It Doesn’t Matter Why Someone Chooses to Cosplay a Particular Character

“What is your reason for cosplaying Lara Croft? Is it because you’re a genuine fan of the game or because you have the curves to pull off the look?”

This is a question that one of my friends was asked recently. A question that many cosplayers, mostly female, see some variant of on a regular basis. Swap out Lara Croft for any other character, and the bit about curves for any other superficial reason (e.g., “because she’s popular” or “for attention”) and you’ll see the type of bullshit questions that the cosplay community deals with on a day-to-day basis.

“Wait! Don’t you see that I was complimenting her? I said that she pulls off the look really well,” the asker might say in defence. You’ll probably want to add that if she is a genuine fan of the character, it’s really cool that she cosplays her so well. That’s not the point. Why are you questioning her fandom? Why question her motives in the first place?

Before I go on, here are a few entirely valid reasons to cosplay Lara Croft, and this is by no means an exhaustive list:

  • I haven’t played the games but I grew up reading the comics. I admire Lara’s strength, so I was inspired to cosplay as her.
  • I love this character’s aesthetic! I thought that it would be a fun costume to make that would challenge my prop-making skills. I’d love to try the games some day because making this costume has brought me close to the character.
  • I played the first game when I was a kid and I don’t remember it that well but I really loved it at the time. I don’t play games any more, but I cosplayed Lara because she reminds me of my childhood.
  • I don’t know much about Tomb Raider, but my friend is a massive fan and he asked me to be Lara to complement his Kurtis Trent costume.

Hell, if someone wants to cosplay a character because they “woke up and bloody well felt like it”, that’s fine too. It doesn’t matter.

Some people seem to believe that cosplay is this mystical thing, and cosplayers should only cosplay characters if they live up to an invisible checklist of their own subjective and often ridiculous standards. “You can only cosplay a character that you’re a True Fan™ of, and you’re only a True Fan™ if you’ve completed every game in the series 100% ten times and own a copy of the rare edition that was released on the Philips CD-i.”

It doesn’t just happen with Tomb Raider of course, but it is far more prevalent for female characters and cosplayers. I don’t see male cosplayers being asked these questions very often, including those cosplayers who are considered “sexy” by society’s standards. There’s a distinct lack of questioning the legitimacy of their fandom, or questions along the lines of, “Did you choose to cosplay that character because you’d get to go bare-chested and show off your muscles?”

If someone wants to cosplay a character, let them cosplay the character. That’s it. My reasons for wanting to cosplay a specific character may be different to yours, but that doesn’t make one of us better than the other. In fact, when I think about the characters that I’ve cosplayed, and those I plan to in the future, my reason for doing each is usually different. Not to mention the part of my brain that tunes into the costumes and props in movies, TV, games, etc., and when it sees something it likes the look of, wonders if I could make it. This goes even when I’m simply looking at a promotional poster for something that hasn’t come out yet. I’ve loved the look of plenty of characters’ designs long before knowing what the character was like or being invested in the fandom. I’m not the only one. Remember the movie Sucker Punch? There were a lot of people who made those costumes before the movie came out because they were so interesting and looked badass. A lot of the hype around that movie was based on its costumes, design, and overall aesthetic. And that’s totally okay.

While we’re here, let’s also address the other part of the question: that my friend has the looks to pull off the character.

We see all the time people complimenting a cosplayer’s appearance and how much they look like a character. Less common are compliments on craftsmanship or accuracy of costume pieces. I mean sure, there are a few tricks you can do to complete your overall look and make yourself look a little more like someone else, and these can go a long way to really finishing off a costume, but at the end of the day you can’t alter bones and genetics. Finding a character who looks exactly like you is akin to winning the cosplay lottery.

More realistically, most people will never look exactly like the character they’re cosplaying, and that’s even before you take into account the unrealistic proportions that many animated and game characters have. So the next time you want to comment on a person’s physical appearance in relation to the character they’re cosplaying, you may be doing a disservice to the hours that they (or someone else) spent meticulously crafting their outfit. Take an interest in the costume itself because that’s where most cosplayers’ hearts truly lie, whether they made it themselves, sourced it, or had it commissioned.

It’s not exclusively cosplayers who must deal with this. Recently, the trailer for the 2018 Tomb Raider movie launched. Amidst excitement about the movie from many fans were complaints about the actress playing Lara Croft, Alicia Vikander. Specifically, complaints about the way that she looked. Let’s disregard the fact that she’s a talented, Academy Award-winning actress, or the fact that she trained her butt off to transform herself into Lara. Nope, to many people what seemed to matter most was that she doesn’t (according to some people) look like Lara in the game, or that she’s not Angelina Jolie (or doesn’t look like Angelina) who brought Lara to the big screen in the early 2000s. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather see someone with Alicia’s talent bring Lara to the big screen than a dead ringer for the in-game model who can’t act to save themselves.

Questioning a cosplayer’s motivations is petty and pointless. As is complimenting or putting them down based on how much they physically resemble the character or not. It’s a ridiculous expectation. Enjoy what they have created. Enjoy seeing the character brought to life, or a unique take on the character. If you want to see the original, go back to the source material.

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