The word cosplay is rooted in “costume” and “play.” Most of the time it’s a fun, uplifting thing. Fans gather at conventions dressed as their favorite characters and imagine themselves within the worlds of their favorite fandoms. Cosplay is a crucial part of creating spaces where people can shrug off their real identity and fantasize being princesses, alien warriors, evil villains and anything else you can imagine. When it comes to a hobby where you can transform into anyone with the zip of a costume and the swipe of a makeup brush, shouldn’t everyone be welcome? That’s not always the case.
Many people stereotypically associate cosplay with younger people. And young cosplayers often face harassment, whether it be bullying from peers based on seeming geeky or full blown sexual harassment. But older cosplayers face a whole different kind of harassment than their younger counterparts.
“The common, ‘she’s too old for that look,’ or ‘what is he cosplaying Conan’s grandfather?’” are many forms the harassment takes, said John David Callison, the founder and CEO of the Facebook group Over 30 Cosplay.
The group aims to provide an online space for people over the age of 30 to meet each other and support each other in their costume building.
“Our panels cover topics like the effects of cosplaying on your relationships, family, career, religious choices, finances, etc.,” said Callison.
He said a young person can cosplay and not be judged too harshly, but someone in their 50s who works for sales in a company could possibly lose their job over their hobby. Callison himself is familiar with the discrimination that older cosplayers face.
“I literally lost a 22-year-long relationship because I was not ‘acting like an adult,’” he said.
The Over 30 Cosplay group has almost 42,000 members now. Callison started it to get other older cosplayers together in a safe, supportive and kind space. At his first convention he came to the realization many of the cosplayers there were much younger than him. He originally made the Facebook group for the friends he made during that event, and it then blew up into the page it is today.
Kristina Crofut of KMC Cosplay is 38 years old and has been cosplaying since 2015. She’s a follower of the Over 30 Cosplay page and started cosplaying to meet more people who liked anime like she did.
“I also wanted something that would be a physical reminder of my weight loss,” she said. “I have lost 215 pounds. A costume is a great barometer for both finding people in my fandoms and a reminder if I need to cut some calories here and there if it is getting too tight.”
She said her favorite cosplay is her Mika outfit from Owari no Seraph.
“I always wanted to play Mika,” she said. “It took a while to get the courage to play him, and once I was committed, it took three months to sew the costume. But I love how he turned out and I love wearing him.”
Crofut noticed a distinct generational difference between younger cosplayers and those around her age.
“Like when someone gets all nostalgic and says, ‘I remember when the Nintendo DC came out, I was in Kindergarten. It was my first game system.’ I tend to reply with ‘Yeah 2004 was a good year, I graduated from U of M with my Bachelor’s Degree,’” Crofut said. “Then I get all nostalgic myself when I talk about 1989 and the original Gameboy and Sega Genesis, my first gaming systems.”
Callison noticed this generational divide as well, but more so in the convention scene.
“Areas of interest like panels and such were also, in general, more for fans of current genres rather than older genres, and the stars of those older genres were regulated to little corner tables for the few odds and ends who remembered them.”
Crofut is not unfamiliar with the harassment of older cosplayers, either.
“On social media, the first time I was told I was too ‘old, fat and ugly’ to play a character hurt a lot,” Crofut said. “I didn’t know what cosplay bullying was at that point, so it caught me off guard.”
She hasn’t dealt with the harassment and bullying in person, but she said she has a great network of friends who help her adjust to convention conditions and help her if she gets overstimulated during events. She has, however, heard hateful comments directed at others.
Crofut said some of her favorite cosplayers were older, as well. Knight Mage, Ken Chapin and Koralene are all cosplayers who Crofut looks up to that are over 30.
“If there isn’t a strong community for an over 30 cosplayer and they feel disenfranchised, I would encourage them to seek me out,” she said. “I would gladly shake my pom-poms and cheer them on.”
She said with older cosplayers, she sees a lot of them cosplaying with their families.
“That has to be the biggest doki doki’s of them all, seeing a whole family together having fun in cosplay is a real joy,” she said.
“The primary mission of our group is inclusion, and we support all inclusion,” Callison said. “If you are of a different race, color, sexual orientation, whatever. It does not matter as long as you are over 30 and cosplaying, you’re welcome and supported here [in the Over 30 Cosplay page].”