Shining Light on the Dark Side of Cosplay
CHERYL JUAN explores the dark and less talked about side of cosplay, delving into what one should be wary of and sharing some precautionary tips from fellow cosplayers.
The bustling crowd of cosplayers and fans at Alternate Universe SG, a cosplay event that took place in June of this year. Photo courtesy of Nur Ameerah.
Hype Issue #55
July 12, 2022
Donning bright wigs, eclectic costumes, and coloured contacts, cosplayers pay homage to their favourite characters by dressing up as them. Cosplay, short for costume play, originated in Japan and is one of the many ways the influences of Japanese culture can be seen in Singapore.
To the uninitiated, cosplay is viewed as a fun and bubbly activity where people dress up, make new friends, and share their love for their favourite characters in fandoms they adore. However, within every community lies some form of toxicity – so what exactly lurks behind their cheerful smiles and animated personas?
Ameerah enjoys directing, content creating and making cosplay related TikToks on her @sapphire_cos account which has garnered a total of 21.6K followers. Screenshot taken from @sapphire_cos on TikTok.
Nur Ameerah, 19, otherwise known by her cosplay name ‘Sapphire’, is a cosplay TikToker with a following of 21.6K on her @sapphire_cos TikTok account. She shares that cosplay is not always wholesome.
“What people see nowadays is just a sugar coated version of [cosplay] on TikTok because they’re like ‘Ooh cosplayers! Wow!’ but they don’t really know what kind of nitty gritty stuff goes into cosplay itself and the whole social aspect of it. [It’s] insane,” says Ameerah.
After speaking to various cosplayers and ex-cosplayers, many brought up a number of overlapping issues arising within the community which need to be strongly addressed.
Cosplayers getting sexualised
Unfortunately, this is one of the issues many of my interviewees brought up due to them having experienced it before, with some of them even quitting cosplay because of this.
Rae Ong, 20, a cosplayer who only started cosplaying in March this year, shares that she has already encountered such instances happening to her despite being new to the scene.
Rae cosplaying as Beidou from Genshin Impact at the recent Arc Market convention which took place in June of this year. Photo courtesy of Rae Ong.
“I had dudes come up to me and ask why don’t I make OF (OnlyFans), for example, [or] why I don’t make lewds,” says Rae.
OnlyFans is a platform where people pay to see exclusive content in the form of pictures, videos, and live-streams from creators, usually on the more sexually explicit side.
Rae had to resort to posting a public service announcement on her Instagram story highlights due to numerous people overstepping her boundaries and hitting on her. Screenshot taken from @error_rae’s Instagram story highlights.
Rae mentions that she often tries to approach such situations nicely at first, but has had to put her foot down when they don’t stop.
“I’m CREEPED OUT and slightly disgusted too. Because as much as I feel honoured that someone would see me as worthy for their feelings, it also makes me uncomfortable – especially when they won’t stop even after I say things like I have a boyfriend,” says Rae.
I’m CREEPED OUT and slightly disgusted too. Because as much as I feel honoured that someone would see me as worthy for their feelings, it also makes me uncomfortable – especially when they won’t stop even after I say things like I have a boyfriend.
Valerie Mah, 19, an ex-cosplayer who cosplayed from 2015 to 2018 when she was 12 to 15 years old, recounts similar experiences.
14-year-old Valerie cosplaying as Megurine Luka, a Vocaloid character at Game Start 2017. Photo courtesy of Valerie Mah.
“I recall how many more men took photos [with] me compared to the number of girls/women. Additionally, in school, I [heard] a lot of weird comments from my guy friends who gave me cosplay suggestions when I told them I was thinking about who I’d like to cosplay next. I got recommendations like Jinx or Katarina from League of Legends, Ryuko Matoi from Kill la Kill, and even just wearing a maid costume version of a Sword Art Online character, Sinon. It is scary how I didn’t even realise how I was sexualised, and even worse that I was barely in my teens when all this all happened,” says Valerie.
It is scary how I didn’t even realise how I was sexualised, and even worse that I was barely in my teens when all this all happened.
She says that it was actually her mother who advised her to quit at the time, concerned with how revealing some cosplay costumes were and how it opened up room for danger.
“I didn’t realise how right she was until I got older, and realised I have encountered quite a few scenarios that I didn’t find creepy or weird at the time due to [the fact that I was too young to see it],” says Valerie.
This highlights yet another concern:
Cosplay is a hobby any age group can take up, adults and minors alike. As Valerie mentioned, she was barely in her teenage years when she was already an open target, leading to her mother having to step in out of concern.
Ms Han Chin Chin, 55, Valerie’s mother, says “Cosplayers, with what they do, [tend] to attract some attention at conventions when dressing up as a character, as it stands out. I mean, some with revealing attire and bright coloured hair, [might be likely to attract the wrong type of attention], whether it’s perverts or creeps who could pose potential harm to those who do it – [either] verbal[ly] or physical[ly]. I’m especially worried because my daughter is a girl, and [she] was quite young at that time.”
Similarly, Ysabel B, 18, who has been to multiple conventions since she started cosplaying in 2020, shares her concerns regarding younger cosplayers. She has seen some donning revealing cosplay outfits and “just walking around in panties in public”.
“There have been instances of cosplayers wearing inappropriate [costumes] to conventions. And not to mention that a handful of these people are literal kids. An example of this would be people cosplaying a character from My Dress-Up Darling’s Rizu Kyun”, Ysabel explains. Minors dressing up in such revealing outfits is an obvious red flag, “due to the possibility of child predators roaming within these conventions knowing that young children are dressing up in such clothing,” she says.
The scary thing is there are also people within the cosplay community (coscom), from cosplayers to photographers, that have been charged for malicious acts. Unfortunately, although they have been blacklisted, some cosplayers, especially the newer and younger ones, are unaware of who they are and what they have done.
“The thing is, the guy is back in coscom. People are shooting [photographs] with him and a lot of people who are shooting with him are actually minors. He has a history of actually sexually assaulting someone,” says Ameerah, referencing a photographer who has been charged with sexual assault twice but has since gotten back into the cosplay scene.
Danielle Tay, 14, who started cosplaying two years ago when she was just 12 years old, shares that she has had her share of distressing instances happening to her during her coscom journey.
Danielle cosplaying as Marin Kitagawa, the protagonist of anime and manga series My Dress-Up Darling. Photo courtesy of Danielle Tay.
“There was once where someone took photographs of me without my permission at a convention. [I] felt very annoyed and angry,” says Danielle. “[I’m] concerned that there would be more predators attending cons, sometimes they assume cosplaying [equals] consent which isn’t true at all. Cosplayers are still humans and deserve to be respected.”
It is of utmost importance that cosplayers need to be wary, as there are malicious individuals who are active in the community. Younger cosplayers who lack awareness of the dangers lurking about, need to seek advice from those who have been in the scene longer, to know the ins-and-outs of the community.
Additionally, Ysabel shares that she has also seen some people cosplay as characters from hentai, which is anime and manga pornography. This can be worrisome as it introduces such characters and hentai shows to other cosplayers – especially the young.
“I’ve also seen cosplays of characters from hentai, like Yarichin B**** Club, which is a R21 (Restricted 21) anime series that has sexual scenes. I believe such cosplay costumes should really only be worn at home or at studio shoots. Wearing them in public and to conventions will expose them to children attending the same event,” says Ysabel.
If you thought the issues ended at that, sadly, there’s more to come.
Bullying within the Community
One of the more common issues brought up would be bullying within the community – not just from the general public, but also from fellow cosplayers themselves.
Ashley (not her real name due to request for anonymity), 19, is an ex-cosplayer who cosplayed from 2017 to 2019 and had a following of 18K on Instagram prior to shutting the account down. Although she did establish a name for herself within the community, she shares that the environment was way too toxic and was taking a toll on her.
“I quit due to the toxicity in the community. At the time, there were a lot of people who liked to gossip and talk bad about others who [they’d] never even met or spoken to before. So it wasn’t a good place to be during that period,” says Ashley. “Some people in the community have the tendency to accuse others of ‘social climbing’ or ‘acting like sl*ts’.”
She also shares that some people in the community even go as far as making fake profiles of a cosplayer and using the account to attack others in order to bring down the reputation of another cosplayer.
“Many will be surprised at the lengths others would go when they simply don’t like you. It can be absolutely not your fault and you still get things like this happening to you. Cosplaying is great when you do it for yourself, but always be aware that in every hobby, sport, [and] job, there’s bound to be toxic people. It’s something we can’t deny exists in almost every sector,” says Ashley.
Similarly, Ysabel shares that she knows a fellow cosplayer who has been a victim of bullying for a few months now.
“A friend of mine has been a victim of cyberbullying and harassment from other cosplayers in a group chat who are making fun of the way he cosplays. Even though cosplay is just a hobby, an expression of art, people still find a way to make people feel bad about themselves for absolutely no reason,” says Ysabel.
Even though cosplay is just a hobby, an expression of art, people still find a way to make people feel bad about themselves for absolutely no reason.
As for Ameerah, she witnessed first-hand how her close friends, whom she had known for a decent amount of time, had changed as they got increasingly involved in the cosplay community.
“I realised that, as they get more involved in coscom, the more they change. All they talk about is coscom drama now and they’re not fun to hang out with [nor] fun to talk to anymore, because all they’re talking about is like ‘Oh, have you seen this person? Have you seen their wig? It looks like sh*t’. Stuff like that which is messed up,” says Ameerah. “As someone who has known them – it’s very disappointing and I hope that in time they end up sobering up because this isn’t cool. It really goes to show how this toxic culture really, really spreads because so many people are doing the same thing as well, so you know the whole herd mentality [where] one person does it [and] everybody [follows].”
As someone who has known them – it’s very disappointing and I hope that in time they end up sobering up because this isn’t cool. It really goes to show how this toxic culture really, really spreads because so many people are doing the same thing as well, so you know the whole herd mentality [where] one person does it [and] everybody [follows].
With all these worries, what are some safety precautions cosplayers can take and what advice could they give to other cosplayers and the general public?
Advice from Cosplayers
For cosplayers, it is of utmost importance to bring a phone and a trusted companion to any cosplay related event, be it a convention or a photoshoot to ensure better safety (and it’s even better if that friend is a trusted adult who can be on the lookout for danger).
When it comes to wardrobe, it is highly advised to not wear costumes that are too skimpy, for one might not know the creeps that lurk the area.
“If you’re an attractive person, someone is going to harass you. It’s an unfortunate fact. But try to go with friends! Tape up the parts of your cosplay that might be more revealing and don’t wear costumes that are overly sexy. Unfortunately, people will use any reason to justify being a pervert,” says Rae.
Additionally, Ysabel says “when wearing short skirts or dresses, always wear safety shorts underneath”.
As for the general public, seeing someone don a spectacular costume would definitely attract attention. It’s no surprise that some people may want to take pictures with these cosplayers or even touch their costumes. However, it is key to respect these cosplayers’ boundaries and ask them what they’re okay and not okay with.
“If you’re someone who wants a picture or just a chat, always ask the cosplayer politely before touching or doing anything. That’s just basic etiquette,” says Ashley.
Ameerah adds how she’s “pretty sensitive when it comes to [her] wigs because [she’s] very particular about how [her] wig stays on [her] head and [she’s] very particular about how it remains styled”.
Ameerah styling a wig for her Rosaria from Genshin Impact cosplay for a photoshoot. Photo courtesy of Nur Ameerah.
At the end of the day, cosplayers are still human beings with thoughts and emotions, hence it is important to be respectful and treat them just as one would treat another human being.
“If we say no to taking a picture, it means no. Do not pressure us into doing things we are not comfortable with,” says Ysabel.
Despite the negatives, cosplay can still be a fun and fruitful experience where one can discover new fandoms, make new friends, and express themselves in a creative manner – be it through content creation, makeup, et cetera.
Ameerah (bottom left) cosplays as Albedo from Genshin Impact, taking pictures and having fun with friends at Arc Market. Photo courtesy of Nur Ameerah.
“[Although] these issues are very disturbing and might be hard to deal with no matter the age, if you surround yourself with good people that watch out for you and keep these people away, cosplaying is truly enjoyable,” says Ashley.
Ysabel (left) dressed as Historia Reiss from Attack on Titan with her friend and her father at Anime Flea Rakuen, a cosplay event where they sell anime merchandise that took place in April of this year. Photo courtesy of Ysabel B.
Additionally, Ysabel adds “the cosplay community as a whole cannot be blamed for the actions of a few… If we deter people from cosplaying due to the sole reason of minors wearing revealing clothing or predators roaming, people will form a false impression that that is all there is to cosplay, when in fact, there is so much more than that. Cosplay in itself is a hobby, it is a set of skills. You need to know how to style wigs, sew, craft, pose, act, and perform. If we reduce cosplaying to these negatives, that destroys the reputation and misrepresents the cosplay community as a whole”.