(Mis)Representations of Women: Losing Sight of the Real


Hideo Kojima issued a challenge to cosplayers everywhere when he said of Metal Gear Solid V’s sniper Quiet, “The initial target [of the character] is to make u want to do cosplay… [but] this one may not be cosplayable.” Challenge accepted and surmounted, Kojima, by one Kelly Jean, who is not only selling prints of her efforts to raise money for charity, but also questions Quiet’s over-the-top outfit. “I do hope she gets some trousers, she makes me feel pretty cold,” Jean said.

This is fantastic, accurate cosplay, down to the artful rips in her stockings, and while much of the response to her efforts have been supportive, Kelly Jean has her detractors, and since they can’t really fault her costume, they aim for other targets. Namely, her body. “No ass.” “No boobs.” “Too skinny.”

Kelly Jean, in the eyes of some, cannot live up to the image of a video game character, no matter how much care, attention, and detail she puts into her costume, despite having a similar body type. She’s too real, you see.

To create the photoshoot, Kelly Jean worked in a studio with a photographer so she could focus not only on her costume, but on the background, the lighting, and a little digital editing to capture Quiet’s not-quite-real look, and the side-by-side comparison reveals how close she was able to come to replicating the MGS V design.

But it also offers us a window into the real versus the ideal. Quiet’s body isn’t born of hard effort, but fantasy. When I see this comparison, and read some of the comments, I can’t help but think of the video that’s been making the rounds lately, the time lapse look at some of the “improvements” upon models for the media. Legs and necks stretched. Eyes made larger. Backs arched. Skin made unnaturally smooth and glowing. It’s not so different from what’s been done here. Kelly Jean is a real woman strapped into an outfit that would not work on a real body in any situation that involved, say, moving or breathing (much less battle), and of course a few scrappy triangles won’t support her breasts (there’s a reason we tend to rely on underwire). Of course there’s no extreme curve in her back. Her legs are a woman’s legs, her butt a woman’s butt: perhaps not model-perfect, but attractive, real, and working in that costume. And here, too, she’s been doctored to look more like the image of Quiet, so that her skin looks waxy and fake, but there’s only so much Photoshop can do without going to some of the extreme lengths we see in that video.

The result? Disappointment. The detractors are disappointed that her breasts do not perch shelflike on her chest without supportive architecture, that her ass/hip to waist ratio isn’t more extreme, that her legs are too thin. Kelly Jean, despite a thin veneer of fakery applied to the surface of her image, isn’t fake enough. There’s too much real woman in the cosplay. Get her out of there.

On the gaming forum NeoGAF, one user, upon reading some of the negative remarks, said, “[In this thread,] people disappointed that real women don’t look like video game women,” and it’s a joke. It’s funny, right? But also true, perhaps. Kojima in one sense was right: Quiet can’t be cosplayed 100% accurately, not without greater effort, because her body is not a human body, but because these are the bodies we see not only in video games, but in media, in film, bodies with all the manipulative advantages of art design, we are disappointed when the real doesn’t quite match up. And just think: Quiet’s proportions aren’t even that extreme. Sure, her top-as-breast-support is structurally impossible, and her muscular curves are difficult for the average woman to obtain, but she’s no Ivy or Taki from Soul Calibur, say. But perhaps these almost-real women — Quiet, and the created model in the above-linked video — are even more dangerous when it comes to establishing the unobtainable standard.

Quiet is an alarming character for many reasons, and now we’ve added a new one: she’s a yardstick for the feminine that, once again, real women can’t quite match, and when these are our standards? Everyone loses.

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