What Men’s Fitness’ Hate-On About Cosplay Teaches Us: Sexism Hurts Everyone

Superhero Cosplay by Karl Palutke
Superhero Cosplay Parade. Photo by Karl Palutke.

When I first saw the “article” about cosplay from Men’s Fitness, I shrugged it off as immature linkbait.1 It wasn’t worth my time to argue with a troll, and I’m sure as hell not linking back to it. (Which is what the author, Jordan Burchette, wants.)

Then I thought for a second and went, great, now next time we bring up a systemic oppression in geekdom (as geekdom is part of society), male geeks with +20 privilege are going to bring this article up and say they are oppressed by society. (First rule of talking about oppressive systems, check your privilege at the door. Second rule, don’t derail. Third rule, don’t compare oppressions in a hierarchy of oppression; it’s all bad.)2

But because I spend my time around wonderful people who try to find the teaching and learning moment in everything, I instead did my best Wesley Wyndam-Pryce3 impersonation and said, “Eureka!”

Men’s Fitness actually illustrates beautifully why sexism hurts men too.

Burchette spends most of his time making snarky comments, not perpetuating ridiculous beauty ideals for women, but mocking male cosplayers who lack the same idealized male bodies as Thor, Batman, or Captain America.4 Unrealistic ideals found in the pages of Men’s Fitness. Burchette says that there’s something innately missing in these cosplayers that causes them to dare to dress up their less-than-perfect-by-Men’s-Fitness-standards bodies like comic book characters. No one will argue that spandex — superhero fabric du jour — shows everything and that many male superhero costumes are cut to show off uber muscled bodies.5

The problem, however, is not the cosplayers or even the fabric choices. The problem is the beauty ideals perpetrated by sexism and put in the media.

Surprise! Men’s Fitness is the media, and a magazine that sets Western body ideals. Men’s Fitness literally has the power to change these stereotypes and male beauty myths. But they aren’t, because they make money off telling men (and women) that their bodies are not perfect enough. Why would you buy Men’s Fitness unless you somehow felt bad about your body?6 At least this is the misguided logic used in editorial and advertising decisions.

Ridiculous men’s beauty standards are just as dangerous as ridiculous women’s beauty standards. They hurt people.7 They promote ridged gender coding and make unhealthy and unrealistic expectations for how people are supposed to look and act. Born out of sexism, these male stereotypes have progressed and grown right along female stereotypes, and they hurt individuals and society.

Male geeks with +20 privilege are right; they are being bullied by Men’s Fitness. The way to stop it isn’t just to call out the author or the article, but to call out media, like Men’s Fitness, every single time they pull this false beauty ideals out, even when it doesn’t directly affect geeky male cosplayers. Because in the end, unrealistic beauty stereotypes affect everyone.

  1. Linkbait: An article purposely written in such a way to draw lots of attention and comments. In this case, this is the bad kind of linkbait.
  2. I completely made these rules up. Though they are what I try to operate under, especially when I am in a space where I have privilege.
  3. This would be Wesley from Season 2 of Angel, who’s actually a great example of a character who early on does not conform to masculine stereotypes and is the “girly” or “wimpy” one. (I love Wesley in all his incarnations from adorkably dancing in sweaters to grizzly and shotgun-wielding.)
  4. As long as none of them are penciled by Rob Liefeld because no one wants 1) a 74-pack; 2) that many pouches; 3) no feet. <– This is how you snark like a comic book geek.
  5. This is not even getting into women’s costumes, which often have a whole layer masturbation-fodder attached to them. (Not literal layers as that’s what the clothing lacks.)
  6. Other motivations for buying magazines include actual journalism or real health tips, which are both harder to write and (sadly) harder to sell (which is the media’s own damn fault for giving us junk food and guilt).
  7. There are almost 1 million men and a little over 7 million women in the United States who suffer from eating disorders.

P.S. Yes, I am a cosplayer. But you can make fun of me all you want about that.

4 Replies to “What Men’s Fitness’ Hate-On About Cosplay Teaches Us: Sexism Hurts Everyone”

  1. I think what I hated most about the Men’s Fitness article (aside from the unwarranted insults and horrible gender-reinforcement) was just how childish it was. Was there really any need for this article, other than to assert some sort of macho dominance?


  2. I felt the attacks on cosplayers looks were very immature. While it’s usually associated with Cosmopolitan, Men’s Fitness magazine also airbrushes and touches up their cover photos. So how can someone, if they wanted to, match an image that doesn’t exist in the real world? But what was more annoying was the fact they took mocking cosplayers as a critical point to the article. A lot of magazine columns only have enough space for the top 3 or 4 points of the articles topic. Out of all that was going on, mocking cosplayers was one of the top important points to take away from the con? I think Mr. Burchette took a quick walk through, called it a day and then wrote his “piece”.

    1. Indeed, it was very immature. There was an entire list of things wrong with that article.

      Or Mr. Burchette actually had a lot of fun and didn’t want any of his ‘too cool’ colleagues to know. Apparently, he’s done this once before for another similar magazine.

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