THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY BLACK PEOPLE: Steamfunk in the ATL!

When asked in a recent study to describe their version of the “ideal” woman, black and white teens conjured up vastly different images.

The white teen ideal was a Barbie-like woman, 5’7”, between 100 and 110 pounds, with blue eyes and long flowing hair.

The black teens’ ideal American woman had nothing to do with physical characteristics. According to Sheila Parker, Ph.D., “They told us that the ideal Black woman has a personal sense of style, who ‘knows where she’s going’, has a nice personality, gets along well with other people, and has a good head on her shoulders.” Only if pushed did they name physical characteristics – fuller hips, ‘thick’ thighs, a ‘curvy butt’ and a small waist.

Nearly 90 percent of the white young women told the researchers they were dissatisfied with their weight, while 70 percent of the African-American young women were satisfied.

Cultural expectations, idealizations, and fixations mold the accepted definitions of beauty and the perceived ideal body-shape.

While this outlook among Black people is positive and much-needed, considering the lack of positive images of us in the media, it comes with risks. While I believe it is important for us to accept our curves and endowments – or lack thereof, it is of even greater importance that we realize when we are unhealthy and react properly to it. Obesity is an ever-growing epidemic among Black people in this country. Celebrating obesity can be a potential problem and can set a detrimental example as we improperly equate loving ourselves with accepting an unhealthy lifestyle.

Even though the African-American society promotes a curvier woman body-shape, more African-American girls are beginning to develop eating disorders as they become more exposed to traditional white ideals of beauty. Being too underweight also has serious health risks.

I have often contemplated – with such a healthy perception of body image – why so few of us cosplay, especially girls and women of African descent. Is it because we are not into science fiction or fantasy?

Nope. We are into speculative fiction, and in large numbers at that.

One reason why sisters shy away is the disdain for the fuller-figure that permeates fandom. Heavier people often feel too self-conscious to cosplay. Not only are there virtually no characters from anime, manga, film, science fiction, or fantasy who are already portrayed as fuller-figured, but fans can be very cruel to full-figured cosplayers who dare to cosplay “conventionally attractive” characters.

I have heard people laugh at the plus-sized Batgirls and Storms, or make rude comments about the guy with the beer-belly portraying a Spartan from 300.

On one forum, a full-figured girl asked who she could cosplay as at an upcoming convention. The only person who responded said, Princess Fiona, Shrek’s ogre wife.

On another forum, a curvaceous Black woman asked for suggestions for her television cosplay. Her answers? Sandra Clark – Jackee Harry’s character from the sitcom, 227 – or Mercedes Jones – the girl portrayed by actress Amber Riley on Glee. She was thinking she looked more like Lana Kane, the character from the animated series, Archer.

In an essay by journalist Kendra James called Race + Fandom: When Defaulting to White Isn’t an Option, James writes about facing ignorance when Black women cosplay. “when a non-white cosplayer colors outside the lines, there’s a risk of getting an awkward look because, instead of seeing the costume, no matter how perfect it might be, others see the color of your skin and you can see the confusion in their eyes: ‘Why is a black girl dressed as Zatanna?’ Worse are the ones who aren’t confused, but then think they’re being inoffensively clever. ‘You know there probably weren’t many Black USO Girls in the 1940s, right?’ Or, my personal favorite, ‘Wonder Woman? I thought you would’ve done Nubia.’ It’s an extension of the “default to white” privilege many fans still engage in on a regular basis.”

Ms. James goes on further to say “It often feels like a white cosplayer can not only dress as their favorite characters of color but also do so in the most offensive way  without comment.”

Yes, people are still that ignorant.

I will continue to fight such ignorance with education and inspiration.

On Friday, October 26, 2012, we came out in force – in all our myriad beauty – and brought the FUNK to Steampunk at The Mahogany Masquerade: A Night of Steamfunk and Film!

A video, with photos from this Blacknificent event, follows:

About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link and Rite of Passage: Initiation. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika and contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. At present, Balogun is directing and fight choreographing the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk –a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the science fiction gangster saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika. He is also co-creator of the soon-to-be-released role-playing game, Ki-Khanga™: The Sword & Soul RPG. Balogun is Master Instructor of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute and Technical Director of Martial Ministries of America, a non-profit organization that serves at-risk youth. He is also a traditional African priest, actor and conflict resolution specialist, who works and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, his seven daughters and his son.

9 responses »

  1. I am so sorry I missed the Steam*Funk masquerade. I had my costume all ready but got sick over the weekend (migraine + backache). I hope you do it again, because I was going to be *fierce*.

  2. Adrian says:

    This was a really informative article. I love to see all kinds of different people in cosplay and steampunk, in fact I just love it!!!!

  3. Next year I hope to be in attendence at Mahogany Masquerade. I’m so sorry I missed it (:! On another note I found your research on black teen vs. white teen attitudes very interesting. I found similar results in my thesis research. I also found a correlation between positive racial identity (i.e. feeling good about being black) and self-esteem. That’s one more reason for us to keep on cranking out those positive black SF characters… like your Harriet.

  4. David Hankerson says:

    Great article! Do you have a list of the films that were viewed or discussed at The Mahogony Masquerade?

  5. […] and author Milton Davis – am the curator of the popular Black Science Fiction Film Festival and The Mahogany Masquerade and I am happy to say that there is a multitude of Black fans of speculative fiction and film and […]

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