Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Cosplay and Crowdfunding: A Follow-Up With Molly McIsaac

Not too long ago, cosplayer Molly McIsaac expressed her desire to crowdfund her breast augmentation. Our response to her initial blog post garnered a lot of discussion, from other blog posts to angry unintelligible tweets. We reached out to Molly for a series of follow-up questions and she graciously answered; but before we get to her response, I'd like to talk a little further about the initial post / the response received.

First, I wanted to give the blog a break from b00b talk hence the delay in posting this interview. The recent search terms that have led to my blog have been heavily skewed towards breasts and that's something I'd like to avoid in the future.  Despite all of the disappointed individuals that make their way to these posts in hopes of finding "comic book boobs" or "power girl porn", they can still stick around and read about the portrayal of women in comics and one woman's desire to have comic book boobs (they will immediately see the lack of photos and promptly move on to the next google image search results - but here's hoping they read this first). It is worth all of the creepy search terms because this topic is deserving of further analysis. 


Borg cube cake has less hits than Power Girl porn? I'm disappointed in you, internet.


Feminism! And Stuff!

A lot of commenters liked to bring out the big, loaded "F" word! Sentiments shared included how getting a boob job isn't anti-feminist and how dare I imply as much, how telling another woman what to do was anti-feminist, how doing what you want with your body and making yourself happy was the ideal form of feminism, etc. My original post doesn't mention what feminism is or isn't, so it is interesting that so many people assumed that Molly and her decision went against my (unstated) feminist views. That is simply not the case. I believe one can get breast implants and still be a feminist. I believe one can still wear high heels, make-up, and (let's bring it back to the subject) cosplay and still be a feminist. There are women out there that would strongly disagree, and they have a right to their opinion. My original post was never about posing Molly's quest in relation to feminism, but in relation to the way she views herself because of cosplaying and depicting physically unrealistic characters. But while we're on the subject, the endgame for feminism isn't getting to the point where us women folk all agree on everything (or keep our opinions to ourselves when we don't). Sharing opposing views is an opportunity for learning, both for those speaking and listening.

Providing the ability to donate = Asking for donations

Many commenters brought up the notion of "if you don't want to donate you don't have to." This is very true. But you know how when you go to a coffee shop and see that tip jar on the counter? That's kind of what it's like when you visit Molly's website. She's not requiring anyone to donate, but the fact that is an option changes the dynamic of the conversation from responding to a personal choice to responding to a personal choice being partially funded by strangers. Comments are open on Molly's site as well, and she has engaged her followers on Twitter and Facebook concerning her decision. My post was just one more extension of the conversation, and I never discouraged individuals from contributing to her fund. The distinction between asking and allowing is something Molly and I disagree with as can be seen in her response later in this post.

Donating moral support

I never thought discouraging someone to get breast implants would be considered hateful, but boy did some readers think otherwise! What kind of bizarro universe do we live in where telling someone they don't need to have breast implants is considered negative? Dear readers, should I ever share my desire to surgically alter myself for cosmetic reasons, I would hope that more of you would offer discouragement than gleefully provide your support. If you think telling someone "go for the bigger boobs" is a positive sentiment, then you are most definitely a contributing factor to why women feel this way in the first place. Preceding that statement with "if it's what you really want" does not have the same impact as saying "you look beautiful no matter what".

Why getting new breasts isn't the same as other enhancements

Another baffling and frequent comment made was why did I care if Molly gets breast implants since it's like any other enhancement cosplayers undergo? This isn't coloring your hair, or putting on make up. This is an everyday, all day kind of deal so it is most certainly not the same. And while getting a tattoo or piercing can be just as permanent, those are meant to showcase the unique style of an individual. Getting breast implants is very much in part a desire to conform to a modern standard of beauty, even if your primary reason for doing so is to feel better about yourself. One commenter hit the nail on the head by stating "it [breast implants] is a temporary band-aid for a permanent wound." If someone states that they are getting breast implants to look a certain way, then yes, I believe it is possible for them to be truly satisfied. But if it is about wanting to feel a certain way? They probably aren't doing it for the right reasons and will likely be disappointed when their body issues remain unresolved.

Final Thoughts

Molly McIsaac definitely lives her life in a very public way, and I can understand why she would feel comfortable sharing this experience with her followers. I don't make it a habit to write posts about every woman considering this procedure, but her unique approach in accepting donations and her public status in the cosplay and comic blogging community made it a relevant topic for my blog. It was a "respond in kind" attempt at offering support, and sending an e-mail or leaving a comment on her site would not have had quite the same impact, nor would others benefit from the ability to participate in a larger discussion.  Whether in private or public, encouraging Molly to keep her natural physique isn't going to hurt her in the long run. 

The Interview

Many readers were equally curious about Molly's decision to accept donations and the implications of crowdfunding her surgery. Special thanks goes to Molly for answering these questions so thoroughly and offering further incite into her journey. Follow the jump to read the interview with Molly:

CBC: As you've stated in your post, you've been considering this procedure for a long time, but that allowing for donations was not always part of the plan. Even so, clearly a lot of thought has gone into the set up for accepting donations, from the donation button on your site, to the rewards section. But there are still a few missing elements that are usually present in any crowd funded endeavor: A fundraising goal, an end date, and clarification for refunds should the project fall through. Have you considered adding these elements to the site to protect yourself from future disputes?


Molly: Actually, yes. I kind of added the Paypal donate button on a complete whim. Essentially what happened is this: I wrote my blog entry about my decision to get breast augmentation and was suddenly drowning in an influx of emails from fans and friends alike. They were all along the lines of "we support you, and had no idea you felt this way!", but several people said: "if you had a way to accept donations, I would definitely help you out!". I asked the opinions of a few trusted confidants and they all agreed it might be a good idea -after all, it is something I feel strongly about and it will definitely benefit my career - and thus Quest2Cosplay was born.

I am actually thinking of switching it over to IndieGoGo instead of Paypal, so that people can see how much has been raised etc.


CBC: The difference between what you are doing and a crowd funded project means a lack of oversight, but also the ability for you to make certain changes. For instance, if a kickstarter project raises more funds than intended, they cannot tell their contributors where that money will go if they plan to donate it to charity. Since you have the ability to do this on your site, what will you do if you raise more than the cost of the procedure?

Molly: I don't foresee this being a problem, as I am going to have a goal set and as soon as we hit this goal I am closing donations. 


CBC: Do you feel that part of the decision to have the procedure has been taken away from you by allowing strangers to pay for it? Will you feel more obligation to go through if the funds are made available?

Molly: Absolutely not. I have always been very open and friendly to my "fans" - I consider them all awesome people and value their input and involvement in my life. I am where I am in my career due to the fact that I am a very open book. I share my life with the entire world, and thus it feels fitting to allow people to help me out with this endeavor. I will feel no "obligation" because there is not even a small doubt in my mind about this procedure. I definitely want breast augmentation, so no: I feel no sort of pressure or lack of control.


CBC: One interesting point raised was the idea that you will in essence have a part of you that has been purchased / owned by strangers. Do you feel comfortable with the idea of having it entirely crowd funded, or do you intend to pay for a certain amount?

Molly: The fundraising is merely to take the edge of of the expenses. I don't think I am "owned" by anyone but myself - I am not losing my identity. People wanted to help me out, so I gave them the means to do so. I'm not holding a gun to anyone's head and demanding they give me money. I do not aggressively ask people to help me out. There's a button on my website - people can click it if they want to. I would never offer any "incentives" that I am not comfortable with. 


CBC: The cosplaying community has always had members active in charity organizations; the Star Wars 501st Legion has a section dedicated to charity work on their site, and a cosplayer from New York has recently asked for pledges for a charity run for St. Jude's. You joke about donations going towards your "betterment fund" but have you considered incorporating charity events into your model? Such as participating in volunteer work to encourage people to meet a certain goal, or perhaps matching donations made to your betterment fund to go towards charities (in essence, you would crowd fund your procedure, but put your own equal amount towards charity in the process). 

Molly: I wish I could afford to match charities! If I could afford that, I wouldn't be crowdfunding my breast augmentation, haha. I have an intense passion for animals and have volunteered at the humane society several times in the past, along with doing an incredible amount of work with my mother's wildlife rescue. I would happily share my charity work more openly with the world if it helped people feel more at ease to donate.


CBC: Many responses to my initial post were pretty negative, not about the actual procedure (which in and of itself isn't uncommon) but the donation aspect. Having seen these responses, have you considered changing the system to incorporate charities, or not taking donations at all?

Molly: Like I've said, people can donate if they choose to. I have no aggressive push for donations and I am not going to harass someone to give me money. 


CBC: One of your followers made her own response to your request, stating that she supports your decision but thinks it would not be the same accomplishment if you paid for the procedure yourself. Do you think you will feel the same way if it is crowd funded as opposed to saving up for the procedure and sacrificing cosplaying at cons for a time as she suggests? 

Molly: I highly doubt I will make the necessary amount from crowd sourcing. I've already been saving up for a couple of years for this. But as someone who essentially refuses to take out loans, any help is welcomed. Considering that it is likely that over half will be paid out of my own pocket, I will still feel accomplished. 


Your rewards focus heavily on featuring the after effects of a breast augmentation, specifically offering photographs to backers. Have you considered shifting the focus to your abilities as a cosplayer? After all, you'll need to make a lot more costumes if your body changes, did you consider offering your current costumes as rewards? 

Molly: I would happily offer up my current costumes! I have a tendency to not ever wear a cosplay again after I have taken it to a con once, anyway. But I do sell myself physically and I am okay with that - I like showing that a woman can be brainy, outspoken, and geeky while still being attractive and taking care of herself. Therefore, I offer photos of me modeling - something I would be doing afterwards even WITHOUT the crowdsourcing rewards (I do a LOT of pinup modeling. I find it very, VERY liberating to be so classically sexy).


Have you told your family about the crowd fund? Have they offered to contribute?

Molly: I have. My family tend to stay out of my career as they are old fashioned people who live on a farm on the top of a mountain, so while they support any decisions I make they keep most thing's at an arm's length due to not really understanding what I do for a living. If they wanted to help me out I would be alright with it, but I would never ask them directly. 


CBC: Lastly, I've asked a lot of questions about the the donation process since that is the less transparent aspect, but let's talk about your decision to have a breast augmentation. You talked a lot about your history with body image issues in your initial post, but left out a big part of that history in that you did not discuss cosplaying very extensively (beyond mentioning the uncomfortable bras). Has your experience been positive? Do you feel that your cosplay would benefit from having the procedure done?

Molly: The cosplay community is very catty. It is ALSO very supportive and awesome, but the fact is this: You are portraying a fictional character. The more you resemble that fictional character, the more attention you get. In the cosplay community, attention is currency. How many times you get photographed at a con is equivalent to a raise at your job. We do costuming and dress up for many reasons - attention, a love for costuming, an adoration for the fandom - but what it comes down to is that if you're REALLY serious about it you want to be as much like the characters you cosplay as possible. Perfect wigs, perfect makeup, contact lenses that make you look like you have anime eyes - and yes, in many instances: breast augmentation.

The short answer is this: My experience with cosplay has been mostly awesome, but that's because I am a nice person to almost everyone and I avoid the cosplay boards on 4chan like a plague because they are just a bunch of shit talking mean girls. And yes, my cosplay would most assuredly benefit from breast augmentation. A perfect example of this is something that just happened to me a few days ago: I am cosplaying Steampunk Wonder Woman at SDCC. I ordered an awesome leather corset, and as I was lacing it up it fit me absolutely perfectly - except for the breasts. There was about a 3 inch gap where my breasts would be because I literally am flat as a board. So now I have to awkwardly shove some silicone into the corset so I can even fill out the corset that I spent a bunch of money on. It's incredibly frustrating.


CBC: I found it very interesting how many people equated my discouraging you to get the procedure as antifeminist, and anyone encouraging you to have the procedure is somehow contributing to your empowerment. I would definitely disagree on the merits of one opinion over the other, but when you get down to it, both sentiments are those of strangers. Do you feel that making this private decision so public has changed your outlook? Is it uncomfortable having strangers chime in? 

Molly: It has definitely made me think, but they are not thoughts I did not already have. I have been in the public spotlight for years now - making my life ridiculously public - so I am pretty sure staying there. I don't mind, and I respect other people's opinions even if they are perfect strangers. My hope is that by sharing my journey WITH strangers, I will help other women make informed decisions about whether or not they want this procedure. 


CBC: I myself have smaller breasts and I've come to accept that (though it wasn't always the case. I have my very own anime drawing from 14 year old Megan that thought she would fill-in "any day now"). One thing that really changed my opinion of myself was how I talked about my body with others. The frequent and public critiques I had made about my body were suddenly being echoed by friends and family members. It became clear that by using these terms to describe myself, others felt comfortable in describing me in similar terms. It was always in a joking manner, but it definitely hurt. Multiply that by 3,000! You have quite an online presence and interact with a lot of people on a daily basis. Do you think that publicly talking about your body in a negative way has made others comfortable in critiquing your body? Has it had the opposite effect where people are more likely to speak positively of you?

Molly: I'm a pretty matter of fact woman. I have my own opinions about myself and I don't sugar coat most things. I know I carry some girth around my ass - I don't whine about being fat, I go work out at the gym instead. I know I'm difficult to be around sometimes due to being outspoken and loud - I turn this into jokes. And I have small breasts, so I tell the world I have small breasts and how I want to change them. I am brutally honest, and I have never doubted the sentiments I have about myself. I am not insecure enough that other people's sentiments sway me. In my line of work you have to be unwavering or people will tear you apart. My biggest goal is to be REAL, and to portray a strong woman that people can relate to and look up to.


CBC: Many of your supporters and individuals claiming to be close friends were quick to point out how much thought you've put into having a breast augmentation. This may be why they felt I was being harsh in encouraging you to think more about it and do more research. My only knowledge of you comes from this one post about wanting the procedure, and I only made these suggestions due to the lack of evidence suggesting you had done your homework on the subject. How much have you looked into the specifics, such as finding a doctor, determine the costs, and being aware of the risks?

Molly: I've been researching this since I was about 16, but it is only recently that I have finally made the definitive decision to go forward with it. The reason I do not talk about the Doctor and such is because I want my followers to go on this journey with me - when I go in for my consultation, I'm bringing my camera and blogging about it. I've looked into a couple of Doctors and believe I've found one I am impressed with in Tacoma, Washington. The costs will be around 4,500, but from what I understand you should set aside an extra 1,500 or so in case of any complications with scar tissue afterwards. All of these concerns and questions will be addressed in future blog entries as I truly embark upon this decision.


CBC: There are quite a few ways one can have a breast augmentation these days, including different materials besides silicone, different incision points, having the implants below and above the muscle tissue. Have you spoken with a doctor about your specific desires / made any final decisions?

Molly: As I said above, I plan on documenting the entire process. Currently, I am thinking of implants underneath the muscle, going through the nipple (the least amount of scarring). However, I will naturally speak to my Doctor about his recommendations for what I desire (an increase in cup size and roundness that looks natural). 


CBC: One commenter on my blog post made an interesting point. What you describe as grotesquely disproportionate others would recognize as unique. Having a desire to work in the entertainment industry, one would definitely want to stand out! Besides the obvious desire to feel good about yourself, do you think that having the procedure will make your look conform to a standard beauty? Is there more pressure to look a certain way because you want to be a performer? 

Molly: Of course there's more pressure to look a certain way, and I accepted that years ago when I started down this career path. I think EVERYONE is beautiful and I don't think that people need to look one way or another to be completely lovely (I, too, revel in uniqueness!), but I don't feel comfortable in my own skin and that is what is important to me. My views of myself have not been shaped by society or the entertainment industry (I was homeschooled with no real exposure to teen magazines or anything to that effect until my late teens): I know what I want and I've ALWAYS known what I wanted. I am secure in my opinions and assessments. I am not an insecure girl going TEHE BEWBZ WILL MAEK PPLZ LIEK ME MOAR. I would be doing this even if I didn't work in the entertainment industry. It's for my benefit and not anyone else's, but I just happen to work in a field where my life is under a magnifying glass, so I need to work with what I have.


Final question: In your journey of self-improvement, what is the next step for you from here? 

Molly: After the breast augmentation? Physically, I will continue to work out to get the body I had when I was in my late teens and riding horses 6 hours a day.
In my life and my career? I only seek to improve. I enjoy being a spearhead, speaking on panels about feminism in the geek world, talking about anti bullying, letting the world know it's ok to be yourself. These are the things I'm passionate about, and I will always want to use my powers for good, not evil. 
And if a teenage girl stands up at a panel I'm on to ask me if she should get breast augmentation like me? I'll tell her no, because if she even has to ask someone else's opinion then she should not do it.

2 comments:

  1. Sort of sounds like you're against getting breast implants because large breasts are supposedly preferred by society. So, you're not allowed to express yourself and make adjustments to your body... if they're largely accepted? I agree that it CAN be "a temporary band-aid for a permanent wound," but I'm not sure where you got the information that this is always the case.

    I think it's extremely similar to getting a tattoo or dying your hair, it's just more of a society standard. Why should its mainstream-ness make it an undesirable change?

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    1. "Largely accepted...."pun intended? Jokes aside, implants and tattoos are both permanent forms of expression, but I think the similarities end there. Going under the knife and going under the needle have very different risks involved, and so are the messages each one sends. Discouraging Molly from getting implants has nothing to do with them being mainstream, but has more to do with the contributing impact it will have; as more women go under the knife, it is likely the next generation of women will ask themselves "why not get implants?" instead of accepting themselves and loving their bodies. As someone who lives her life in a public manner and hopes to gain a wider audience as an entertainer, Molly has the privilege (and burden) of her choices being viewed by a lot more individuals.

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