The Patreon Problem: Is Cosplay Becoming Overly Sexualized?

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Warning: Reader’s discretion is advised. Some images used in this article may contain sexual elements.

Disclaimer: This article is solely of the opinion of the author and does not reflect the collective thoughts and opinions of The Magic Rain and its members.

Everyone seems to have a Patreon account these days, ranging from the big names that earn thousands of dollars per month from hundreds of patrons, to your neighbour’s cooking Patreon with only 2 patrons. However, today I just want to focus on the cosplayers that use Patreon as their main source of income or as a means to fund their passion.

For those unfamiliar, Patreon is a platform for creators to earn a living doing what they love. Fans of these creators can subscribe and support their favourite creators by paying for special access to different things that the creators can offer, from getting access to a private discord server to personalised merchandise. The benefit usually gets better and more personalised the more money the fan is willing to pay the creator.

Now, this definitely sounds like a great idea on paper. Creators get to do what they love, and fans get more of the stuff they love from their favourite creator by paying a little money. I was also one of those people who really supported this idea since a lot of creators create great stuff for a specific niche group and they may not earn nearly enough or get enough stable income to do it full time.

This is especially true for cosplayers who usually earn through selling prints, posters and postcards. They usually sell these products during events; the bigger the event the better the sales. While online sales definitely can help mitigate the problem of limiting sales to events it doesn’t eliminate the problem entirely. This is where Patreon really changes the landscape. These cosplayers can now let fans pay for some extra content that they love and the cosplayer gets to keep doing what they love. They may even be able to do it full time if their patreon is successful enough.

Carl’s Jr is infamous for using lots of sexual elements in their commercials to attract attention.

But here’s the kicker, cosplayers are now incentivised to attract people to pay for exclusive content. The more exclusive and personalised the content is, the better. Since cosplaying is akin to modelling, one of the best way to attract attention is by revealing more skin. As the old saying goes, “sex sells”. This applies to both males and females whereby the more that patrons pay, the more 18+, lewd, NSFW and sexy content they unlock.

Just to be clear, I have nothing against these types of content. It follows the basic economics of supply and demand; since there is a demand for it, someone will definitely want to supply it for monetary benefit. It’s just like being a lingerie model or a bikini model. It’s a legit way to make money.

However, we would be walking on very thin ice the moment the cosplayer accepts money to do personalised things such as gifs, videos or even video calls while in cosplay. Once we start doing personalised things, we would be venturing very close to cam girls, paid sexting or other similar services.

There are even memes now that suggest that a majority of Patreon cosplayers sell sex.

After I spoke to some of my female friends, both cosplayers and non-cosplayers, a majority of them also felt that it is perfectly fine for cosplayers to display their sexiness if the character is meant to be portrayed that way, such as Black Widow, Poison Ivy and Faye Valentine (Cowboy Bebop), fitting the femme fatale character archetype who uses their sex appeal to get what they want.

On the other hand, it is a completely different story if the character is overly sexualised to the point of being clearly out of character, such as sexualising a children’s cartoon character or characters that are under age. One of the recent examples would be Kanna from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid which is often sexualised to gain attention from the lolicon demographic. These instances are clearly problematic for a few reasons.

First, it opens the door for quite literally anyone to do sexy cosplay. Just put on a wig, a bikini and BAM, it’s cosplay. This muddles the meaning of cosplay and takes lightly one of the fundamental values for cosplaying, “To wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character”. You are not representing a specific character if the only thing that connects you to the character you’re supposed to be representing is your hair colour. If that were actually cosplaying, wouldn’t I be cosplaying as L from Death Note right now just because I have black hair?

It’s gotten to the point where there are even memes about “lewding” said dragon loli.

Secondly, sexualising out of character cosplay just brings a bad name to cosplay in the eyes of the general public. How would a mother react if the first thing she sees when she Googles “cosplay” is a Misty (Pokemon) with half her boobs dangling out for everyone to see? She would probably think cosplay is some perverted hobby that sexualises children’s cartoons.

On a related note, one of my friends has also pointed out to me that there is absolutely no wrong in making a character sexier or wearing scantier clothing if it still represents the character perfectly. An example would be the Magical Girl Overwatch characters designed by shourca. You can see that great care went into each character’s design to best represent the character.

For example, Mei’s design includes fur on the edge of the clothing and she has a little cloak to represent that the place she’s from is cold and requires the cloak for extra warmth. While the character is much sexier than the original design you can see that her personality is captured in this redesign of her costume. This is nothing like a “Misty wearing nothing but a towel” situation.

Shourca’s approach to a Magical Girl Mei that is both sexier and in character. (Source: https://www.facebook.com/shourca/)

There is also the problem of online harassment and blackmail. In a hypothetical situation where a cosplayer’s livelihood depends on one of the bigger patrons, the patron could potentially threaten the cosplayer to do the patron’s bidding since the cosplayer’s livelihood is at their bidding. Of course, this is a one in a million scenario but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Furthermore, cosplayers who do sexy, out of character cosplays often get bashed online and receive a lot of online harassment for their “bad cosplay”. I may not support these cosplays but I absolutely do not condone nor accept behaviour such as online harassment.

While calling people out is okay, but calling people “f*cking disgusting” just crosses the line.

The problem doesn’t just end there. With the introduction of Patreon, we may be faced with the emergence of people who only want to cash in on the ACG community. These people don’t care how the community is viewed and just want cold hard cash. I don’t think there’s a problem if someone wants to profit off the community as long as they are creating great content that their fans would love.

However more often than not, these people that want to cash in just jump onto the latest bandwagons and cosplay the most popular characters as scantily as possible even if it’s not in character. Do we really want these people to represent the culture of the ACG community?

I guess, in the end Patreon is a wonderful platform for creators to earn some money doing what they love. But just like any other social media platform out there, we must use it with care or else we may fall victim to the platform itself. There is no clear cut good or bad in this scenario, but at this rate, it seems like we’re heading towards a collective negative view against cosplayers having a Patreon account.

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