July is Disability Awareness Month and one of the most overlooked times of the year. When cosplaying everyone has the ability to be able to come out of their reality if only for a brief while and that becomes empowering. Tara is one of our favorite differently abled cosplayers and she was good enough to tell us about her struggles and her successes in the cosplay world. We would like to introduce to you, Tara Cosplay!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi! It’s so wonderful to be able to chat with you folks at Nerbot! My name is Tara-Nicole Azarian, but most people in the nerd universe know me as Tara Cosplay! I am a lifelong nerd and a complete dork. I am a firm believer that “Awkward is the new Cool!”
What do you do for a living?
I am a disabled actress & model, a professional cosplayer, content creator and an award winning Indie film director. You read that last one correctly! Lol! In fact I have five Telly Awards for projects I’ve written and directed!
What do you do for fun?
Oooohhhhh I LOVE to read! You have to understand that reading was such a journey for me. I am very dyslexic and it took many years of one on one therapy with my mom (who is also dyslexic) before my brain made the connections needed and I was able to read! But once I could read I took off and within a year, I was reading grade levels above my age. Books have the ability to take you on a personal journey that you get to edit in your mind. You create the images in your head that coincide with the story line. It’s such a personal and liberating experience. You can go anywhere and do anything through books!
When did you get into cosplay?
Ha ha! OK, so I was THAT kid who went to the grocery store in a Cinderella dress or went to Girl Scouts in a Power Ranger costume under my Brownie vest. I honestly cannot remember a moment in my life that I didn’t dress up. My mom was also THAT mom who supported my insanity and made me some of the most amazing costumes a girl could ever want! My family are huge Disney nuts and every single trip to Disney involved me sitting down with mom, as a little girl, and detailing what characters I wanted to cosplay while going to the parks.
What are some of your favorite cosplays?
I have a few favorite characters for diversely different reasons;
1. Vegas Elvis was a dream cosplay for me. It took a couple years to get the concept down and then a full year to make it. The entire cape is hand stoned and weighs SO MUCH that it’s actually difficult for me to wear! I wore it to Comic Con is 2018 and won a Creator Award for it from the SYFY channel! I also brought it back out and wore it on the game show, “Let’s Make A Deal” and Wayne Brady gave me props on National TV for the cosplay!
2. Bobbi Ross was another dream cosplay for me. In 2019 I did a genderbend version of Bob Ross for Comic Con and it was very well received. As a disabled person, I often have segments of time where I am confined to bed rest. When that happens, sometimes the TV is your best escape from the pain / issues that you are dealing with. I found that watching Bob Ross paint helped distract me from my pain. Watching his show actually helped me through MANY times that I wanted to crawl out of my skin. So being able to pay him homage in my own way was pretty special! It was also pretty amusing and I enjoyed making so many people smile with my art.
3. My genderbend Steve from “Blue’s Clues” wraps up my top 3 favorites! Growing up, my older brother Nick watched “Blue’s Clues” like it was a religion. He had the Steve shirt, the handy dandy notebook, the peel and stick clues to put around the house…it was his thing. Sooooooo as his little sister I felt duty bound to, y’know, mess with him. It’s what little sisters do. It’s in the rule book. Anyway I wore it to Comic Con 2017 and even Steve Burns, who played Steve on the show thought it was fantastic! My brother was a good sport and appreciated the effort I put into punking him. It was so much fun!
How do you choose your characters?
Ohhhhh good question! It totally depends. Sometimes a cosplay is a dream of mine due to a personal connection with the character (All Might). Sometimes I want to mashup a couple characters because the concept just screams out the need to be created (Daddy’s Little Cookie Monster). Sometimes I cosplay a character because I am such a huge fangirl of the fandom (Misty).
Has cosplay opened up any opportunities for you?
It has! As a disabled person, every day revolves around my pain levels. What can I accomplish with the levels I have that day. Do I need to take additional medication. Can I, in fact, function that day. Do I need my wheelchair today. The list goes on. Cosplay has been such a HUGE positive space in my life as it allows me to be someone else. Someone who isn’t in pain. Someone who makes other people smile. This outlet has allowed me to find a healthy emotional space that makes me a more productive person. In turn, I am able to share my story as a disabled person and help others in the disabled community feel validated, less alone and also help change the way body image is viewed for disabled people. Ultimately, I believe that if we each do what we can to make the world a better place, in our own way, that is everything!
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced cosplaying?
Cosplay is an art form. Art is subjective. So, that being said, anyone who cosplays will find out quickly that some people will love your art and some people will absolutely hate it. There are people in the world who can only see art through their lens of what is acceptable. Those people like to create all kinds of superficial “rules” of what is and isn’t cosplay. Cosplay literally means COStume PLAY. So, by definition: anyone who dresses up in costume and reps their fandom is participating in cosplay. Cosplay is, in fact for everyone! It doesn’t matter your size, shape, gender, sexual orientation, race etc. Cosplay is ART and it’s about YOU bringing to life a character that means something to you. Absolutely NO ONE gets to tell you how to do that. Read that again. Absolutely no one gets to tell you how to create your art. As a disabled person, I know what it is like to feel that your body has failed you. It is a struggle for everyone to accept and love their bodies, but even more so for disabled people. I want to change the way people SEE someone who is disabled. I want to change the way disabled people see their own bodies. Being disabled doesn’t mean we stopped being regular people with regular wants and needs. Disabled people can and ARE sexy too! As a society we need to change how we see bodies that are different. ALL bodies are beautiful. I do a lot of pin up versions of characters because I want to promote self love. Yes, sometimes I use a wheelchair. Sometimes my legs don’t work…but hey, here I am rocking this Wonder Woman bikini…so there!
Invisible illness is a difficult thing to explain. Do you ever get tired of the comments and suggestions on how to “heal” yourself?
Ugh! Ok, great question. YES! If I had a dollar for everytime people have told me to:
- Just do yoga
- Eat kale
- Go vegan
- Try essential oils
I’d be a millionaire! July is Disability Pride Month and I have really been stepping up my activism posts to educate people about how they can be a disabled ally. First and foremost, just listen. Don’t give advice to people with disabilities you don’t have. You honestly can’t understand the challenges they face. Advice like, “do yoga” is really insulting. Secondly, please realize that most disabled people won’t “get better”. We just manage our daily conditions. So telling us to “get better soon”…is high on the YIKES level of don’t please.
What would be something you would change about convention centers to make it more differently abled friendly?
Oh my YES! First, PLEASE have more diversity in your cosplay guests. Every convention I guest at, I have SO MANY disabled people come up to my booth and thank me for being there. Thank me for speaking openly and honestly about being disabled. Thank me for listening to them about what they are going through. Disabled people are the biggest minority in the world and honestly we are also the most invisible. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) wasn’t even a thing until 1990. To say we feel forgotten by society on so many levels, especially on accessibility, is an understatement. Also, when you have disabled guests, put them in an end booth close to a restroom. It’s easier to maneuver mobility aids in and out of corner / end booths and unfortunately there are usually only one or two disabled restroom stalls (which people use to change in at cons – don’t be that person) so it takes us longer to be able to get into a stall we can use. So being close by is helpful!
Does how you’re feeling affect how you take your cosplay photos? Have you had to create your own poses to adjust to sitting in a wheelchair?
Sometimes my health actually prevents me from being able to shoot. Which is difficult to accept. I still have problems accepting my body’s limits. Forgive me for that, I’m a work in progress. What I have been able to come up with, that works for me, is a combination of sitting and lying down poses that I can do on days where I simply can’t stand. My mom is a photographer, so I have the advantage of being able to get up and say, “hey I feel great today” and shoot a set with her or tell her, “hey I am not able to stand today” and she sets up a fur rug display for us to shoot on. We take breaks around what my body can handle. It took awhile for me to relearn angles for sitting and reclining poses, but now we’re a well oiled team!
How do you feel about the quality of the images? Do you get comments on them that are upsetting? What would you say to those people?
I work mostly with my mom and a handful of other amazing photographers, like James Rulison, who are basically family (by choice) to me. Anyone I work with has to understand my physical limitations and be open to creative / non traditional ways of shooting. I honestly love the art we produce. I get a lot of positive comments from people thanking me for helping them see that there are ways they too can create beautiful images even with their disabilities. Unfortunately, I also get the occasional creep that tells me that I shouldn’t take photos without my wheelchair because at first they thought I was “normal”. Ummmm. No. Just don’t be that person. I AM normal. I am MY normal.
Do you have any advice on how people should treat cosplayers in general? Any requests about those who comment on illness and try to “fix” it?
Honestly, I would like to see the nerd community just show unconditional love to it’s own members. We are a group who is made up of people that mainstream society has traditionally shunned. Why on Earth is there so much infighting / gatekeeping in our community? Putting down your fellow nerds because they don’t meet your particular “rule set” of nerdom is bananas. Let people be who they are. You don’t have to like their art or their fandom, but you ALSO don’t have to be mean to them. You CAN just let them enjoy themselves. That’s a thing. Tolerance is a beautiful thing. Be the reason someone is proud to be a nerd!
Is there anything else you would like the cosplay community to consider in regards to dealing with an invisible illness? What can people do to be more caring in a way that is helpful to you/others?
So, in case there are people that don’t understand the term, “invisible illness” it is: an umbrella term for any medical condition that isn’t easily visible to others. This includes chronic physical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, Lupus, POTS, EDS, ME, MCAS and others — but also mental illnesses. Illnesses and disabilities are also different. You can have an illness but be functional and not disabled. “A person is considered to have a disability if he or she has difficulty performing certain functions (seeing, hearing, talking, walking, climbing stairs and lifting and carrying), or has difficulty performing activities of daily living, or has difficulty with certain social roles (doing school work for children, working at a job and around the house for adults)” *source ADA* In my case I have a number of disabilities.
I have Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, Hypermobility and Connective Tissue Disorder, Degenerative Disc Disease, Arthritis in my spine, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Degenerative Disc Disease, Fibromyalgia, Asthma and Scoliosis (just to name a few). Sometimes I have good days. About 60% of the time I need my wheelchair. I do not have the endurance that an abled person has. Everything I do takes about 25 times more effort for me than for an abled bodied person. So what I would ask is that abled people be understanding of your disabled friends. We can’t stay out as late, we can’t always enter the same buildings as abled people, we often have to go THE LONG WAY around a building to get in / out…wait for us. Sometimes we make plans and have to cancel for health reasons…love us through it. Just be there. xxoo
You can follow Tara Cosplay by clicking on the links below!