Cosplay has become a favorite pastime of con-goers all over the world. People dress up in elaborate costumes, wigs and makeup as their favorite hero, and for a little while, they can channel that character's power -- they can actually be Agent Carter, Daredevil, Lara Croft or Sailor Moon. Where real life may consist of an office job and a life of the mundane, for a few weekends a year, cosplayers become superheroes. Sometimes those costumes inspire the cosplayer to discover real power within themselves -- an abused woman finds the strength to leave her abuser, someone with low self-esteem finds confidence, or a lonely fan finds like-minded friends. Cons have garnered reputations for being open and accepting -- as places of camaraderie to people of all races, genders and backgrounds to come together around a common interest.
Austrian cosplay photographer, Gelo, has been a photographer since 2002 and in 2013, began focusing on cosplay photography. He quickly noticed a concerning trend among those he photographed -- many of his clients had experienced bullying, body shaming and sexual harassment on the con floor. As a result, Gelo launched #NoHate, a photography project to highlight the issue of harassment and bullying so many cosplayers experience. I recently had the pleasure of chatting briefly with Gelo about his inspiring project.
PopWrapped: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me! What first inspired you to start the #NoHate project?
Gelo: A few cosplay friends of mine told me about what people have said to them and I was baffled -- why such kind, creative, friendly and also charming young ladies with really great looking costumes had to deal with such unfair comments? This is when I had the idea to make it a topic on my [Facebook] page. I asked Zero, the friendly [FB] admin from a few minutes ago, if she would like to do that! She told me about her worst experience and we took a photo after a shooting for this purpose!
Gelo Cosplay Photography/Cosplayer: Itazura
PW: The photos are so moving and definitely make a huge statement in putting a face and feelings to the people who endure the harassment. During your project, did you find the majority of those subjected to such extreme criticism were women? Or did the criticism fall to anyone and everyone?
G: Yes, mostly female cosplayers contacted me, but I think it has to do with the fact that not that many guys cosplay. Also, I think the reasons behind the ugly comments is different. Guys get comments like "you look gay," "dressing up is for girls," or "you don't look manly," - the focus is on being manly, straight and cool. For girls it is different - the comments aim at hurting them by saying that they are ugly, flat chested and other body issues that have to do with our perception of beauty. "Whore" is also a very popular way of insulting women -- which shows the kind of contradicting view people have on women. While being plus size seems to be considered bad for both sexes, it is only for women that being very skinny is also used as an insult.
Gelo Cosplay Photography/Cosplayer: Kitakichan
PW: The Con community has such a reputation for being welcoming to everyone, no matter their race, gender, etc. Many cons have instituted anti-harassment policies. Do you feel these anti-harassment policies, and the way cons enforce them, are effective?
G: Well, there are not many real anti-harrasment policies in place here (in Austria) -- or at least not that you notice. In general, I see a big difference between America and Europe and the number/size of anti-bullying projects. There seems to be a great awareness in the U.S. about this problem while in Europe, not many speak about it. Maybe people here do not consider it a big problem or you face less of it here, but there is a distinct difference. Also, it is not common to find disrespect at anime and manga conventions with a rather high ticket price, while at events with free entry, the situation is quite different. Usually at a free event you have absolutely no policies in place to encourage respect -- some cosplayers stopped going to those because of sexual and verbal harassment. But in general, the cosplay community is a welcoming and open one. Here, all the strange people like me find a group of people that understands!
Gelo Cosplay Photography/Cosplayer: Isaku Cosplay
PW: What is your ultimate goal with the #NoHate project?
G: My goal is to encourage victims of harassment to go out and have fun. I want to show them that there are way more people out there that are supportive than unkind. I am very happy that it is working out - all the cosplayers that took part thanked me and told me that it builds their confidence and encourages them to do what they love!
PW: Cosplay is an incredible art! So much creativity and beauty goes into it. I did a feature not long ago about Agent Carter Cosplayers and I find the stories behind why someone chooses a specific character to cosplay can be life changing.
G: Yes, it is, especially this cosplayer moved me and many others:
PW: Do you have any final words for cosplayers?
G: Dear Cosplayers, If you are faced with harassment and ugly comments, don't let them get to you! With time, you will learn to deal with them which will help you in all aspects of life -- there are many unkind people out there and it is important to not let them pull you down!
To see all photos featured in the #NoHate collection, visit Gelo's Facebook page.
Are you a cosplayer? Have you experienced the kind of bullying featured in Gelo's project? Share your cosplay pics and join in the discussion! Post a comment below!