Cosplay and Inclusion: Why Heroes of Cosplay Matters

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When you talk to the cosplay community about Syfy’s Heroes of Cosplay, there are mixed reviews. Some of these are positive, some are negative, some are downright embarrassing.

Heroes of Cosplay is Syfy’s attempt to make a cosplay reality show. They amp up the personal drama, they turn people into stereotypes, they take small things and blow them out of proportion. Because reality TV doesn’t particularly care about the people, they care about excitement and ratings. The thing is, I hate and love Heroes of Cosplay. It focuses on a lot of the problems within the community while also trying to address those problems (albeit in an over-dramatic tone).

In its six episodes the series shows us fit girls that think fat people shouldn’t cosplay, people straight up telling other cosplayers that they aren’t good enough to work together ever, and cosplayers hating on other cosplayers for simply being from out of town. Whether it meant to or not, Heroes of Cosplay puts a giant spotlight on the biggest issue in cosplay: Exclusion.

Why is exclusion even a thing in cosplay? The subculture is already marginalized by “normals” and nerds alike. Cosplay still has the negative stigma of “going too far”. Non-nerds think it’s all about LARPing, furries, and costume porn. Nerds think the same to a lesser degree but most nerds tend to give a little side-eye when hearing about cosplay. Thankfully, the popularity of cosplay is slowly getting rid of some of the negative stigma but a lot of it still exists. When I tell people I cosplay the responses are typically standoffish, negative, or diminutive. When I meet other cosplayers, I’m told I either need to start competing or making more costume debuts. Debuts and competitions don’t mean a lot to me; I cosplay because it’s fun. And shouldn’t that be the main reason we do this?

Heroes of Cosplay - Season 1It doesn’t matter if you’re fat, ugly, fit, attractive, male, female, short, or tall. Cosplay should be about having fun and making friends. It should never be about being better than someone else. Cosplay suffers from an even more intense version of the Fake Gamer Girl Syndrome: The best cosplayers are selling sex, the worst cosplayers are a blight on the earth. Why are we tearing each other down? When did cosplay stop being about having fun?

These are the questions Heroes of Cosplay made me think about. So much of the series’ drama revolved around exclusion. Thank goodness for Chloe Dykstra, Holly Conrad, and Jessica Merizan being the voices of reason. When exclusion became a topic, they jumped in with suggestions of having fun and including everyone. When a group shunned another cosplayer for not “being on their level”, Holly offered to work with her. When the topic of fat cosplay came up, Chloe asked why it mattered if people were having fun? When a local group of cosplayers got in the face of the “out-of-towners” for stealing the contest, Jessica was calling for people to calm down and just have fun.


That’s fucking teamwork.

As I watched the series, I nodded as these girls stood up for fun and inclusivity. Cosplay isn’t serious business and shouldn’t be thought of us such. While it’s true that some people can make a living out of cosplay (Yaya Han, Jessica Nigri) the majority cannot and do not. Some are lucky enough to get jobs working for a company to make a costume (Crystal Graziano, Holly Conrad, even myself to a lesser degree) but that’s not the norm. Getting “discovered” through cosplay is a rarity and typically does not lead to fame. These jobs aren’t earned by tearing down others or having a bad attitude, they’re earned through positivity and teamwork. Getting a pro job requires you to act like you’re working a pro job. Being a diva or having a negative disposition is the quickest way to not get asked back.

So why is it that the HoC stars who spoke about getting professional jobs and making careers out of cosplay were also the ones being the most exclusive and judgmental? My guess would be fear and low self-esteem. My second guess would be “Syfy really wanted some drama”. Does this make the cosplayers in question bad people? No. But I really do hope that seeing what Syfy made them out to be allows them to see that exclusion is never the way to approach cosplay.

Always remember the 3 Cs: Cosplay, Curation, and Corpses!


  1. Reese

    November 2, 2013 at 9:52 PM

    I liked this article until you mentioned the bit with the “out of towners” situation. You really ought to do your research, it actually was “for the drama

    • Victoria

      November 3, 2013 at 3:00 PM

      I’ve actually read a lot of the tumblr discussion. In fact the original line wasn’t “out-of-towners” it was “syfy plants”. But whether it was staged or not was not the point (which I mentioned in my last paragraph). The point is that the exclusion shown on the series is a perfect example of why it’s such a problem. Cosplayers biggest enemies are other cosplayers. Whether it be people complaining that fat people shouldn’t cosplay, or people getting upset over people of a different skill level competing. That kind of behavior only harms the community.

  2. Michelle

    November 3, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    What Reese says is true, the whole out-of-towner conflict was in fact staged by Syfy. You can read the account from the “in-towers” here: Otherwise, though, I completely agree with your article! Cosplay should be about fun, not elitism.

    • Victoria

      November 3, 2013 at 3:04 PM

      As I said to Reese, I have read a LOT of the tumblr discussion. I’ve also read the HoC Confessions tumblr. I also know a couple of the “heroes” through cosplay. I didn’t want to turn the article into a summary of the tumblr shitstorm and a lot of “she said, they said”. My point was to focus on how exclusion is the most hurtful action for the cosplay community and HoC really shined a big spotlight on it, whether that was their intention or not.

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