“Her parents should have aborted her!” “Shoot her!” “Kill it with fire!”
These were just some of the hecklings present in the comment section of a YouTube video called Ugliest Woman in the World. Lizzie Velasquez was only 17 when she clicked on the video and realized, to her horror, that she was the woman being mocked in the video.
It was a miracle that Velasquez survived childbirth, according to the doctors. She has a very rare form of neonatal progeroid syndrome (she is one of the two known persons who have it). It makes her age faster than normal. She eats up to 8,000 calories a day, and yet she has never weighed more than 28 kg. Velasquez is also blind in one eye.
Being called hurtful names was nothing new for Velasquez, who is now 23. At school, she was called “grandma” or “skinny bones” because of her thinness. Being made the target of mockery on YouTube, however, left her crushed.
She said, “It was a long process of being really sad, then being really angry, then saying, ‘I need to take this into my own hands. How can I turn it around?’” And turn things around, she did.
“I taught myself everything that I know about speaking via the Internet and YouTube,” she said in an interview with ABC News. To improve herself, she studied the presentation styles and mannerisms of successful motivational speakers.
In December 2013, Velasquez unveiled a video on TEDx to tell her story and explain how she would never let her bullies define who she was. It was an instant viral smash, reaching millions of people who offered support – becoming a source of inspiration and strength for victims of bullying, many of whom were moved to share their own stories. Notably, the video received more than twice the hits of the original Ugliest Woman in the World video.
This was only the first step in a long but rewarding journey for Velasquez. She became an advocate for victims of bullying and even lobbied for an anti-bullying legislation at Capitol Hill. She is also very active on digital media, working with Tumblr on the “Post It Forward” campaign to promote compassion and decry bullying. When asked how she does it, she credits her faith in God. “It’s been my rock through everything; merely having the time to be alone to pray to God and knowing He’s there for me,” she says. “Even when it seems like things will never get better in the toughest times, if you have faith and continue pushing, you can eventually get through anything.”
McKenna Biliti, 15, is one of many victims of bullying who found strength from Velasquez’s story. When she happened to bump into Velasquez one day, she broke down in tears. “I just told her that she’s one of the main reasons that I’m still here today and she’s helped me through so much without even realizing it,” she recalled.
You can find out more about Lizzie Velasquez via her documentary A Brave Heart, which was released in September earlier this year. .
References: 1. ABC News. Available at www.abcnews.go.com 2. Breathe Cast. Available at www.breathecast.com 3. People. Available at www.people.com 4. Variety. Available at www.variety.com