I don’t really cosplay. I qualify that “really,” because although I have made costumes and have dressed up like some of my favorite characters, being a fat girl, I understood that when I dressed up like a character, there was always that understanding that it wasn’t really cosplay, because that character wasn’t fat.
In the cosplay world, there’s a certain amount of appreciation for people who take characters and make them entirely their own. Unless, you’re fat. No matter how good the cosplay is, there will always be people who look at you and see nothing more than a fat person and think that because that person is fat, they should be laughed at. Cosplaying while fat is a sin, even when it’s exceptional.
A few years ago, a gorgeous woman made a gorgeous TARDIS dress. It went viral on Facebook. And surprising no fat person who has ever cosplayed ever, the internet were assholes about it. The Tumblr post is still going around (I’ve linked to this one in particular, because if you scroll down it shows a response by the cosplayer, Sasha Trabane), but here are the images of her dress next to the graphic of selected comments from the Facebook post.
I stopped cosplaying, or even dreaming about cosplaying, when I felt like I couldn’t just cosplay while being fat without criticism. I just couldn’t deal with the pressure and scrutiny that comes with cosplaying while fat. But I also felt like I would never cosplay again, because the characters were never going to be fat. There was never going to be a fat superhero. Cosplaying was just one of those experiences I wasn’t going to have—like shopping in a store that only carries straight sizes. It kind of sucks, but it’s just a fact of life.
And then Faith happened. People who regularly read this site know that I had concerns about the new Faith comic, based on her initial appearance in the Harbinger series. But then I read the comic, and it was everything that I’d hoped it would be in terms of story. Faith is wonderful, and the narrative thinks she is, too. Jody Houser’s writing is witty and happy without being fluffy. It’s smart and intertextual without being condescending or exclusionary. It’s accessible and just plain good. And on a personal note, Faith starting over in LA and working as a copywriter in media is actually my life in a weird parallel, except I moved home to take care of my dad when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor instead of breaking up with my boyfriend and leaving a superhero team.
In the same way that the story was the right story for me at the right moment, the artwork by Francis Portela is just as important and astonishing. It’s astonishing for the important body representation reasons that other people have written about, but also because Portela so accurately represents the clothing of fat women in his art. But seeing the clothing Faith wears isn’t just something that’s good for body representation reasons; it also takes what is one of the worst parts of being a fat woman—the shitty clothing—and turns it into something useful—a disguise.
Part of Faith’s new life involves her being incognito, which means she has a Clark Kent persona named Summer Smith. Summer Smith works in media at ZIPline writing articles like “10 more actors named Chris who should play superheroes on the big screen.” Have I mentioned I love Jody Houser’s sense of humor yet? Because I do. Back to the clothes. In the panels that show us Faith interacting with her coworkers as Summer, she’s wearing an outfit that anyone familiar with the the Lane Bryant plus size fashion aesthetic would recognize. It’s the outfit of a woman who wants to be professional, but who also doesn’t want to be noticed. It’s not an outfit that Faith would wear—and that’s why it’s perfect for Summer Smith.
That’s when the idea of doing a “closet cosplay” of Summer Smith for the House of Secrets Burbank signing with Jody Houser began buzzing around my brain. This was Monday, January 25th. The signing was Saturday. Could I make it in time?
The first thing was to identify the individual aspects of the costume. This was a little difficult, because Francis Portela never gives us a real full body shot of Faith while wearing this outfit, but I was able to break it apart:
- Shoulder length wavy red hair
- Half-frame glasses
- Red fringed open cardigan/jacket
- Black knee-high boots
- Gray cowl-neck sweater/top
- Gray tights/leggings
- Gray above-the-knee skirt
- Gold chain/fringe necklace
By Tuesday, I’d purchased the glasses (shout out to ZeroUV for their selection of hipster glasses and shipping from California), leggings, sweater, and necklace. Even though I found the exact perfect cardigan for purchase at Macy’s, it wasn’t going to get to me in time by Saturday, so I set about making my own out version out of some red knit fabric I had in my fabric stash. I also purchased some gray knit fabric to make a simple stretchy tube skirt since I couldn’t find a skirt that would arrive in time. The boots I already owned, purchased several years ago. And then there was the hair. My hair is already the perfect length and texture for Faith’s Summer wig, so all I had to do was recolor it as a lighter red shade.
It’s been a long time since I’ve sewn anything, and I was on a time crunch. (Oh, cosplay, I didn’t miss this part of you…) The skirt and cardigan were far from perfect, but they would work for my purposes. Everything else arrived on Friday, and I was set. I was going to do this. I was going to closet cosplay Faith at a Faith event. I had a last minute case of nerves and a fear that I wouldn’t be recognized. But on Saturday, I got dressed as Summer Smith, and I drove the 90 miles to Burbank.
The shop was pretty empty, with only a few comic book guys inside when I got there. I was so relieved to see a woman working behind the counter, who I learned is Geek and Sundry’s lovely Amy Dallen a.k.a. enthusiamy. I was just glad to see another woman there, and she was wearing a She-Ra t-shirt and knew Women Write About Comics. Day made! I’d arrived before even Jody herself, so I spent a little bit of time just wandering the racks and chatting with Amy when she wasn’t busy with other customers.
Jody Houser arrived a little bit later, and my shyness and awkwardness began to set in. House of Secrets in Burbank had many different cover options for Jody’s signing, which was great to see. I picked the one with the Marguerite Sauvage artwork. A Valiant representative was there too, and they gave me a few free Valiant things, and this Faith poster.
Even though I was there, first, and in costume, I tried not to approach Jody right away and give her time to settle in for her three hour event. I did eventually approach, and thanked her for writing Faith, and then I mentioned I was cosplaying as Faith’s Clark Kent persona, and I asked her for a picture. Which I got.
Jody was very sweet to me and so were the other people in the comics shop. And I was the first Faith/Summer Smith cosplayer she’d met since the release, which is pretty cool. I was still self-conscious and nervous, but for once, it had nothing to do with me being fat. I wanted to cosplay, because for the first time, I didn’t have to worry about being criticized for being too fat to cosplay. Faith is fat. So am I. Faith is even the same kind of fat I am, with a double chin and big stomach.
But even more important than the physical characteristics is the fact that Faith is a character I want to cosplay. Not only is she awesome for fat girls, she’s just awesome. Faith being fat isn’t a punchline. It’s not a trope to make her pathetic, and her character arc isn’t about whether a boy is going to like her or if she’s too fat to ever be loved. It’s a descriptor, not an insult. Not a caveat. And that’s what real body representation is about.
I’d read stories about how closet cosplay could be empowering, but it was never something I felt. Yes, I could wear something that a character wore, but it wasn’t that same feeling of identification. And now? I can’t wait to put together Faith’s other Summer Smith outfits to cosplay or maybe even some kind of variant on her Zephyr costume. (Dear Valiant Comics, a variant covers collection with different Zephyr costumes is something I would love, like, a lot. Love, me.) But until then, if there are any fanartists out there who want to sketch a new costume design and want to see it cosplayed? Send me a message. My inner cosplayer has reawoken, and it’s all thanks to Faith.