Escaping attitudes linked to appearance is always hard, and the main difficulty is in escaping attitudes that you’ve internalized about yourself. Larp can let us escape the prejudices we suffer or confront them in a controlled way.
I believe unequivocally in body acceptance but I also know the world I live in. I am a fat woman, and rarely see people who look like me portrayed as fully realized characters in films or on television. Archetypal fat women are the comic relief or less attractive best friend. Fat phobia masquerades as health concern, negative comments about anyone who doesn’t meet conventional beauty standards get passed off as “jokes”. Growing up in that environment, it can be difficult not to internalise these perceptions. As with any internalized prejudice, challenging it requires both self awareness and active effort.
This article introduces tools for body positivity and acceptance. It discusses what other people can do and how to avoid larps and larpers that might not be safe for you, but I also want to focus on what we internalize and the way that larp can help. Most examples come from my experiences as an overweight larper, but many of them generalise to other areas where larpers feel uncomfortable with their bodies.
Do your research
Check the policies and reputation of the organisation whose larp you are attending. For example, NotOnlyLarp’s games like Conscience (2018), explicitly prohibit comments about the players’ bodies. If the group doesn’t have defined policies, ask them. It’s easier to explore glamorous, flirtatious, or powerful characters when you can trust the other participants will play to lift.
Look for opportunities
Generally, people with non-normative bodies exist in a society that judges us, even if our immediate circle doesn’t. In larp, when you are cast as a glamorous or powerful character you can exist in a society that believes you’re just that. Being cast in such roles, it was important to me that the characters were described this way both to me and to their teams, admirers and fans. This made it safe for me to push myself to play in a way I otherwise would not have been able to.
Internalised misogyny causes me considerably less issues than internalised fat phobia, because I’m surrounded by people who think misogyny is dangerous, will help me fight it, and will listen to me if I tell them they are doing something that could be hurtful. Issues of attractiveness are harder to address, because of the shame that attaches to it, or because you think the offender didn’t mean to be hurtful. Learning that you deserve not to be hurt by your community and putting that into practice is scary but important.
Costuming can be difficult for larpers with non-standard measurements (see Grove 2019). If the costume is provided by the larp, sending measurements can be nerve-wracking, especially if the organizers request players post them in a public document.
If you get your own costume, you may still find strict costume requirements more difficult to meet. Shop in advance if possible — last-minute panic orders limit your options — and remember there is no shame in asking how strictly the organizers need you to adhere to their standard, or in passing on a larp because your costume will be four times as expensive as others’. Organizers should bear in mind that strict requirements are exclusionary. Not every larp can include everyone, but it’s important to acknowledge these barriers of entry.
It would be lovely to think of photos as reminders of a great larp and the emotions that we felt. The reality is more complicated. I’ve been hurt not to appear in photos, and I’ve been disappointed that photos of me didn’t look as good as I felt.
Decide what you want. Most photographers will happily take posed pictures, make sure to include you in group shots, or refrain from photographing you at all if you feel that would be uncomfortable. Remember that you can be your own worst critic. I’ve cringed at my appearance in photos, and then seen a co-player’s comment about how beautifully it captured a meaningful scene.
Skills for other larpers
Playing to lift is vital to players whose lived experience works against how their characters should be seen.. Don’t force larpers to pretend to conform to mainstream beauty standards. There is something very empowering about playing a formidable character who looks just like you, and that can carry over into everyday confidence if you realise that this scenario — you can be charismatic, you can be attractive — actually isn’t at all ridiculous. If players will only accept this by pretending that you look other than you actually do, that is lost.
Organizers: cast with this in mind. Write characters with this in mind.
I am specifically addressing people who have internalised the hatred of their body created by our culture and the media. It benefits capitalism and the patriarchy if your body makes you miserable. It doesn’t benefit you. I have never once looked at a larp photo and thought someone was unattractive. I have thought about the scene, the character, the outfit. If I knew the person I might have thought about them as a friend. It takes more than a few words to undo a lifetime of conditioning, but there are books, friends, and allies who can support you. There are many things which make people attractive. You are enough.
I firmly believe that larp is a community and I hope that we can be inclusive and welcoming to everyone. The standards of beauty in our society affect us during larps, but we can acknowledge that and hold ourselves accountable for our mistakes. One of the core things we do as larpers is explore different worlds with different attitudes: this can be a powerful tool for acceptance of yourself and others.