Kris Walko of Fat and Nerdy Cosplay has a flair for body positive, feminist cosplay. From makeup tutorials to advice on tumblr, fans love her stylish and unapologetic attitude. I had the opportunity to ask Kris about negative feedback, positive outlook, and how cosplay can inspire confidence.
Tara M. Clapper: How did you get interested in cosplay and what was your very first cosplay?
Kris Walko: Cosplay had always fascinated me because I was really into theatre and costuming when I was in high school. Cosplaying just seemed so far removed from anything I thought I could do, though. From the outside it looked like a tight knit group of wealthy, conventionally attractive, thin people.
In 2011, I went to my first convention with my fiance and we had no idea what to expect. We thought that everyone cosplayed at cons so I whipped us up our first costumes – Vault 101 jumpsuits from Fallout 3. We turned down a photoshoot because we had no idea what we were doing – ugh, so embarrassing to think about! Sadly, because of that we only have one photo from our first con. We were instantly hooked though and have been attending just about every con in Southern California since.
TMC: Of all the cosplays you’ve done, what’s your favorite?
KW: Every time I start work on a new one it becomes my favorite! However, I think the reactions I got as Lumpy Space Princess in her Duchess Gummybuns outfit were the best for me. I had loads of plus size young women telling me how much they loved it and how beautiful I looked. That’s when it really struck me how important representation is in this community. All the preconceived notions I had came from curated images from people outside of the community, which completely fail to show just how diverse we actually are.
TMC: I’ve seen you refer to hate mail. What kind of awful things do people send, how do you react to it emotionally, and how do you advise others handle these challenges?
KW: Getting hate mail is so weird to me! I’d never really had to deal with that kind of thing before I started my Tumblr, so it’s just been so strange to comprehend. People send all kinds of weird stuff… The difficult ones are along the lines of “I look at your photos to remind myself not to eat because you’re disgusting.” I can see that the person who sent it is clearly dealing with some horrible eating disorder and I feel like it’s part of my duty as a sort of a public figure to address why it’s not ok and that they should seek help.
Initially, getting hate mail always really stings. We’re so often told to “take the high road” and not “stoop to their level,” but I am firmly in the camp of it being more than ok to be furious and to voice that pain and frustration. I also highly recommend reaching out to people within the community for support. Doing so has helped me through so much of the hate I’ve received.
TMC: What does it mean to you to be a body positive cosplayer? How does this attitude empower you and others?
KW: To me, it means taking action and being supportive of every single person in the community – no matter their appearance or background. It’s incredibly empowering because instead of waiting for the representation and recognition we deserve, we’re creating it ourselves through body positive spaces. I know that if I had been exposed to those spaces sooner, I would have started cosplaying ages ago! I especially want to make sure that plus size cosplayers feel more welcome to jump in than I did.
TMC: Do people often tell you that you’re too big to cosplay a particular character? What do you tell them?
KW: All the time. For some reason, especially on Facebook. I’ve had several photos of my cosplays shared to Fallout fan pages and the comments are always horrible. What bothers me most is the complete disregard of all the work I put into every little detail, so I make sure to tell them that. My most recent response to criticism of my body in a group picture was this, “I’m the fat one. Let me just say that it’s a great honor to have all of my hard work, research and crafting set aside so that a bunch of rude assholes can make fun of my appearance.” I was met with a plethora of comments saying they love my work and that helps to put the rude comments in perspective.
TMC: You’re really into every day fashion, too! How do you incorporate geeky elements into daily wear?
KW: I am! It’s a little hard sometimes when there aren’t many geeky clothing places that cater to plus sizes. Think Geek has been a godsend in the shirt department, so I sport a lot of geeky t-shirts with handmade skirts when I’m not in cosplay. Sometimes I even use pieces of my cosplays as accessories – I did a lolita Star Trek cosplay complete with glittery combadge and now it adorns most of my cardigans. I also make my own nerdy pinback buttons!
TMC: Who are your fashion inspirations?
TMC: What’s your advice to someone who wants to cosplay – but is afraid to try because they are a different size, gender, or race than the characters they want to portray?
KW: My advice would be to seek and reach out to cosplayers that are also plus size or persons of color, etc. Seeing someone who looks just like you doing the things that you’ve always been told not to do is so motivating. Sometimes when I find that that’s not enough, I fake the confidence until I have it. Every time I first walk into a convention I’m so nervous and can’t stop thinking that no one will like my cosplay or want a photo. So when that happens, I focus on owning all the hard work that went into every piece of my cosplay. My nerves always fade away and I end up feeling super confident.
TMC: The internet has all sorts of opinions about selfies – some people feel that they’re an ego trip; others feel that they increase self-confidence and even inspire self-esteem in others. How do you feel about selfies?
KW: I’m selfie obsessed! They allow us to portray ourselves in whatever light we see fit – helping to directly challenge our current (very narrow) standards of beauty. I have had a lot of very kind people tell me that they have a body similar to mine and when I post photos of myself they get to see themselves represented in a positive light. I am so proud of this younger generation of women growing up knowing that they deserve to love and take full ownership of their bodies.
TMC: Anything else you’d like to add:
KW: Don’t let anyone hold you back from pursuing cosplay. For every one person that tries to make you feel unwelcome, there are a hundred community members that are there to support and guide you – myself included! With that being said, being body positive is an active role you take on, especially if you are in a position of privilege, so support your fellow women at all costs!