When cosplaying as a real person, you need to be careful. It’s all too easy to offend someone or commit a social faux pas. However, it’s more common than you think for people to cosplay as a real-life person rather than a fictional character.
Think about Halloween. It’s considered normal and socially acceptable for people to dress up as famous and historical figures. It’s a way for people to show what they love about history or who their pop culture idols are. But I’m sure you’ve also witnessed a cringe costume that immediately made you understand the person dressing up was being offensive and taking it too far.
We can take the same lessons and apply them to cosplay. It’s okay to dress up as a famous or historical figure as long as you are being respectful and not portraying a prejudiced or stereotyped caricature of the person you are cosplaying.
When is it okay to cosplay as a real person?
In general, if you are trying to celebrate or honor a real-life person it’s okay for you to cosplay as them. It’s best if you try to stick to cosplays that mimic the actual costumes or clothing of the figure you’re acknowledging.
It’s considered okay to cosplay as a real person when:
- The person you’re dressed as is famous. Maybe your costume is a popular outfit from a well-known artist’s music video, or an actor has an iconic everyday style. These types of costumes are pretty much accepted as normal cosplay.
- You are respectfully portraying a historical figure. While less common, it’s also okay to cosplay as famous historical figures. Some controversial figures may be off-limits. For example, you might not want to cosplay as Hitler… I don’t think that would go over well. You also want to be careful with religious figures, since some portrayals can offend people who practice the religion.
- You’re cosplaying a meme. It’s not uncommon for people to take whatever meme is popular at the moment and make a costume out of it. Sometimes the media that’s being copied is of a real person. However, since the meme itself usually takes on a separate life from the person pictured, it’s usually okay to cosplay as a meme-person for a comical costume.
When you should not cosplay as a real person
Just because it’s okay to dress up as a real-life person for cosplay does not mean that it’s okay every time. We have to remember that these are real people in the real world. The choices you make about how you portray these people can be distasteful and cause a backlash. In general, it is better to not cosplay as someone if all you want to do is make a joke costume and make fun of someone. It’s probably not going to end well for you.
- When you are enabling harmful stereotypes about any group of people (including racial, gender, disability, LGBTQ+, or other stereotypes). If you are cosplaying as a person to make fun of them and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, just don’t do it.
- Someone who is not famous (unless you have permission). This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but you’re a lot more likely to offend someone if you cosplay as them even though they’re not famous. There was a costume party one Halloween at the office I worked in, and one person showed up dressed as another coworker as a way to poke fun at them. It didn’t go over well, and from then on no one was allowed to dress up anymore. So use common sense and don’t use cosplay as an excuse to make fun of your coworkers.
- If you are trying to change your race. It should go without saying, but anything that involves black face, red face, making your eyes look more “Asian,” or anything along those lines is not okay. If there is a real-life person who you really admire and want to cosplay, it’s still generally considered okay to wear the costume, but don’t try to change your race.