Is cosplay cultural appropriation?

As cosplayers, we dress up as characters from a variety of fandoms including Anime, video games, comics, movies and much much more. There are so many wonderful cosplays out there!

However, you may be wondering in the process of all this…are we appropriating certain cultures or ethnicities in the process? What if you want to cosplay without feeling like you’re offending anyone or any culture? That’s the point of this article today, to answer all these questions.

But first, let’s start with this question…

Is cosplay cultural appropriation?

Although many cosplays are based off of Japanese media such as video games and Anime, it is not accurate to say cosplay is cultural appropriation. There are many reasons why cosplay itself is not cultural appropriation. One reason is cosplay in its simple form is roleplaying in costume, which by itself cannot be appropriation. With that said, you still need to be aware and sensitive to certain types of cosplay that could offend others.

In this article, I’ll give you 5 things you need to know when it comes to answering the question, “Is cosplay cultural appropriation?” These things will help you better understand cosplaying and why it’s not cultural appropriation, while also being respectful and sensitive to others.

Alright, let’s get into it.

1. Who is being culturally appropriated?

A lot of cosplays involve Japanese media such as video games and Anime!

When it comes to cosplay and cultural appropriation, I feel like there are 2 prominent groups of people that may feel like they’re being appropriated.

They are:

  • Japanese culture. It only makes sense that cosplay can feel like one big cultural appropriation of Japanese culture. After all, many of us cosplay characters from Japanese video games and Japanese Anime. Heck, we even dress up in Japanese style subcultures that aren’t related to cosplay (e.g. Kawaii culture, Lolita).
  • Blackface. This is a really big issue in the Cosplay Community and I will expand on this later in the article. But essentially, darkening your skin for a cosplay is considered racist and a big no-no.

When it comes to blackface, that is definitely cultural appropriation and something of a big issue in the Cosplay Community. Fortunately, many cosplayers are sensitive and respectful; they know better to not do such a thing.

If we’re talking about Japanese culture, then I’ll give you the main reason why it’s not cultural appropriation:

2. Cosplay is meant to show love for a character.

I cosplay Marth from Fire Emblem because I enjoy his character and personality! Photo by ooc_photography.

Cosplay first and foremost is meant to be a love for a character. When we are dressing up as characters such as Chun Li from Street Fighter or Sakura Haruno from Naruto, we aren’t trying to mock or make fun of them. We are cosplaying as them because we love them! We wouldn’t spending hundreds of dollars on a costume if we are trying to make fun of, or appropriate a culture. That would be silly.

Most people as far as I know, want to cosplay a character because they appreciate them. They want to show how awesome the character is. They want to BE that character for a day. It’s a show of respect not only for the character, but for the content creators as well.

It’s not just Japanese Anime and video games either. It’s a bunch of different series and fandoms across the globe. Which brings me to my next point…

3. Cosplay is incredibly diverse.

Cosplays come all sorts of fandom across the globe, including Chinese video games such as Genshin Impact! Cosplayer: luckyelie3173.

We are not just cosplaying Japanese characters. We are cosplaying all sorts of fandoms from around the globe, such as:

  • Western video games
  • Comics
  • Disney princesses
  • Characters from Chinese video games (aka Genshin Impact)
  • European series (Winx Club)

We couldn’t possibly be culturally appropriating all cultures if cosplay is that diverse! What I’m trying to say is that it would be unfair to categorize this entire hobby doing something bad or insensitive. Because cosplay is far more nuanced than that.

Not only are the characters diverse, the people are as well. Which leads me into my next point…

4. Cosplay is a worldwide phenomenon.

Cosplay isn’t just popular in the Western world and Japan. Cosplay is popular worldwide! I’ve personally met cosplayers from everywhere around the globe, including:

  • Canada
  • United States
  • Mexico
  • Brazil
  • Egypt
  • Italy
  • France
  • Peru
  • Malaysia

While cosplay is more popular in some regions of the world than others, you can see that this hobby is a worldwide phenomenon. So to me, this subculture is too diverse to be allowing cultural appropriation to be happening. Most cosplayers are not trying to be disrespectful. In fact, we’re just trying to have fun making costumes of our favorite fictional characters (click here to see why cosplay is fun).

Alright, so I feel like I’ve given some valid reasons why cosplay is NOT cultural appropriation. With all these things said, I do want to point out something…

5. You still need to be careful.

Just because cosplay is meant to be fun and diverse, it doesn’t mean you can be careless in your taste of cosplay. You still need to consider the character you’re cosplaying, and whether it’s disrespectful or insensitive.

Stuff such as darkening your skin should not be done, because that is associated with blackface which is very racist. You should also avoid cosplaying characters who you think would offend someone. I don’t think I need to name any specific characters or people.

Summary

Overall, I think it’s safe to say that cosplay is not cultural appropriation. No one is here to make fun of or disrespect any culture. The Cosplay Community is well aware of social issues such as this, so there would definitely be a lot more noise if it was a very legitimate concern. But since that’s not the case, we can see that cosplaying is for fun. Anyways, I hope you found this post informative. What do you have to say about all this? Let me know in the comments below!