Meet Tirzah Lopez, Miss Netherlands 2022

Back in June of 2022, IZ Adaptive CEO, Benedict Marsh sat down with this year's Miss Wheelchair World representative for the Netherlands, Tirzah Lopez.

Tirzah puts out a ton of content, and has been working hard growing her platforms and sharing information about life as a wheelchair user, and raising awareness around disability. She teaches us that life can change in a split second, and you have to make the best of it.
In 2016, Tirzah lost her ability to walk after a ski accident. On her Instagram, she shares her life on wheels - Tirzah continues to model, exercise and challenge herself. 

As a role/roll model and disability advocate she is an example to many. Her ambitions are to create inclusive products using the principles of universal design so that they work for everybody, and to continue creating content to set an example and represent the disabled community in a fashionable way. 

Benedict:

What happened on December 3rd, 2021?

Tirzah:

I got confirmation that I could represent the Netherlands in the Miss Wheelchair World 2022 competition. So that was exciting.

Benedict:

And had you applied for that?

Tirzah:

Yes. They first approached me two months before that and they asked me if I was interested and I told them, yeah, sure. I wanted to participate in the first edition, but they already had someone representing my country. So, unfortunately I had to wait, and this time I said, yeah, sure! I would be honored! So they sent me a whole bunch of emails and I had to do something like an audition. You have to send in pictures and videos about yourself. I did that and then I just had to wait until they announced the finalists for this year. 

Benedict:

And when was the first edition?

Tirzah:

It was in 2017. That was the first time the event was being held and it was in Poland, in Warsaw. And this year it's going to be in Mexico.

Felina Tiger Tirzah Lopez on being miss netherlands for miss wheelchair world

Benedict:

Amazing. And what did you have to do for your audition?

Tirzah:

It was a photoshoot and also a video explaining what your mission is. You have to think about what you're going to do if you win. You have to go be a Miss Wheelchair World for one year and you have to think about what your goal is, and what you want to achieve with that. So you just have to send an essay and a video explaining that.

Benedict:

Are you allowed to share what your mission and goal is if you win Miss 

Wheelchair World 2022, or does that have to be saved for the actual event?

Tirzah:

My focus was just to be the first Miss Wheelchair World, Netherlands, of course.In my country, I experienced not being taken seriously by companies when I was looking for a job. So, it's about representation. For me, that's very important because I see there's a lack here in my country. Within the media, there's basically none and especially [when it comes to] women, because there are men - like Paralympic athletes - who are being asked to be on talk shows, for example, or for general interviews in the media, but they're [rarely] women out there. To me, that’s strange. So that is one goal: just to have a face for the disabled female part of the community.


And then also health. I have a plan in mind where I start a platform that discusses health, and also shows videos about how you can do simple exercises at home, because a lot of people with a disability cannot afford to go to a gym, or they don't really have the confidence to go out there to go to a regular gym. And there are special centers especially designed for people with disabilities, but they're so expensive. It's all private and I couldn't afford it, and I'm working. Sothey’re only for rich people. And I think there's a big gap there. Like the people who live off benefits, there's a big gap there between people who can afford it and people who can’t. So, to me, the health part - like how to eat healthy when you're in a wheelchair, or how to be active - that's something I would like to shine a light on and do something with.

Benedict:

How is eating healthy different for a wheelchair user than someone who's not a wheelchair user?

Tirzah:

There are many differences, because if you cannot walk, your muscles will disappear in your legs, for example. So there it has to do a lot with the blood flow with all of your arteries and things. It's easier to get health issues and you're more at risk for different diseases and cancers. And so it's very important to adapt your diets, but a lot of people don't know this. So it's also about sharing this knowledge about food and what you can do, because with a few easy steps, you can improve your life. I want to make a link between people who write books about it or share videos, but to link it more with the community, because I see that it's not happening right now.

Benedict:

What did it mean for you to be invited to participate at the Miss Wheelchair World 2022?

Tirzah:

Well, you feel a little bit more acknowledged for the work that you're doing, because I've been active since I got my injury. It was six months after [my injury] when I uploaded my first video on YouTube - just a Q & A - because people have so many questions and not only people that are disabled, but also the people surrounding people who have disabilities i.e. caregivers and such. 

Benedict:

When was that first video uploaded?

Tirzah:

I think 2017. Before that, I was sharing some stuff on my Facebook, but that was only [for] my friends and family. From there, I just saw that people found it very helpful. So, I decided to share it more on my Instagram, grow my platform, post my YouTube videos and do whatever I could. I put a lot of work into that. I did everything myself. I had no help, and to be open like that, you are putting yourself out there: you're vulnerable and you don't know who's on the internet and can watch it. But the goal was to help others and also, in a way, to self-help because you're always reflecting on yourself. So that combination worked. And I think that it was just nice to be recognized.

Benedict:

Yeah. And you do share very vulnerably in your YouTube videos, your blog posts, your social media content around a number of topics, including sexuality and dating, life as a wheelchair user, diversity, equality, employment - just to name a few - and you certainly are very passionate about all those things. What kind of responses do you get from both people living with disabilities and people not living with disabilities to your content?

Tirzah:

Very different reactions. I guess the people who are not positive tend to leave me alone, so that's good so far. But I’ve had emails from CEOs who somehow came across my blog and they were like, “Whoa, I never knew this. Like can I hire people like you? How can I do that?” But, it's international because [I post in] English. So people feel like, “Oh, you must be from America or something.” So, sometimes I get difficult questions that I cannot answer because in every country it's different [when it comes to] regulations, how to hire disabled people, etc. But it's good to have these conversations to get people thinking. So that's positive. And also disabled individuals, mostly young women, come across my page and they're like, “Oh, I never knew I could do this. How did you start to do this?” Or, “I need some help with building confidence. Can you share your journey because maybe it can help inspire me.” And that's nice because, with a few conversations - sometimes it's just a chat for a few days or months - you can see that it helps people just because you're connecting. And it's nice to know that you're not alone. I think that's a big part of it. To have these examples is very important to also help discover new possibilities.

Benedict:

Do you think humans share vulnerability enough with each other? Some individuals share very vulnerably. Some individuals perhaps share too much information. But just generally speaking - I know it's always tough to speak in broad terms and, of course, every culture is different too - but do you think, from what you see, that people share openly enough? If not enough, do you think we need to do that more? Is that important?

Tirzah:

Yes, it's definitely important. Because we're all human, we can all relate. Most people can relate to feelings and things you're going through and if we're not sharing, or we only share our ups - like our holidays and the great things happening, which we see in social media a lot - it's just not a realistic view of the world, and that's dangerous because people get depressed by comparing themselves. I think it's good to be vulnerable, but not pushy. Don't throw out your whole life story. I experience that myself. If I'm waiting somewhere outside the store, or in a bus, people come to me and they just pour their soul out without me asking for it. It's just because they see a disabled person - you can see my disability; it’s very visible - so people feel free to also show their vulnerability. Sometimes it leads to a beautiful conversation, but I'm not asking for this. Sometimes I feel like a psychologist or something because it's very difficult if people come [at me] with very big things. But it's good to share. I'm not going to close down on these people and be like, “Oh, you know, leave your problems to yourself,” because, apparently, there's a need for it. So they feel that they have to share something or they felt alone for a long time and now they see the opportunity. I think it's important that we do it more often for sure. But it's not easy. It's very difficult.

Benedict:

It is very difficult. Do you know Brene Brown's work?

Tirzah:

No.

Benedict:

She does a lot of work around shame and vulnerability and how there's power in vulnerability, and also how you cannot be courageous without being vulnerable. Those two things go hand in hand. We have the archetypal image of a warrior going into battle as being brave and courageous, and they are brave and courageous because they're making their bodies vulnerable to death, essentially. She has a really incredible Ted Talks, and she's put out some great books. I totally agree with you, but it's always interesting to hear what people think. Sometimes people think that somehow it's not a good thing.

So, the Miss Wheelchair World was started by The Only One Foundation. And, as you said, the first one was in 2017. One of the missions of Miss Wheelchair World is to help change how people with disabilities are perceived in the world and the narrative around disabilities. How do you think having a beauty pageant specifically involving wheelchair users helps contribute to that? And, before you answer that, I realize that it may seem obvious to some, but to many it's not; it doesn't even come into their awareness.

Tirzah:

I know. I posted on LinkedIn that I was going to participate and I got a lot of reactions. There were a couple that were like, “Why don't you participate in a “normal” pageant?” But if I participate in a “normal” pageant, I will be the only wheelchair user. And I know that Miss Wheelchair USA, I think she did that. Or was it Australia? I'm not sure, but there was a lady who did that. But, the thing is, you cannot compare a disabled person to an abled person. The wheelchair user will never win like that, or [they] will get the pity prize and you don't want that. I think it's good to have a pageant where there's somehow some equality, like you're all in a wheelchair. So that's a good base. A lot of people don't see it because they think that disability has nothing to do with beauty. As in, you cannot be beautiful if you're disabled. The most common thing that I think women hear is “you're too pretty to be in a wheelchair” or “you're too pretty to be disabled.” But disability doesn't discriminate. It could happen to anyone and there's such a stigma or taboo.

Benedict:

People are, people are often shocked to hear that these kinds of things are said.

Tirzah:

Yes.

Benedict:

And, and I don't mean the people that they're said to - who can also be shocked, too - but when people hear from people with disabilities that those kinds of comments are made . . .

Tirzah:

Exactly. And, and they don't believe you unless . . . like yesterday I was in Amsterdam, I told one of my friends that I haven't seen in a while - her sister was with her - and we were talking about this, how people approach me sometimes. And they were like, sure, whatever. But then it happened on the spot. Then my friend realized what kind of situations I get into without being asked randomly. And then she looked at me and said, “Oh, now I get what you mean.” People cannot understand it until they experience it. Sometimes it's hard to explain as well. But there are always people out there who will say hurtful things, or things they don't mean, or who feel, I don't know, entitled to . . . and it's not like you're always there with your camera recording everything so that you have proof, right?

Benedict:

So that you can cancel that person forever! <laughs>

Tirzah:

Exactly. 

Felina Tiger Tirzah Lopez on fashion for wheelchair users

Benedict:

You were saying that having a pageant that includes everybody using a wheelchair creates equality. How do you think that helps then contribute to changing the narrative around people with disabilities and the global perspective on people with disabilities?

Tirzah:

I think if you get a title or you're in such a big event, internationally, the participants will get some exposure, whether it's media or within the community, and that gives you a voice in a way. I think that it gives women [who use] wheelchairs a voice for just a short time, to shine a light on us - all of us. It creates value. And I think that's what we need. Disabled people have value, but a lot of people don't see it, and by organizing such an event and everything that goes along with it, the media attention could really uplift disabled women and the perception of people with a disability in general; that we are not just sad people, and we can also look beautiful in dresses, and that people can see that’s possible. And if we can show the world that we can do that too, just like any other abled pageant, I think we're just going to be taken a little bit more seriously and people hopefully see that we matter and that we can participate. So, I think it's a step towards inclusion, but we're not there, yet. I mean, I get why people say, “You should be able to participate in a pageant where you're among walkers or non-disabled people,” but I think that society and the world's not ready for that yet. It's going to take a few steps and this is the next step.

Benedict:

Yeah. Until the actual prejudice is not there. It reminds me of one of our models, Chris Channon said to me once as a comment on the world, generally speaking, and on inclusion, “You know, don't just include me. Value my disability.” Like actually value the disability itself and celebrate the disability itself for its unique contribution to the world and what that adds to me as an individual and therefore my individual gifts and story.

Tirzah:

That’s a beautiful way to see it.


Benedict:

That was very powerful. It was a powerful distinction to make.

Tirzah:

That's the short summary of what I was trying to say.

Benedict:

Yeah. It, it really is. It was beautifully said. And we are seeing a lot more diversity and inclusion in the world in the fashion industry and in the film industry. But there is, as you said, clearly, still a lot of work to be done. How does representation impact you personally? How has it impacted you personally, as far as some of the changes we've seen in the last few years?

Tirzah:

When I became injured five years ago, if I Googled something, there were just a few influencers - maybe three that were pretty big. And now their platforms have grown more. So, for people like me who were newly injured or disabled in another way, there were not a lot of examples, and that's hard because you feel very alone. And for me, it was important to find other women to look up to; to have examples for what is still possible. Because if you're in a situation like that, the world feels like it's pressing against you, like there's not much left of you, and you have to rebuild your whole self. And so it's good to find hope in other people's stories, and what they've accomplished. 

When I was in rehab, I was just laying there in the hospital bed and I was just Googling. I needed examples. I needed to know what wheelchair users’ houses look like. I needed to know what they were wearing. I wanted to know what they did for hobbies. I just wanted to know everything and I couldn't find much. And I was like, “Okay, that's not good. Why isn't there any of this information?” So, I thought, if it's not there, I need to contribute. So that's why from the beginning I started to share my own story because if there's nothing out there, we cannot [improve] everything. There was a gap and I was trying to fill it.

Benedict:

Yeah. If the information isn't being provided, if the education is not being provided, if it's not all being shared, then it's not going to be expanded upon and improved upon.

Tirzah:

Yes, exactly.

Benedict:

And that gap won't be filled in.

Tirzah:

Yes.



Benedict:

On the Miss Wheelchair World website, they talk about how a wheelchair is, “something additional to your personality.” How do you use your wheelchair to express yourself, if at all and how do you incorporate fashion into that?

Tirzah:

The wheelchair is very out there. You cannot avoid it. It’s very visible. So, I like black wheelchairs because they don't really distract me. If I was sitting in a wheelchair with gold or white, it was even more visible. So that's why I chose a black one. Also, my clothing, like the colors, you know, they don't mismatch [with the wheelchair]. So, for me it was a very fashionable choice to go for black. I have also met a lot of people who try every color but, the thing is, wheelchairs are pretty expensive. It's not like you have 10 of them at home. They're not accessories. So, that's the hard part. I wish I could have them in all colors or just switch it like that because it is what you communicate to the world in a way, because that's what you see. So, I think about my wheelchair. Sometimes it's like, “Okay, this doesn't look good in my wheelchair.” My fashion choices are adapted to my situation and the wheelchair, which I'm sitting in. It's a combination. 

Benedict:

Do you adapt your own clothes?

Tirzah:

I do have a sewing sheet, which I have to start using very soon, but it's not like I’ve adapted them or reconstructed them or anything. I do think about it if I go buy new things.

Benedict:

Right.

Tirzah:

It's always there.

Benedict:

What are some things that you personally really like to think about other than fit - we always talk about fit at IZ Adaptive, and the importance of following the line of a seated body, which, of course, most clothing companies do not do - are there things that you have found really work for you when styling yourself that really work with a wheelchair that would be helpful to other people?

Tirzah:

Yeah. It really also depends on your body type, of course. For me, it's important that you try to make sure that you look like a body because if you wear something very baggy, the form of your body tends to disappear. And I guess it's also different for women and men. I try to look for feminine styles, in a way, to accentuate the female form.

If you're sitting, to me, it looks prettier. It's also personal, right? It's personal. I do think baggy clothes are very easy to move in, like sweaters, and also easy to pull on. So, I do understand. I have those days, too: dressing nicely with tights and everything - it's a lot of work. Wearing a nice dress and trying to go to the bathroom and back, it takes a lot of energy. I am always [thinking] in the back of my mind, “Okay, what's my energy level today? Where am I going?” All of those things are going to [affect] the decision. What am I going to wear? My favorite thing was jeans before my accident. I was a denim girl. But then I got into the hospital and they told me, “You cannot wear jeans because they have pockets and they have thick seams and you're going to get injured and it's going to be hard to pull on.” So, I put everything in a bag and gave it to my sister. I'm like, “Yeah, I cannot wear this anymore.” So your style changes as well.

It was a totally new discovery to [find out] what works. And sometimes you come across styles that work better. For example, if your sleeves are too long and they tend to go on your wheelchair and they get dirty, it's not very practical. I think movement is very important. That's why I go for tops with a little bit of space in the sleeves.My boyfriend doesn't like them because your shoulders look broader, but I'm like, I have to move in clothing. So, it has to be comfortable in a way, too. I go for elastic waistbands for clothing, without pockets. You don't need them really. I'm very tall, so I try to look for trousers and pants that are the tallest I can find, because otherwise I would just have these yeah. We have a saying in Dutch, we call “high water” because it looks like your pants are here and your socks are there (gestures pants being high and then being able to see the socks between shoes and ankles), and then your shoe look weird, and you're showing a bit of leg.

I like knitted stuff because a knit moves, it also forms to your body. It embraces you instead of working against you. Woven fabric is sometimes a bit harder. 

For shoes, buy them a size bigger because your feet tend to swell sometimes, or for if you want to wear thick socks because your legs are easily cold. And look at the adaptive brands because they can be a life changer.

Benedict:

Sometimes you need no seams and no pockets. Like the Game Changer Jeans <laughs>.

Tirzah:

Exactly. Yeah.

Benedict:

Shameless plug, there … With all that, and combining fashion with the Miss Wheelchair World, we come to this idea of beauty, and there are a lot of stereotypes around that. So what beauty stereotypes would you like to see transformed in the world?

Tirzah:

The whole thing with the Kardashians is crazy. Like the “perfect woman” - to have giant breasts and a very small waist and large hips with a big ass. It's not realistic. And, it wasn't like this, I think, 15 years ago. It used to be like the model types, very skinny women. And now it's transformed to, “Okay, bigger women can be there,” but it's still like your stomach has to be very flat and you cannot really see fat or … I don't know … like [body] hair, all these things are just not very accepted.

Benedict:

You've named some of the major stereotypes. Are there any other ones that you'd like to see transformed and how do you think we go about it as a society, transforming those concepts and those stereotypes and breaking them essentially?


Tirzah:

Yeah. There are so many stereotypes. I think it would just be better if we could all look at each other, like and not judging. I don't think that will ever happen. But by educating each other, maybe we can somehow - I don't know if it's breaking stereotypes - but just do less stereotyping. It's so easy to judge someone who's wearing a goth outfit, totally black, and who likes Gothic makeup, to say that they are depressed or something. I mean, it could be the case, but it's not always … they could be the happiest person, and they just like dark clothes. I think it's important to show all the different styles that are out there, and if we can all share our own stories - in the media, it's a lot of the same people over and over, and then it feels like that's normal - so, I think there should be a lot more variation. Then our pallet becomes bigger, our tastes, just like ice cream.

Benedict:

It’s really about seeing one another's humanity first and foremost.

Tirzah:

Yes, to not judge books by their cover.

Benedict:

Yeah. And I mean,

Tirzah:

All the cliches.

Benedict:

Yeah. And beauty aside, we often say, “Oh, don't judge,” but that can be a confusing comment because our brains are built to judge. You know, you need to be able to judge that something is hot in order to not touch it and burn yourself or that something is dangerous, or that particular food is good to eat as opposed to poisonous and vice versa. We've survived so long by being very good at judging, but there's a different kind of judgment that happens when we judge a book by its cover, I think. It's almost like we go there without thinking: we see another human being who is seemingly having a hard time expressing themselves in a polite way in that given moment, and is coming across as this very rude individual, and we then judge them to be a bad person, when actually we have no idea what's going on in their life behind closed doors. Not to say that it's ever okay to treat someone with disrespect, but perhaps moments before they might have lost a loved one, or something tragic just happened, or they're dealing with an incredibly hard situation.

Tirzah:

It's difficult to not take it personally.

Benedict:

Yeah.

Tirzah:

I mean, you don't have to instantly react and be like, “Oh, you're the best or worst person on the planet.” We all have bad days, but that's the same thing when you're driving in traffic and then you also have these assholes … I tell my boyfriend all the time, “Maybe their wife is in the hospital and that's why there's speeding!” just to make sure that he's not going to react at that moment in traffic, because you can cause a different difficult, dangerous situation.

Benedict:

And equally, the temptation to yell at someone when they do something we perceive to be stupid on the road is usually hypocritical. Because, chances are, we've done that exact thing. I always remind myself “Oh, I've forgotten to indicate before … I've cut someone off because I wasn't thinking in that moment before” … I've done whatever annoying thing on the road, because, just in that moment, I just lost focus for a second, you know?

Tirzah:

It could happen to all of us because we're human.

Benedict:

Exactly. So, just the last couple things for fun. What music are you listening to right now? What's on your regular playlist? Anything?

Tirzah:

Should I check?

Benedict:

Sure.

Tirzah:

Well, I actually bought tickets to Kid Cudi. He's on tour and I just bought tickets. So he's on the playlist. Let's see. I have some new wave hip hop and R & B. And so there's not really like big names here, but … 

Benedict:

You wanna share a couple of names? It's always fun for people to discover new music.

Tirzah:

That's true. Well, FKA Twigs, I have Anderson.Paak, Jungle.

Benedict:

Jungle? Just like the word jungle?

Tirzah:

Yes.

Benedict:

And that's the artist name?

Tirzah:

It's a duo. Yeah, you should look them up. They have these amazing dance videos, it’s very LA style music, but then also with these dance videos, it's very relaxing. Snoh Aalegra is another one,

Benedict:

Cool, that's some good stuff. Anything else you'd like to share or talk about? Where can people find you, any other projects that are coming up that you're excited about?

Tirzah:

Well, they can follow me on Instagram @felinatiger. An exciting project I'm working on is @Open____Book, and that's a platform I am now involved in and it's two guys from the UK. We're trying to build a platform about all kinds of disabilities and just have a conversation. Open Book is an Instagram page for now, but we want to expand it to a website and such, we're still trying to figure it out, but it's mostly doing Instagram live. Every other week we try to have one or two, and we talk with all kinds of people from all over the world, both companies and also with disabled people about inclusion and just sharing stories.


Tirzah will be representing the Netherlands at Miss Wheelchair World on October 29, 2022 in Mexico. Visit her website to learn more about her life or check out her YouTube channel for some very informative videos.

Felina Tiger Tirzah Lopez sits down with IZ Adaptive

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