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Tsubascon discussion focuses on bullying in cos play world

By Staff | Nov 3, 2015

“If you can’t be yourself, be somebody else,” stated Chris Helphinstine, marketing director of Tsubasacon, commenting on the now viral tradition of attending pop culture conventions (comic cons, anime celebrations, horror cons) dressed as a favorite character.

The custom has inspired hard core fans to ‘cos play’ at conventions. It’s also common to find viewers attending films, especially on opening night, in a costume, such as the Harry Potter series, Star Trek, Star War, and a favorite Disney princess.

Still, comic book, animation and science fiction dominate at conventions. The practice has resulted in hostile critics bullying some of those masquerading as Catwoman, Supergirl, Sailor Moon, Android 18 and Marvel heroines and villains.

During a cos play bullying panel discussion at Tsubasacon, held earlier in October in Huntington, four women, professional model/cos play performer Lauren Littlepage (known also by her performing alias Bunny Bombshell), Samantha Ash, Bridget Nichole and Melody Cooper explained how harassment related to costume choices, race and body image impact self esteem and the hobby’s ability to provide safe imaginative havens for self expression.

The subjects discussed broadly reflect real world bullying and attitudes, except fans seek an imaginative safe haven for self expression and standing in the shoes of generally heroic and adventure-seeking characters.

Littlepage has been cos playing since her high school years. which makes her a veteran from before the practice went mainstream. “In high school no one knew what cos-play was but I was doing it. People thought I was a weirdo. It was just wearing costumes and stuff…. people and society need to be more accepting,” she said.

Bridget Nichole remembers cos playing in college. “The community was so different. It was awesome seeing people connect back then,” she said. After setting out a few years, she reentered the culture and has found “not cool” aspects of mainstream cos playing.

Bullies come in numerous forms. Some attack the player due to costume and appearance resembling the fictional character. One panel member spoke of “hate jacking” when she told some onlookers that she was Marvel Girl, not Miss Marvel. In Germany, another endured racist remarks because she tried to morph an Asian skin color like the character. Another elsewhere was verbally “ripped to shreds” for mimicking Lolita fashion.

Littlepage stressed, “I don’t understand why someone would be bullied on such superficial things.” Yet, female cos play personalities often originate from scantily-clad characters from movies, television or video games, which subject participants to peer pressures related to their appearance and how well their costume reflects the spirit of the original character (known as truthfulness to the character or purity).

Although some cos players design, construct and sew their costumes, Littlepage explained, “I don’t pride myself on being a costume maker. I find an artist, commission something, letting an artist show their talent. I see it as my way of supporting artists. My only concern is if the costume looks good.”

An audience member asking about unwanted attention or stalking received multiple suggestions, including immediately letting convention administrative personnel know about the problem.

Nichole suggested , “wave back and smile,” as an initial response.

Littlepage stated, “I’m really good at ignoring people.”

By contrast Samantha Ash said ignoring was not “a perfect defense,” emphasizing to not let unwanted attention “wreck your plate.”

Cooper explained that crossing the personal space invasion line is “really up to the individual. It doesn’t matter who you are doing, you’re going to get crap. It’s up to the cos player to decide and it’s about how you cope.”

Another speaker drew a line between a glance or a look and a “leer,” which can become “creepy” whether the offender is male or female.

These women rely on support groups. When answering questions from other female cos players, compliments abounded. An older male at the discussion often advised confidence, dealing with people, and shrugging off criticism. He compared the circumstances to dealing with bullies and negativity in the real world.

However, the women emphasized the importance of a tight-knit support system to counter bullies.

“I may be confident on the outside but I’m a mess on the inside,” explained one woman in contending with the “up hill battle” of fighting anxiety and depression. “Everybody deals with everything differently, whether it be drinking or smoking.”

Sometimes, cos play bullying at a convention leads to similar behavior on line.

“Cyberbullying is tough to tackle because it’s become more prevelent ,” said Littlepage. She called it attempts by people to “feel more powerful” and “get away with” improper conduct and remarks, such as trashing a woman they do not even know.

Littlepage said she has a “no tolerance” policy in the online cos play discussion groups she administrates. “I screen people… I don’t give them a platform to spew hate.”

“There’s nothing wrong with speaking up for yourself, especially when it comes to bullying,” said Littlepage, a self-described feminist.

“That’s not a bad word,” she explained stating that the word feminist does not translate to hating men. “Gender equality. We are not better than them. We are not lower than them. I treat everyone the same. I don’t care what gender you are.”

Thousands of people attended the 2015 Tsubasacon at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington. Mayor Steve Williams called it “more amazing than I had been told.”

“People who come to this event love and enjoy Huntington and make the downtown more lively than it already is. The fact that it’s new and they are coming back is wonderful,” Williams said.