This is my friend Lara. We were dorm mates at BYU, and with our two other roommates, did EVERYTHING together. Now she’s a famous cosplayer, has a thriving costume business, and has started a charity called Heartfelt Heroes, which brings superheroes, capes and hope to children at hospitals, shelters, and schools in the Las Vegas area. She’s also an LDS mom of two teenagers. I was able to travel to Vegas recently (on my husband’s business trip without the kids—hallelujah!), and decided to interview her. Admittedly, I’m not trying to be Barbara Walters here. There are no “gotcha” questions, and I didn’t put her in the hot seat. This is a look into the world of a very non-traditional Mormon woman, who uses her unique talents to serve others. This is a women who takes what she’s been given, warts and all (metaphorically speaking), and does the best she can with it. (Yes, I’m biased!) Read a little, and tell me you wouldn’t want to put on a costume and hang out with her. Or just go get pedicures (which is what we did.)
So tell me how you got started with all of this. I know you first started by just dressing up as Wonder Woman on the Strip, and people would take their pictures with you . . .
Lara: Right, so, one day, I saw all these characters on the Strip in costume, and I just asked them what it was, and they said they were taking photos for tips. So I said to my sister-in-law, “Hey, we should try this. Come down for a weekend, I’ll make me a Wonder Woman costume, and you a Shera, and let’s just go on the Strip, and let’s see what happens.” Just for a joke.
So we did, and, it was crazy. Like we didn’t even ask for tips, and we brought in $125 each, an hour! We were stuffing money down our boots, down our tops, and so of course, I’m like, “Well, I’m gonna do this!” Cause we needed some extra money, “I’m like, this is easy peesy cake,” and it wasn’t long before I thought, “You know, I should do something with this.” Like visit kids in the hospital, or something.
So I started visiting kids—gosh it’s been like 4 years—and I still kinda did the Strip thing, then it got really sketchy and kinda gross. It wasn’t long before the luster of “This is so fun!” turned into, “This is not fun.” Because the Strip is kind of a gross place. I didn’t love it.
So I started visiting kids in hospitals. So then I thought, “Maybe someone would want to buy my costumes.” So I started the costume business 3 years ago, and we’ve sold… like thousands, over 1200 just Wonder Woman in 11 different countries, in just 3 years. So that’s like, how many a day. I have employees now, obviously, and my sister manages the kids’ line, so then the costume business started.
I was still visiting kids, visiting shelters, reading books in schools, so about 2.5 years ago, my visiting teaching partner, who wanted to start dressing up too, pushed me to start Heartfelt Heroes, which is a legit, 501C3. But that’s when we started the paperwork. Because people wanted to like, give me money and stuff, and I wasn’t comfortable—I wanted everything to be right if I was going to be accepting donations. So we went through the process, which is very annoying, by the way, and you have to pay lots of money.
How is your vocation typically received by your LDS community, specifically other LDS women? I imagine most LDS women would consider your costumes immodest because they don’t cover the temple garment. How have you reconciled this personally? What went into that decision? What is your perspective on modesty?
Lara: The funny thing is, I do all this charity work, I run a nonprofit, so everyone who’s not a member of the church thinks I’m a saint. And they have this perspective that Mormons are amazing, like as a . . . not as a diplomat, but as a representative of the church, it’s like, “Mormons are so great, Mormons are this,” I’m like, you know, wholesome, the whole thing . . . but to members of the church—not so much.
And I’ve been doing this for 4 years, and in the beginning it was really bad. Women were always talking behind my back, I was excluded from things, I had a sister who went on this campaign—I’d never spoken to her—but she would message other ladies saying that I was “running around town in my lingerie,” and at one point in Relief Society, when we were discussing modesty, stood up and said: “Taking off our garments to wear immodest clothing is a sin.” And I, of course, got up crying, and ran out. [Laughs.]
Liz: Wow. [Laughs]. Of course, because, “you’re talking about ME.”
Lara: And I’d never seen anything like that before in Relief Society in my life. Like never. And so, I’ve had a couple of those experiences, and I really kinda became a little reclusive at church, I guess, and assumed everyone was judging me, which turned out not to be true. After this, tons of women rallied, I had like baked goods on my doorstep, reaching out to me.
And it’s just gotten better. In fact, on Saturday, for our Stake Women’s Conference, they approached me about doing a big charity event. We had a hundred women come and make capes, and at the end, because we didn’t finish it, and we had all this fabric, the Stake President said he wanted to do a project with the Stake Council, Stake Young Men, Stake Elder’s Quorum, and they wanted to finish the capes for me.
So that’s been a HUGE turnaround. And maybe it just took people a while to come around . . . . And it’s hard because, am I wearing my garments when I’m in costume? No. . . Never. Not ever. So, if you’re gonna go black and white… yeah. I had a temple recommend interview, like maybe a year ago, and the guy knew what I do because his daughter comes with me all the time and volunteers, I always get the young women involved, and he also knows that I do it professionally and go to Comicons, it’s not like I just do charity, and I make immodest clothing. And he asked the question about garments, and I said, “Well, I’m obviously not wearing them [all the time], as you know,” and I asked him about it. And it was really cool what he said. He said, that he felt like I was making a difference in a whole community, area—Comicons, Nerd-dom—all these places where Mormons aren’t usually. You know, there’s not any other professional Cosplayers who are Mormon. And, he felt like that was doing way more, that it outweighed what I necessarily was wearing. You know, that’s what Wonder Woman wears.
Liz: Right, because you’re covenanting to give your life to serve God, and that’s what you do through service.
Lara: And he of course compares it to basketball players, and theater people. You know he brought up Donny Osmond and Marie Osmond on the Strip [laughs], because I guess they wear things that don’t require garments [laughing], which of course, I’m definitely not on that level. But it’s true, I feel like I’ve made beyond just the charity work, because I do charity work on a weekly basis, but just the people that I interact with as a business, and as a cosplayer, and I always tell people—because I don’t do stuff on Sunday—you know, and they’re like “why?” And I say, “I have church. I’m Mormon.” And it starts this whole conversation, I guess you could call it justification, if you’re that type of person, but for me…I feel like the goods outweigh the bad. I mean, I’m not posing naked.
Liz: And it’s true, you have to think about the big picture, and the purpose of what you’re doing. I do feel like we get stuck on a lot of these little rules that we have in our culture, and that’s what we focus on. It’s the spirit of the law vs. letter of the law, that we totally forget what the spirit of the law is.
Lara: Well, after that girl made that statement, because it was a really big deal in the ward, like all the women were like “Oh my gosh,” I think 5 people went to the bishop before church was even over, like “This just happened.” So he came in the next Sunday, and of course that lady didn’t show, because he’d called her in, and she was embarrassed, but he talked about modesty and garments, and he said that taking them off to do a specific event, and then putting them right back on, that’s ok. But he compared it to the women that go to the gym all day, and are in their exercise clothes—which, I do do sometimes, I won’t lie, I’m not the best at that [laugh]— but there are so many other ways that people violate wearing their garments that is completely inappropriate, to point fingers at someone else, because you aren’t wearing them either, you just think that it’s different, but you’re at the grocery store in running shorts and a tank top, and you’re telling me that’s better than her helping kids in a hospital?
So, I thought that was pretty good. And he said “not judging” is way more important than wearing your garments.
Liz: Yeah, that’s other people’s business. That’s their personal covenants and commitments, and it’s not your business.
Lara: I’ll have to, on judgment day, walk in front of Heavenly Father in my costume [laughing] and stand before him, and just be like, “Ok, well, here you go.” [laughing] Like, no one else is gonna have to do that, for sure. But I will, so I guess it’s up to me. Can you see that on judgment day?
Liz: Yeah, Viva Wonder Woman!!
Lara: So, I’ve had some really, really ugly things, and the irony is, I know another big cosplayer, and he’s Mormon, and he’s a man. He does He-man. And you know He-man—he’s running around in fur underwear, with is a little shield on his chest—muscles, abs, thighs, the whole thing—he does NOT get the backlash like I do. And I asked him, and he says he’s never had that. And people even joke at church, like “Your muscles!” But no one comes up to me and says anything—I mean…
Liz: Yeah, they’re probably not gonna come up and say “What a hot bod” [laughing].
Lara: Yeah, true. But, I swear, he could show up in a banana hammock and no one would care! [laughing]. But I show a shoulder, and it’s like [GASP!] So it is the irony that people who are not members of the church think I’m awesome, and yet in the church, maybe not so much now, but in the past, I was associated with like, a harlot, like I had a big scarlet letter. I mean, I know some women in the ward probably didn’t care, because they have their own things to worry about, but . . .
Liz: But it only takes a few.
Lara: Right, and I just didn’t want to talk in church, I didn’t want to stand up in front of anybody, because I just didn’t know—anyways, it was really hurtful.
Lara: One of the other things that guy said in the interview, because I work with his daughter, and I asked him, “Is it stressful to you as a parent, that I’m wearing that in front of your kid?” And he said, “No, because she’s doing all this charity work with you, and she looks up to you.” And as a women, I think, “I would want my daughter to look up to someone who is actively engaged in service.”
So I know you have at times struggled with depression. Especially when your kids were young, years ago. I know they’re teenagers now. How has doing Viva impacted that, or did it motivate you in some way—how does this impact your health?
Well, the way it plays out with Viva, is that because she requires tons of energy, and she’s in costume. She’s always performing, and you can’t be depressed when you’re in costume. So, it’s really helped me. Christian and I always say that we think it was a real blessing, because not only am I busy all the time, because I don’t have time to self-destruct, because of the charity, it’s a constant thing, plus you’re focused on other people, but just being in costume, and being in front of everybody, it’s like—I don’t have time to be depressed. She is constantly doing stuff.
And I still have really hard times, it’s like a daily battle, but it’ll be like, 10 people need me to be Wonder Woman, and I can’t even catch my breath, and I think it’s definitely a tender mercy.
And the other thing I wish I could say to people who judge me for being in costume, is that, “if you only knew what this does for me on a personal, mental level,” you wouldn’t even think that. Like, I legitimately think that it’s a blessing from God. Like, legitimately. So, I think I’ll be fine when I show up on Judgment Day. [Laughs.]
Liz: [laughs] Yes! Because, like with what you were given, this is the absolute best way you can live your life.
Lara: Yeah, it keeps me wanting to be healthy, and stay in shape, because I have to stand out in front of people in basically a playboy bunny outfit, minus the ears and the cotton ball, you know what I mean?
[Since this interview, a month ago, Lara started a new Heartfelt Hope initiative to help bring awareness to those who struggle with depression. Here’s her post from Sept. 12:
DEPRESSION SUCKS and it is something several of us will face. I know I have and it’s a TERRIBLE and lonely feeling.
Besides my personal experiences, it is also close to my heart because at the beginning of this year my dear friend Harry took his own life.
Right before SDCC [San Diego Comic Con], I realized I am still very upset and haunted by this tragic event. I know I could have done more. Sure it may not have changed the final outcome but maybe I could have made a difference and Harry I would still be laughing, eating pizza and watching Justice League cartoons.
The biggest lie in depression is thinking you are all alone because you aren’t!
We at Heartfelt Heroes want to do our part to let anyone suffering from this debilitating illness know that you are not alone! We want to be a voice of positivity and an advocate for those in difficult situations.
We plan to help out in our local community and partner with mental illness programs.
We also are starting HEARTFELT HOPE posts! Every Tuesday we will make a post with positive tips and ideas to combat depression filled with rainbows and sunshine and possibly unicorns ?!
And we would love to hear from you!! If you have any ideas or suggestions on how we can get involved or for our weekly posts, please message us on the Heartfelt Heroes page.
**PLEASE SHARE THIS POST!**
Together we can make a difference even if it’s just for one person… And that will make my heart very happy! <3 <3 <3
(I dedicate the Heartfelt Hope initiative to my friend… I miss you Harry <3 )
When you’re in costume, it’s easy to be in that role and promote yourself, because it’s not really promoting Lara, . . . do you have personal fears? What are the things you have to overcome in order to do that?
Lara: Well it’s funny because when I’m Lara, like in normal clothes—super self-conscious. Like, just saying a prayer in church, in sacrament, makes me want to die. I say three sentences, and my heart’s racing, I’m shaking, but you stick me in a corset and star-spangled panties, and I will stand in front of 200,000 people and be just fine, it’s the weirdest thing ever, but I literally become her. Sometimes on Sunday, I have to imagine myself in costume, and tell myself, “be confident.” And it’s funny because it’s an intimidating costume, it’s literally a swimsuit, and yet I’m totally there, I get filmed all the time—but me as a person, super insecure. Sort of like a real superhero, like the mild-mannered, secret identity who is so shy and quiet, but the super hero is—you assume this diva that is not Lara. At all. [laughs] I would probably feel more comfortable being in costume at the podium, giving a talk, than being in a dress [laughing].
What kind of goals do you have with your charity? Do you have a benchmark, or are you just going with it?
Lara: Well, so I’ve run it pretty much by myself, I have my friend who help, but it’s been hard, we do so much charity work for so many people. My goal is to get some more people involved to help so I don’t have to always be the one in costume. Like I’ll still go, but I don’t literally have to be in this full costume—it’s hard because I’m really careful about who I bring in, because it’s a charity, working with kids, and of course I can’t get any Mormons who want to do it, because it’s so scandalous [laughs], so I gotta meet all these other people, and really get—not that non-Mormons are not good enough, but I just don’t have the common background, you don’t know their background. So I started doing this Star Wars—like, Lucasfilm and Disney have these costume clubs all over the world, and they do charity. You have to be screen accurate, and it’s huge. They have the bad guys, which are called the 501 first, and then you have the good guys called the Rebel Legion. And I bumped into some of these guys, and, I know being Wonder Woman sounds awesome, but it does get old [laughs], so I said, “I wanna be Princess Leia,” so I’m certified, screen-accurate Princess Leia. Like my costume, I had to get every metal piece, like right to the exact—but as part of that, I’ve been able to do charity work with them, and they’re a HUGE organization, and now they are all kind of making superhero costumes, so they can go over, so that was like a HUGE blessing. So I can do Star Wars with them, and now they’re like all kind of like trickling over into super heroes. And it’s been awesome, because I know these people are not crazy [laughs], they know have to make a nice costume. Because I don’t want someone in like a Party City, immodest—I know I’m using the word “immodest”—but like immodest by the world’s standards—
Liz: Right, it’s not just about revealing your skin, it’s about who you are as a person, and what you’re trying to represent. You never know if someone is dressing like that because they really want to show off their body, or if they’re trying to play a role.
Lara: Well, there are some Wonder Woman costumes, that you would NOT wear to children’s hospitals [laughs]. It’s funny that you could take it to that level. But yeah, nice, stable, real people, who have real jobs, they costume well, and they get the charity thing. You don’t get paid to be in these groups, it’s all volunteer, so that’s been a huge blessing, to have that. And that’s just been in the last, just this last calendar year. So that’s been opening other doors to other people that I’ve met, so that’s a goal.
At one point, very soon, I’m not going to be able to pull off being Wonder Woman. [laughs]. I turn 40 this year. Let’s be real with ourselves—[laughs]
Liz: Yeah, Grandma Bailey as Wonder Woman—
Lara: [laughing]—there’s only so much botox can handle—and so at some point, I’m gonna just be the admin of the charity, and have other younger people dressing up and doing things, so I would like to get to that point where it’s just not always Wonder Woman, there are other people. Because I do start thinking about what’s gonna happen when the wrinkles set in, it’s gonna be a hard transition—
Liz:—because that’s your thing right now, that is keeping you together, kind of—
Lara: Yeah, and I turn 40, which is not the end of the world, but it’s getting close, you know what I mean? Like, I can’t imagine being 50 and being Wonder Woman. So, something in the next 10 years is gonna give. And i can see where all these like professional athletes go into this depression—
Liz:—yeah, like Michael Phelps, all these Olympic athletes—you do this, and now, what are you gonna do?
Lara: Yeah. It’s like a huge high. I love it. I’ve loved dressing up my whole life. Like, doing costumes is huge. So to be able to dress up all the time, make these costumes, be the center of attention, be treated like a rockstar, that’s a hard thing to give up. I mean, I can still do charity from behind the scenes, I can still do costumes and still have a business, but that’s gonna be really, really hard. You’ll need to interview me then. [laughs] It will be a whole different story then. Because most people get into this younger, like in their 20s. But I was making babies, and it was different. They don’t have kids.
So that’s my next question—how do you and Christian take care of your family? How do you divide up roles, how do you do that with doing Viva Wonder Woman and other things?
Lara: Well, lucky for me, my husband is the most supportive, nicest person ever, so he—it’s true, I could not do everything I do without him supporting me, because he does do most of the cleaning, laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, packing school lunches. So you’re like, “so what does she do?” [laughs], that’s the big question.
But financially, I bring in a lot of money, which definitely contributes to the family. But, so we just have very different roles. He’s really good at the actual domestic stuff, but I’m really good at like talking to the kids, hanging out with the kids. I think the whole—of course my kids love superheroes, being Wonder Woman, they’re always showing it off to their friends, and it makes me like “cool”, I’m the cool mom. So they talk to me, and we do a lot of things, and they share things that I don’t think we would if I didn’t like the exact same stuff they did. So when you’re mom has a Captain America shield, and a Thor helmet, you want to hang out with that mom. So I think that helps, but—I legitimately could not do what I do without Christian. So I lucked out for sure. He’s the real superhero. [laughs]
Liz: So has that always been that way? At what point did you realize that you had to reimagine who takes care of what?
Lara: Well, I was raised with the idea that whatever women can do, men can do too. So I was never the conventional domestic goddess. Ever. But obviously, when I was home with the little kids, and I didn’t have a job, I did a lot more. I did the cooking and cleaning until I kind of branched out to this, and then my husband filled in some of the gaps so we could make it work. And if you ask him, he knows it makes me happy. He knows that doing these things, between the charity work and everything else, and making my own money, having my own identity, is really a positive, positive thing for me. And so I don’t think it’s like a burden for him to pick up some of the other things.
Yesterday was a good example. It was the first day of school, which is a really big day at the house, and I had made a costume for a little girl who was caught in a hit-and run on Halloween last year, who’s in a wheelchair and has a lot of disabilities, and the news cameras were there recording her first day of school, and they wanted me to come and give her this Wonder Woman costume. Of course that meant that I was really going to be juggling things, I could see the kids off, but I couldn’t pack lunches or any of that, so Christian just stepped in and did it. It wasn’t even a question at all, because obviously what I was doing was important too, on a different level so he just fills in I guess.
For more info about Lara’s cosplay or costumes or charity, visit her Etsy shop, www.vivaww.com, or FB pages: Viva WW Cosplay, or Heartfelt Heroes, or Heartfelt Hopes. You can also support Heartfelt Heroes by donating through Amazon Smile. The kids will love you for it 🙂