by Fabliha Anbar
Cosplay has been on the rise since the early 90’s, originating from Japan. It’s where passionate fans portrays themselves as fictional characters through costumes- the word “cosplay” deriving from costume and play. It’s an entertaining creative outlet where people can temporarily escape their problems and enter a magical space. People all around the world dress up as characters from comic books, anime and video games to participate in fun conventions where fans can connect to one another about their interests. As cosplaying is seen as fun and games, underneath all the makeup and fantastical costumes is a dark world of extreme misogyny and racism.
However, Jasmine Grimes, also known as Mysse Match on social media, is breaking social expectations and perceptions of cosplayers! Sorjo chatted with Grimes on what it’s like being a black plus size cosplayer and facing racism, sexism and fatphobia in the cosplaying community.
Fabliha: When and how did you start having interest in cosplaying?
Jasmine: I have been interested in cosplaying for years. I grew up watching anime, sci-fi, and fantasy shows and movies. All of these things kind of go hand in hand with nerd culture and cosplaying so I naturally gravitated towards it. In 2015, Chaka Cumberbatch-Tinsley created the hashtag #28DaysOfBlackCosplay in honor of Black History Month and a few years later I saw a lot of people using the hashtag and posting all of these amazing cosplays. I could hardly believe it. I never knew that there were so many people out there who liked the same things that I did and did it in such an unapologetic and loud way. It was both eye-opening, awakening, and completely awesome. I was shook, to say the least. This year when February came around I once again applauded and watched all of the amazing looks that were posted and decided that I had to join in. It was right after black history month ended that I posted my first cosplay, and since then I haven’t looked back.
Fabliha: How is cosplaying an outlet of creativity to you?
Jasmine: To be honest, it lets my mind run. Because I am a closet cosplayer, I take things out of my own wardrobe and create cosplays using what I already have. I have a lot of clothes from years of thrifting and it has been so much fun to deconstruct and reconstruct them all to fit the characters I’m trying to portray. I have trained myself to see everything in my closet differently. Instead of constantly saying that I don’t have anything to wear, I’m now saying I can use this for this cosplay. It’s so interesting. I have also been hot glue gunning a lot of stuff. I just found an old sewing machine at the thrift store, so now I’m going to be making proper wearable outfits. I’m so excited.
Fabliha: Certain interests such as cosplaying, is often associated with whiteness. Why do you think it’s important to create visibility for other black women with cosplaying?
Jasmine: Because I think it’s important for people to know that characters can be anyone and that cosplaying is for everyone. Racism is prevalent in a lot of these spaces. There was a big discussion happening on twitter which prompted the hashtag #BlackCosplayerHere to be created by Belle Briggs because of the erasure of black people in cosplay. Basically, photographers don’t want to take photos of black cosplayers, posting sites don’t want to repost the work of black cosplayers, and the articles and videos made at many of the cons don’t feature enough black cosplayers. It’s a vicious cycle that’s helping to perpetuate the narrative that black cosplayers aren’t out there when in reality we are and in large volumes. I think it’s incredibly important to create visibility because there are so many people like me who didn’t even know that there were other people with the same interests out there. Plus some of the most dynamic and interesting cosplays are created by black women and it needs to be showcased. Our talent deserves to be recognized just as much as the white women who are currently being showcased as the faces of cosplay.
“It’s a vicious cycle that’s helping to perpetuate the narrative that black cosplayers aren’t out there when in reality we are and in large volumes.”
Fabliha: Although the cosplaying scene seems like an innocent hobby where you can escape reality and have a creative outlet, the community itself is filled with horrifying racism and sexism. There’s this idea that floats around the internet that cosplayers of color shouldn’t dress up as a character who isn’t white. It also adds another layer because you’re a plus size woman as well. Have you ever had any racist and ignorant reactions/comments when you started cosplaying? If so, can you tell us some examples?
Jasmine: I get comments under my photos all of the time with the emoji of the face that’s sick and throwing up. I am often told that I ate whatever character that I am trying to portray. I have people tagging their friends under my posts so they can join in to laugh at me. I am told that the character isn’t accurate enough because of the color of my skin. My work is seen as less than and devalued because I’m a fat black woman trying to navigate a community that is filled with racist and fatphobic ideals to the point where people are saying that anime characters are “white” when in reality they are Asian unless stated otherwise by the creator and that characters can only be one size because they were drawn that way. It’s frustrating.
Fabliha: Following up from the question before, what thoughts were running through your head when you heard this? Since you’re getting more popular, does this happen on a usual basis on your social media platforms?
Jasmine: To be honest, if it was Jasmine from a year ago I would probably say it hurts and that I’m internally crying, but the me now doesn’t let it bother me. Most of the time I just wonder why the person has so much time on their hands during the day and why they felt the need to come into my space to spew hateful bullshit. I honestly get the most hateful comments on Instagram because it’s where I have the most followers. So far, except for a few, Twitter has been pretty amazing. I have received so much support from people who I would have thought would be the main ones trying to rip me apart. It was surprising.
Fabliha: Many people would stray away from the word “fat” as its correlated with ugliness and negativity. Why do you use the word “fat” to identify yourself and why do you think it’s important to?
Jasmine: I think that’s the problem right there because fat does not mean ugly. Fat is a descriptor, and it correlates to a person’s size, not their worth or attractiveness. You can be both fat and beautiful. The two are not mutually exclusive. I use the word fat because I am a fat woman and that’s okay. I think the reclamation of this word is important because it’s the first step in changing the narrative about fat people. Fat people are systematically discriminated against in terms of jobs, health care, respect, representation, and believability. This needs to change.
Fabliha: I’ve seen you post on your blog that “body positivity is political”. What do you mean by ‘political’?
Jasmine: Body positivity is a political movement. In its original form and inception body positivity was created by fat women of color and rooted in fat acceptance. Its main goal was to help fight stigmas and biases against marginalized people and to help fight for the advancement of their rights. It was meant to be a safe space for marginalized people to unpack all of the traumatic things that were happening in the world and to be a space of collaboration of all of these marginalized groups to find out ways to create an impact real-world change. Unfortunately a few years ago, thin white women started to co-opt this movement and the language used in it and with the media’s help started to change the narrative of the moment until it became what it is today. A space where marginalized people have become further marginalized and pushed out, and thin white women with a modicum of rolls post images that get celebrated as being revolutionary and are thrust into the spotlight and as the face of a movement that was never theirs in the first place. It’s kind of like the NFL players taking a knee to protest police brutality and how it somehow became about disrespecting the flag. No matter how many times people try to correct this, no one listens. That’s what’s happened to body positivity because it damn sure doesn’t mean the literal definition of being positive about your body.
“A space where marginalized people have become further marginalized and pushed out, and thin white women with a modicum of rolls post images that get celebrated as being revolutionary and are thrust into the spotlight and as the face of a movement that was never theirs in the first place.”
Fabliha: As a fat woman myself, I get messages and comments (especially from skinny people) whenever I post a picture with my stomach showing and thighs, saying “you are so inspirational and brave!”. I know they have good intentions and are coming from a place of support, but I still have an unsettling feeling. It’s as if it’s revolutionary and somewhat strange that a fat woman has self-confidence. Do you feel the same way and if so, why?
Jasmine: I think it’s strange to a lot of skinny people because society as a whole has spent so much time trying to convince fat people to hate their bodies, so when they don’t it’s a shock. I’m honestly on both sides of this one. For one, I think it is noteworthy when a fat person shrugs off the cloak of body hate that society has forcefully kept wrapped around them from a young age, but at the same time, it sucks that it has to be noteworthy. If fat people were treated equally like everyone else then this wouldn’t even be a question, and I hope one day it doesn’t have to be.
Fabliha: Who are some other cosplayers that you’re inspired by or a fan of?
Jasmine: A few months ago, The Curvy Fashionista did an article about their favorite Plus Size Cosplayers of Color that included me. Since then, I have followed everyone on that list and they have become some of my favorite people to follow. I also follow people like @KieraPlease, @Kayyybear, @UniqueSora, @otakuskumcosplay, @sarahndipitycosplays, @ugoandcosplay, @jonathanbelle, and @krystinaarielle. I follow a lot of black cosplayers now and it’s so amazing.
Fabliha: Lastly, what are some advice you have for black/plus size folks who are interested in cosplaying and are afraid to?
Jasmine: I would say to go for it. I know I have painted a picture of a really racist and dark community, but honestly, I have met some of the loveliest people through cosplaying. Like any community, it has its problems that really need to be solved, but the good outweighs the bad. There is a world of people out there like you who need and want the representation that only you can provide. We can not let fear rule us, because if we did nothing would ever get done.