Tuesday 9 September 2014

Bikinis and Balancing Acts

By Jordan Danger

When I was a kid, I loved Hallowe’en. I grew up in a super geeky household, and costumes were a big deal. Mom made most of our costumes from scratch; later, when my brother and I got into specific genres, this task became a family effort. My brother was Mr Fantastic one year, complete with elongated arms that required an assistant for candy-carrying; I was Rogue one year, and hand-painted my own white streak into my wig; my favourite was probably the year I went as a Bjorn priestess, when my mom sewed my robes and Dad carefully constructed my nose ridges from theatre putty. 

What I’m saying is, back in my day, cosplay was about accuracy. It was about painstaking work. It was about authenticity. It wasn’t about skin and sucking on my fingers for the camera.


So when I look at a lineup of special guests for a comic convention, I feel really frustrated when I see some of the female cosplay guests of honour. I keep wondering how it is that a bikini with an Ark Reactor in the cleavage can be considered a cosplay—nay, a cosplay worthy of being featured as a guest speaker. 

I have friends who slave over their costumes. They spend hours and big money building a costume that is screen- or book-accurate. Yet somehow, these aren’t the girls featured as guests of honour at the cons. 

There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about ‘booth babes’ at cons, and the general exploitation of women’s bodies as marketing tools for conventions. How can we be mad at con vendors for bringing hot ladies to their booths if we encourage and condone the organizers bringing in bikini-versions of Wolverine or Harley Quinn?


So one side of the equation is this: a lot of people have been up in arms about the way women are portrayed in comic books. The recent debacle with the Spiderwoman alternate cover is a great example. Not only were people furious that this heroine was posed in a way that was perceived to be sexual, they also freaked out about anatomical impossibilities in the pose. If we hold a drawing to these incredibly high standards—“Don’t show me women being overly sexualized and be accurate with your proportions, too!”—then why do we not speak up more about the bikini cosplayers that convention organizers spotlight? Bikinis aside, even the posing that female cosplayers often do reflect the comic book drawings that are most offensive: arched backs, winking eyes, and very little fist-punching. It’s like the real-life ‘opposite day’ of the Hawkeye Initiative


After San Diego Comiccon, a post by the Associated Press really got my goat. The article ranted about women walking around in belly shirts, and demanded that some modicum of modesty be expected at cons. The thing about this article that really peeved me off was that it seemed to imply that the only place you’d see scantily-clad women was at a comiccon…as if the con culture itself promoted attendees wearing belly shirts. As a woman who has attended many cons, I can tell you that I personally have never ever felt like I was being pressured to dress ‘sexy’ for a day of lineups and impulse purchases. 

But aside from this, there’s another issue here: a woman’s right to wear whatever the Hell she wants. Big or small, black or white, human or cylon, I have always supported a woman’s right to wear whatever insanely revealing clothing she desires—provided of course that she has made this choice consciously, for her own reasons, and with an awareness of the cultural context in which she lives. So I do support a girl’s right to wear a belly shirt, or an Iron Man bikini, or sweat pants and a Pokemon hoodie. 


Is there any way to find a balance here? Can I love supporting a woman’s right to wear something skimpy, while also refusing to support the VIP’ing of female ‘cosplayers’ who just wear a colourful bikini? I don’t know. We want to hear your thoughts, though, in the comments below. Do you think there’s something intrinsically hypocritical about demanding less sexualized comic books while prioritizing skimpy versions of cosplay as con guests of honor? Where is the line between a woman’s right to wear what she likes, and a woman’s responsibility to stop feeding into the hyper-sexualization of the geek girl world?

I’ve got no answers for you here. Maybe you’ve got some for me.

Jordan Danger is a veteran blogger, writer, and marketing consultant based in Ottawa, Ontario. She is also President and Editor in Chief of CapitalGeekGirls.com. Jordan blogs at GirlCrafted.com, a lifestyle blog about crafting life both literally and figuratively. She loves DIY projects, her dog, and Oxford comma

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