Recently it seems like many publications and websites that normally avoid aspects of nerd culture have started posting articles about ‘sexy geeks’ and ‘what fan communities need to do’ or even interviews with ‘cosplay celebrities’ that no one has ever seen or heard about. The most obvious reason for this is that aspects of nerd culture have gotten popular among the mainstream. Comic book movies have given new popularity to Batman and Ironman, but have also made it acceptable to be a fan of comic book heroes. The sexed up Star Trek and Battlestar reboots have given a new sexy feel to sci-fi that was not there in previous versions and will likely have an impact on future sci-fi projects.
With these kinds of shifts it isn’t too surprising that publications like Huffington Post, Playboy and Cosmopolitan have stuck their pens into the world of geeks and nerds. While this is not a bad thing on the surface, there are problems that are brewing underneath that could be future problems for those of us who are embroiled in the world of convention culture. While not everything that comes from the mainstreaming of nerd culture is bad there are some things that the community will need to keep an eye out for and one of those things is the impact of the mainstream on how the nerd community may view body image and react to the physical appearance of others.
This impact on body image stems from the growth of ‘articles’ about sexy cosplayers and sexy nerds that push the standards of mainstream beauty onto the community. These photo stories and articles suddenly bring focus to the minority of nerds that are not the stereotype. While some may disagree that the stereotype of the out of shape socially awkward geek/nerd is the standard among nerdy fandoms, anyone who has attended a comic convention or sci-fi con will agree that stereotype is there for a reason. While the occasional story about a sexy person that likes something nerdy is fine, if people keep seeing stories like that it will have an impact. Causing more alienation for those that are in the stereotype and possibly causing tension between in shape and out of shape nerds.
Traditionally nerds tend to not compare themselves to their favorite comic book, novel, or cartoon character. This lack of awareness of body image led to people of all different sizes cosplaying from their favorite series without fear. While there were those few ill mannered individuals that would mock the out of shape cosplayers, people that like are part of nearly every aspect of life and will likely never be erased. However, with the growth of social media and the internet it becomes very difficult to not see images of nerds that fall into the traditional category of good looking and the growth of people mocking those that do not fit the ‘model’ of perfection. The more this becomes the standard that the public expects the more of an impact it can have on the nerd/geek community.
Odds are those who have established their own identity as an adult prior to the overwhelming flood of ‘sexy nerd’ photo articles and lists will not have their own image shaken by this shift in how the public views nerds. However, those who are younger now have a terrible collective role model that tells them that they need to look a certain way and behave a certain way. It is the responsibility of not only older fans, but those who are in the ‘sexy nerd’ category to ensure that those who are being overtaken by the need to look/act in an unhealthy way are told that they do not need to act that way.
We live in a time where it is accepted by the mainstream that ‘normal’ or ‘sexy’ people can be part of the nerd community. That shift helps humanize the nerd community and hopefully gives a message that it is okay to be a little obsessive about your fandom. It is nice to have some acceptance, but we should be aware that acceptance comes with consequences. With any luck the mainstream interest with the nerd community will pass and things will shift to a more normal status, but until then everyone should do their best to not be influenced by the changes and to just be themselves and love what they love.
jared @ scarlet-rhapsody.com