Cosplaying female superheroes has not always been an easy thing to do. Between boob windows, higher-than-high heels, and armour that will likely get you killed before you throw your first punch, it’s hard to look badass. But let me tell you how the current diversification of superheroes makes it a little easier.
First of All, What the Heck Is Cosplay?
I’m a cosplayer. I have been a cosplayer since before I heard of the term. For my first cosplay, I was Dr. Ellie Sattler from Jurassic Park. I was nine, and all I had for my cosplay were a pair of shades, a sofa-turned-jeep, and a shit-ton of imagination. My parents would frequently walk into our living room to find me slowly standing up on the sofa while removing my shades, jaw dropping in wonder at the beauty of a brachiosaurus.
For those of you lovely people living under a rock — hey, I’m not judging — all you need to know about cosplay is that it’s about dressing up as your favourite character and geeking out with the rest of the fandom. Comic conventions in particular are popular cosplay events. However, being a woman cosplayer is not always easy, especially if you’re a comic book geek. When I was first deciding on which superhero I wanted to cosplay as for MCM Comic Con London, I came to the conclusion that whichever morons designed female superhero costumes a) were morons, b) were not women / had never encountered female human beings, and/or c) had not understood the concept that the entire point of body armour is to protect the superhero’s vital organs. Boobs, while quite pleasing to the eye, are not vital organs.
Traditionally, many comic book artists have fallen short of creating female superhero costumes that would actually protect the woman while she tries to take down supervillains. How are you supposed to kick butt if you have to worry about a nip slip or your leotard giving you a wedgie mid-flight?
However, things are getting better, and here’s how.
Female Superhero Costumes Are Actual Clothes, Rather Than Swimwear
Now, Carol Danvers has always been one of my favourite comic book characters; she’s strong, she’s a recovering alcoholic, and as Kelly Sue DeConnick herself said, “She doesn’t ride dinosaurs, she punches them”. But cosplaying Carol in her traditional black leotard and yellow lightning bolt was not something I ever, ever, ever wanted to do — simply because I don’t have the self-confidence or the body for it. I know there are many people who can wear that uniform and seriously kick some ass with it, and I commend them for it, but it’s not for me. Especially considering the fact that geekdom sets a double standard when it comes to physically accurate cosplay. A beer-gutted Son Goku of Dragon Ball Z fame is hilarious, but a Power Girl better have gigantic breasts or the haters gonna hate (hate, hate, hate, hate). So when Marvel burnt Carol’s old leotard and gave her a brand new look that shouted to the world that she meant business, I, along with an army of Carol Corps members, cheered. The new Captain Marvel uniform is something I could imagine sporting. It’s practical, it’s gorgeous, and it’s comfortable. Who wouldn’t want to wear it?
And it isn’t just Captain Marvel. She-Hulk, Batgirl, Thor and so many others are also part of this current trend.
And the women of fandom approve.
When I was in London for MCM Comic Con, I met many cosplayers. Interestingly, a lot of them were relatively new female characters, such as Thor, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen and Silk. Why? In my opinion, because these readers are finally getting the sort of writing and art that they’ve been starving for. These readers are finally getting the characters, whose costumes they are proud to don.
Female Superhero Costumes Are Becoming Less High-Maintenance
Another great direction that artists are going in is that of subtler superhero costumes. A really good example of this is Scarlet Witch, who sports many a different look in the comic books. Some of them have no business being called anything other than belly dancing costumes, while others, are genuinely awe-inspiring. But no matter what, the iconic parts of her costume that remain unchanging are the cape and mask. Unfortunately, capes and masks are annoying. I saw two people trip over capes at MCM alone, and masks get uncomfortable with time. Another one of Wanda’s favourite accessories? Super high heels, which are not a problem for Wanda; she can just levitate when standing becomes too painful. Unfortunately, cosplayers don’t have the superpowers of their costumes, and are forced to (wo)man up amnd swallow the pain.
When Age of Ultron was released, potential Scarlet Witch cosplayers who wanted to portray their favourite Avenger had an option that required a lot less time and effort. This version, in her red jacket and black dress, is super easy to pull off, and easily recognisable. I saw a lot more of the cinematic version of Scarlet Witch than any of the comic versions put together.
Don’t misunderstand me. There were many cosplays that the cosplayer likely spent weeks — if not months — working on, and those cosplayers deserve all the praise for their hard work. But it is important to remember that no-one’s first cosplay is going to be a completely-hand-made Thor costume. You have to start somewhere. And the emergence of superhero costumes that are more practical makess them easier to recreate in real life, drawing more first-time cosplayers into the mix than ever before.
I met many first time female cosplayers at MCM Comic Con. One was a Peggy Carter who had always wanted to cosplay but was daunted by the amount of time and effort, not to mention expertise, needed to pull off some cosplays. In comparison, all you need for a Peggy Carter cosplay is a curling iron, some Sweet Dreams lipstick, and a skirt suit.
Cosplay is for everyone. Whether you want to be an Ironette or a genderbent Bucky Barnes, you should be able to. The comic book industry is not completely over treating their female superheroes like objects, but they’re making good progress. And the current increasing diversity in female superheroes makes it much easier to find a cosplay option for your favourite superhero, no matter your skill level. After all, look at the sheer possibilities: