Cosplayer Jeannette ChinoChinako poses as Sailor Saturn outside a building by a structure.

Dealing with Cosplay Disenchantment

WARNING: This article deals with the overall sensitive topic of being treated inappropriately while in cosplay. Please remember that cosplay does not equal consent.

As a female cosplayer, my cosplay experience has often walked the line between the best of times and the most inappropriate comments during the other times. Any given day, in any given city, at any given event, in any given cosplay—nothing I seem to do can prevent the unwanted attention from occurring. It’s almost like a strange dance. As a cosplayer in full cosplay you want to twirl and show off your love for a character as you don their appearance, but sometimes your fanciful twirling catches the eye of someone who only sees you as an object, rather than a person in cosplay.It’s uncomfortable, embarrassing, and horrible when it happens. But what can you do? It seems to almost go hand-in-hand with cosplay these days. How can one avoid this unwanted attention, comments, or touching while trying to have fun in cosplay?

What can cosplayers do?

Listen. This isn’t going to be easy to say and it most definitely isn’t want you want to hear nor read, but the truth of the matter is that right now there is nothing you can do to prevent this from happening to you or to others. But, even knowing this sad truth, there are things you can do to shut it down when it happens, and by doing this as a community only then can we change how cosplayers are treated in public (both in and out of cosplay).

“Okay, fine. So tell us how to shut it down already!” Alright, I hear you. You’re angry and rightfully so. You want to work together to stop these unwanted acts from happening to anyone at all, but you need to know how. You need to have a game plan ready so you can leap into action at the drop of a hat.

And you need to know that it may not be that easy.

From my experience cosplaying as Sailor Saturn

Cosplayer Jeannette Chinochinako cosplays as Sailor Saturn for a convention.
Sailor Saturn cosplay / Photo provided by Jeannette ChinoChinako

The catcall

One of my first cosplay ever was of my favorite Sailor Senshi—the soldier of death and rebirth herself, Sailor Saturn. I walked to the convention from my apartment and was catcalled (sort of) from a moving vehicle as a window was rolled down and a passenger yelled out to me, “Are you Star Wars?” I laughed about it and I still do. That was the craziest thing to happen to me while I was in cosplay at that point in time, and it was hilarious! I would love for a cosplayer now to take on the challenge of cosplaying the entirety of Star Wars in one outfit. It could be the greatest thing ever, honestly.

“Jailbait”

Once inside the convention I wanted to explore the Dealer’s Hall, so I headed in after the line had dispersed. As I was walking around the room examining all the things I could buy, a man came over to me. He approached with his mouth half open as he looked me up and down slowly and I immediately got chills down my spine. When he was within an arm’s length away he asked me in a hushed voice, “Are you jailbait?”

I didn’t really know what to say, so I answered his question honestly. “Uh… no. My character is, but I’m not.”

“Shame. I love those girls in their short skirts and tight outfits. You look so hot. Are you sure you aren’t jailbait?”

Disgusted I furrowed my brow and carefully stated, “No. I’m not.”

The man took breaths through his mouth and shook his head as he walked away from me. I lost sight of him in the busy crowds, but that conversation never left my memory.

I felt unsafe and singled out

Two separate comments, same cosplay, same day, same city, same convention. I froze in the moment, unsure of what to say, unsure of what this horrible person wanted from me. I felt unsafe, despite being within a crowded room. I felt singled out. And afterward I felt dirty and disgusted and simply shuddering from the creepy conversation that had just transpired.

No matter how prepared I had been against this sort of thing, in the moment I was absolutely caught off-guard. And this is something that you need to consider—that in the moment, you too could be caught off-guard and feel unprepared—which is why even having a game plan in your back pocket may not be enough to get you out of a bad situation.

We can make a difference, together

But this is where the community comes in. This is where we can make a difference together. If we want change and safety, we need to step up and shut down these situations for not only ourselves, but for others we witness in tough spots. We shouldn’t have to fight to feel safe in these gatherings of people who adore anime, manga, and gaming, but we do.

So here’s what you need to know to start turning the tide (besides the obvious notes of traveling in groups, not drinking anything you didn’t open yourself, not heading back to hotel rooms or AirBnBs with strangers, and using common sense):

  • Use social media to know who will be attending the same event as you and which mutual-friends are marking themselves as a “helper.” These people can be anyone from cosplayers, to artist alley artists, expo hall sellers, photographers, etc. Keep track of them because if you get into a bad situation and need help these people will gladly escort you from the situation and get you to safety, or offer you a place to lay low and hide if necessary.
  • If you a victim of unwanted or non-consensual actions, report as much information as you can to event security. They are there to help the event run smoothly, but more importantly security is there to make sure everyone feels safe. Depending on the severity of the situation you may want to also get the local police involved.
  • If you want to be a “helper,” keep your eyes and ears open so you can do something to help de-escalate a non-consensual situation. You’ll know something is off by watching body language or overhearing conversation. You can easily insert yourself into a conversation by acting glad to see the person whom you think needs help and quietly ask if they are okay. Their answer will determine your next steps—either getting them to safety, or respecting their boundaries and bowing out of the conversation.
  • As a “helper,” you need to also understand that in the moment a potential victim may not want your help at all. As a woman, I am entirely aware of “white knights” or men who want to swoop in to my rescue.
    • In a tough situation, I may react one of two ways—the first may be to deny that I need help at all, hoping that I can handle the situation all on my own; the second would be to immediately let a “helper” help me. But here’s the thing—I want to believe I am strong enough to rescue myself from these situations, so I can get defensive very quickly if I feel that my strength is being overlooked.
    • Being helped out of a tough situation for me personally is like accepting defeat. So as much as I want to tell you to not be a “white knight”, I also know it’s better to err on the side of caution than it is to have no one help you at all.
  • You may unintentionally become a “helper” while at an event. If someone runs or moves toward you and you don’t recognize them, but they are acting as though they recognize you (“There you are!”, “Oh my gosh, how have you been?”, “Finally! I’m glad you saw my text.”), it’s very important to play along and keep moving. When you can get to a safer spot you may discover that the person you don’t know was actually needing help to remove themselves from a bad situation, and you simply happened to be walking by at the opportune time. These things can happen and have happened in the past, so always be open to helping others even if you aren’t fully aware of the situation at hand.

Coming Together to Help One Another

I’ve always felt that the cosplay community was a good community, and I still do feel this way overall, but I know bad people exist and I know cosplayers can seem like an easy target for a multitude of reasons. I want the cosplay community to look out for one another. If we can create a “helper” mindset among our community, then we can help one another to feel safer while in or out of cosplay. Be good people, be proactive, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it (even if you have to pretend to know a stranger so you can get to safety). If we are all a little more aware of one another, I think we’ll start to see a shift in less disenchantment while in cosplay, and more security within our growing community.

As a side note, I am a “helper.” If you feel unsafe or need an escape path, simply get my attention. I’ll do my best to help you out of a tough spot and get you to safety as quickly as possible.

The team at Geek Gals understands the importance of anonymity. If you are a cosplayer and would like to write about your cosplay experiences (good or bad), please do not hesitate to contact us.

Featured image provided by Jeannette ChinoChinako

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