Lizzie Velasquez has been the subject of bullying her whole life.
She once found a video of herself on YouTube that called her “the ugliest woman in the world.” She was only 17.
The video had 4 million views, and she read every single comment. “Why did your parent’s keep you?” “set it on fire,” “do yourself a favor and kill yourself” people said. No one defended her.
Velasquez was born with a rare congenital disease that prevents her from gaining weight. She weighs only about 60 pounds, and her face resembles that of someone much older than her 26 years. Velasquez is also blind in one eye.
After chronicling her story in a 2013 TEDx talk in Austin, Texas, Velasquez is now working with some well-known faces to turn her tragedies into a triumphs against bullying.
She’s the subject of a new documentary, “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story.” In a YouTube video posted by the organization Women Rising, celebrities such as America Ferrera, Katie Couric and Chris Hemsworth say “I’m with Lizzie” to take a stand against bullying.
“I’m going to let my goals and my success and my accomplishments be the things that define me, not my outer appearance,” Velasquez said in her TEDX talk.
Valesquez didn’t even realize that anything was different about her the day she entered kindergarten, she told the crowd. Her family treated her just like anyone else.
When she started school, she was overwhelmed with the notion of how different she really was. Kids at lunch pointed at her, wouldn’t sit with her. She realized that the other 5-year-olds looked at her like a “monster.”
When she went home that day, her parents told her, “you have this syndrome, but it’s not going to define who you are. … Continue to be yourself, and people will see that you’re just like them.”
The day that she saw that hurtful YouTube video, her life changed forever. Instead of putting her fist through the screen, Velasquez decided to become a champion against bullying, not just for herself but for everyone who’s been bullied. She chose that moment to use those negative things people said about her as a platform to become a motivational speaker.
“A Brave Heart” follows Velasquez’s fight against bullying and her crusade to help pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act, a federal bill that would mandate that schools prohibit bullying and other forms of harassment in their codes of conduct.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. TV personality Kylie Jenner, who appears in the video posted by Women Rising, shared on Instagram her own struggles with online bullying.
“It is so unacceptable to treat people like this. People are so quick to say horrible things about me everyday over and over and sometimes I can’t take it,” Jenner wrote. “Even I at times get affected by it, I breakdown, I hide, I cry. … Lizzie, you are so strong and I admire you so so much.”
Despite all she’s been through, Velasquez remains grateful to the people who published that awful YouTube video. She told People magazine, “That video changed everything, and it has given me the platform that I have now to be the voice for anyone who’s ever been bullied — and not just myself.”