Cosplay community? We have to talk. It's about cosplay lookalikes. I would know, since by many accounts, I am one. Since I first dressed up as Arya Stark for a video production about two years ago, 90% of the feedback I've received has been not about my costuming work (my six months and hundreds of dollars of work, my hours and hours of research, my carefully written tutorials), but about... my face. On the one hand, I'm grateful that by happening to look like Maisie Williams, my cosplay has gotten in front of a ton of eyes that never would've seen it otherwise. But on the other hand, I don't like how that eclipses my actual costuming, and worse yet, what that says about cosplay as a craft.
Disclaimer: I don't hate cosplay lookalikes, of course. That would be wildly hypocritical. I'm not against people who like to cosplay characters they look like. I'm not against people who want to be cosplay popular or even cosplay famous. I believe that you can cosplay for whatever reasons you want. I just want us to change our criteria for what makes an amazing cosplay.
problem #1 — if you don't look like someone, you're not popular
This is hyperbole of course, but in general, especially in certain fandoms (*cough* I'm looking at you, Game of Thrones) the cosplays that are celebrated are the ones featuring lookalike cosplayers. When some geek news site advertises a "perfect Tauriel cosplay" you can bet they mean that cosplayer looks a hell of a lot like Evangeline Lily. The "best Starlord cosplay ever"? Wow, I could've sworn that guy was Chris Pratt! But how many amazing Tauriel cosplays and Starlord cosplays are out there, as good as or even better than the cosplays worn by someone who looks like they could be the actor's sibling? This can make people who don't look like the character they cosplay feel like their work isn't worthwhile, or isn't impressive.
problem #2 — "you should cosplay ____ instead"
Okay, let's assume you do look like someone... but it's not the person you're cosplaying. It sucks to be dressed as Ygritte and find that everyone is too busy telling you that you look more like Cersei to actually look at the costume you did make. It's dismissive — you spent god knows how many hours and dollars making a costume, and people are immediately telling you that you should've done something else. But we've created a culture of valuing lookalikes over costume construction or even just what characters the cosplayer likes. Just because you look like Jennifer Lawrence doesn't mean you're obligated to cosplay Katniss. That's nobody's choice but your own.
problem #3 — you're discouraged from cosplaying who you want
If you know that your cosplay won't be valued unless you look like the character, there are two potential results, and both are shitty. First: You might choose not to cosplay characters that you love, because you feel like your cosplay won't be well-liked if you don't look like them. Second: You might choose to cosplay characters you don't like at all because you think you bear a resemblance to them.
But that's not what cosplay is about. You don't need to look like Sookie Stackhouse to love Sookie Stackhouse. And anybody who tells you that you do doesn't understand cosplay.
The real problem, the overarching problem, is pretty basic: We're missing the point of cosplay. In our current culture of "famous cosplayers," it's easy to lose sight of why we really do this: To express love for media. For a TV show we couldn't live without, for a video game that changed our lives, for a character we identify with so strongly that the best way to show it is to become them. Cosplay isn't about being a perfect copy of a character.
So how do we reverse it? How do we shift the cosplay cultural trend away from valuing somebody's genetic luck over their skill or their passion? It's pretty easy: Support cosplayers. Support cosplayers who look like characters, and those who don't. Support cosplayers who channel hours and hours into making beautiful costumes. Support cosplayers who choose characters because they love them. You have the power to change what you define as an amazing cosplay. Use it!