who cares? While the “weaboo” subculture has done more harm than good, just remember that you also represent otaku culture too. While I do think there’s some extremes to weaboos, we shouldn’t have to shame ourselves and others for legitimately being interested in other cultures and languages. A colleague remembered a time where it was okay to practice conversational Japanese at anime cons in the late 90s, now speaking Japanese at cons is seen as a weaboo stereotype. Be above the stereotype and keep continuing on to learn about culture, I say!
And then I’ve seen a ton of articles come out about racism and sizeism in cosplay. I’m fortunate enough to have lived in diverse metropolitan areas of the country; I hardly seem any racism in my experience. However, because of the campaign “It’s a Culture, Not a Costume,” I’ve also seen the extremes of people saying that it’s racist to wear kimonos and yukatas at anime themed events. What these people seem to forget is that people do this for love of culture; it’s not a stereotype they are portraying. There’s a huge difference between yellow facing and simply just wanting to wear a kimono at an anime themed event. Yellow Facing is more than putting on a costume, it’s acting a certain way that is offensive to people of Asian descent.
Regarding sizeism, it’s been going on for as long as I cam remember. I remember whispers from friends when we see Lum pass by they’ll say, “My eyes…they burn!” or after the con they’ll post, “Overweight cosplayers – cover up! You have OTHER options!” In recent years, I’ve seen Hollywood standards of beauty breach the cosplay scene. It does not help that so-called press post top 10 list of the sexiest cosplayers or cosplay contests are beginning to have judges known more for Facebook likes than years of craftsmanship and masquerade rapport. Moreso, cosplay is now this thing that’s on display for worship than something to be interactive and engaged with. I’m not saying that professional cosplayers are bad, I blame the beta males and convention organizers that perpetuate these impossible Hollywood standards. I don’t know if this for better or for worse, but at least to this veteran, cosplay is about having fun in costume with likeminded fans of your fandom – that’s why I love the cosplay scene here in New England – cosplay chess, cosplay dating game, cosplay death match, cosplay mock trial, etc are just awesome was to interact and be in character. We do this for fun and games, not to achieve unrealistic proportions from fantasy.
And then I see some people who want to bring in positivity to the community get shamed for pandering their disability. It’s only recently I’ve met Misa on Wheels at Another Anime Con. We need this positivity. Disabled or not, it’s nice to see memes and motivationals where it shows a positive message than a negative one. Even when Chloe D was like, “Rule #1 of Cosplay: Don’t be a Dick.” Less don’t’s and more do’s, I say. I think all of us know that aforementioned already, but for every response to something negative in the cosplay community, we need positive energy to keep reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously and most of all, cosplay should be enjoyed by everyone.
More importantly, we need to be aware of how we treat newbies to our respective fandoms and hobbies. I’ve been traumatized by the Southern California Lolita community when I first thought about joining only because of the horror stories and a lot of the cosplay / otaku trash talking they were doing. I’m sure it’s changed since 2007, but the point was, I was too scared to even approach it. Even when I stepped into the doll community, I got plenty of unwelcomed messages because I (innocently) thought Pullips, Blythes, etc counted for Ball Joint Dolls, and yet I wanted to save up for a resin ball joint doll (I took BJD literally). When we scare new people in our fandoms, we loose someone who could contribute and have just as much fun. It’s our role in our fandoms to educate the people who have interest in said fandom. You know why Homestuck is doing so well? “Let me tell you about Homestuck.” There’s an inclusive part of the fandom that’s hardly seen in many others. So, if you see me at a con, I’ll gladly educate you on the ways of the Pretty Cure and iDolm@ster and comics that have REAL heroines.
The point is, let’s take some time to reflect on how we’ve dealt with bullying in our past and also the times we may have bullied or may have excluded others because of our own selfishness. Let’s start making our own communities and fandom happy places where people can be who they are. While elitism will exist no matter what community you’re in, you also don’t have to perpetuate the problem either. Because at one point, we were last to be picked on the team (and first to be picked on) – we don’t need that here.