With all the incredibly talented cosplayers sharing their costumes online, often those who achieve widespread recognition are recognised more for an uncanny facial resemblance to the characters they’re cosplaying. While technically the point of cosplay is to resemble the character as much as possible, in practice cosplay is so much more than that. Now cosplayers are speaking out to say “I cosplay characters because I like them.”
The project has been organised under the hashtag #ICosplayBecause, collecting images across the spectrum of perfect lookalike to polar opposites with the common theme: it doesn’t actually matter if you look like the character.
The movement was kickstarted by cosplayer Ginny Di, who started something with a post on her blog, then going further to create the photo overlay many are now adopting.
Ginny’s own frustration with the issue, she told Kotaku, started with her Arya cosplay. Her features had always lent themselves to the character, with what she describes as “the big eyes, baby face, and bushy brows of Maisie Williams in Game of Thrones.”
Having that resemblance unsurprisingly comes with privileges for a cosplayer, especially for something as well-known as Game Of Thrones. “Being a “lookalike” for Arya had benefitted me so much,” Ginny said. “I don’t know where I”d be today if I hadn’t gotten that lucky.”
But the blowback for a lookalike comes in unexpected ways. Often cosplayers can feel pressured to continue cosplaying the one character, constantly reminded of that single resemblance.
“For years I would get told “I just see Arya dressed as __” whenever I cosplayed another character,” Ginny revealed. “That was frustrating too because it made me feel like I was a one-trick pony and people only ever wanted me to do one thing.”
Branching out is only seen as acceptable when the same actor or actress takes on a new role, for example, when Maisie Williams appeared in a recent season of Doctor Who as Ashildr. The reaction for Ginny was an assumption that she would naturally cosplay this other character she shared a resemblance to, even though the suggestions were unwelcome.
“People kept telling me I should cosplay her character even though I’d been super vocal about how much I hated Moffat’s Who.” Ginny said. “People who knew I didn’t watch anymore were still suggesting I pick it up again solely so I could cosplay Lady Me/Ashildr. It just seemed like it didn’t even occur to anyone that I might not want to specifically watch a show I didn’t like anymore… to cosplay a character I didn’t know or care about.”
Interestingly, the whole conundrum eventually turned back on Ginny the other way. After years of being told she only looked like Arya, one day she suddenly didn’t look enough like Arya.
“While I’d gotten a few “would make a better Yara Greyjoy” comments in the past, they became REALLY frequent with my season 7 costume — like, to the point where I was getting two or three comments like that every day.”
With both Arya and Yara appearing more and sporting similar hairstyles and clothing, Ginny understood why it might happen, but that didn’t make it any easier to hear with such frustrating repetition. “It didn’t matter much at first, but each comment bothered me progressively more, until each one just felt like someone was saying “your Arya is terrible! Stop cosplaying her!”
This is a far more common phenomenon with live action source material, when people have the actors’ faces in mind whenever they picture the characters – but even within the realm of movies and TV some fandoms are far more known for this special brand of toxicity than others.
“The ones I know of for sure are Game of Thrones and Once Upon a Time, although I’m sure there are others where it’s rampant,” Ginny said.
There are definitely a lot of high-profile lookalike cosplayers in the Game of Thrones scene, and Ginny’s not the only one who’s struggled with the reaction to that.
Norwegian cosplayer Santatory is known for her uncanny resemblance to Natalie Dormer, but she’s also had to speak up recently just to beg for a break in the “you should cosplay Margaery instead” comments:
As with most cosplayers I’ve experienced this in some form, though the common one for me is less than flattering: When I cosplay Daenerys I’ve often been told that I resemble Viserys more than I do his sister. Ouch.
For the majority of cosplayers, the lookalike problem isn’t even a matter of being the ‘wrong’ lookalike. When a majority of popular characters tend to be white, slim and conventionally attractive, a whole lot of talented cosplayers find themselves instantly dismissed because they don’t share these traits.
Shannon I., 23, didn't want to leave her Baltimore hotel room. For months, she had been looking forward to Otakon, Baltimore's annual anime convention, and especially to cosplaying Takumi from Fire Emblem Fates. Trimmed in fur, embellished with red string and topped with a white wig, Shannon's cosplay was impeccable.Read more
“There are cosplayers who do much better work than me who aren’t recognized the way I am, because their face isn’t “right” for characters.” Ginny told Kotaku. “It’s ESPECIALLY bad when it comes to body image and race. I can’t even begin to imagine how hurtful it would be to be a cosplayer of color trying to cosplay characters I love and being constantly told that I can’t because of the color of my skin.”
South African cosplayer Light River Cosplay‘s post on the topic goes into more detail on how politicised cosplay can become for cosplayers of colour. “Sometimes when I love a character with my skintone I very ironically get double thoughts about cosplaying them, because people just assume I choose my cosplays based on skintone,” Light River’s post reads, adding as a footnote that “I’ll probably still get told I should cosplay Aladdin at every event.”
These kind of broad limitations go beyond just live action mediums – having the ‘wrong’ race or ‘wrong’ body shape can be applied to everything from anime to video games, and often is. “It’s just another version of the same dismissive idea,” Ginny said. “That your actual cosplay is irrelevant and all that matters is your face.”
This is why #ICosplayBecause started – and why so many cosplayers, lookalikes and no, have embraced it whole-heartedly.
Let’s remind everyone what cosplay is really about, the original blog post proclaims. Ginny said she’s been so glad the message is resonating with other people.
“It’s been spreading a ton, and I have loved seeing people’s personal stories about what cosplay means to them and why they’ve connected with the characters they have.
“One guy admitted that he had made a puppet for his first cosplay, Rocket Raccoon, because he didn’t feel confident becoming his favorite characters, and said he was going to try Starlord now.”
Even though everyone’s responses have been so different, the heart is the same: “They all come from the same place of unapologetic fandom. Everybody is basically saying ‘yeah, I love this character, nothing else matters.'”