If anyone knows what it's like to be bullied, it's Lizzie Velasquez. The now 25-year-old was born with a medical condition so rare that it doesn't even have a name. Regardless of what Lizzie does, she can't gain weight. Despite snacking on Twinkies in the middle of the night, Lizzie has zero percent body fat, and weighs just 60 pounds. She's been on the receiving end of stares and nasty comments since she was in kindergarten, but nothing could prepare her for the YouTube video she eventually stumbled upon.
When Lizzie was 17, she came across a video of herself on the Internet that branded her "The Ugliest Woman in the World." The hateful comments that accompanied the 8-second clip ranged from calling her "a monster" to telling her to "do the world a favor, put a gun to her head, and kill herself." The discovery, needless to say, crushed her.
But Lizzie decided to turn a negative into a positive in order to help other bullying victims. She refused to let the opinions of nameless, faceless jerks online define who she was. The Austin, Texas, native is now a published author, motivational speaker, and is currently making a documentary as a means to give hope to people on the receiving end of bullying. Lizzie didn't give up, and she doesn't want other people to either.
Lizzie spoke to The Stir about her mission, what she really thinks of bullies, and why her mother was so instrumental in giving her the unbelievable resilience she has.
What is your biggest hope from the anti-bullying message you’re trying to spread?
My biggest hope from the anti-bullying message is that for anyone who has been victimized, at any point in their life, to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I want my story to be the glimmer of hope to anyone who feels like things will never get better.
What is one thing you want people to take away from your documentary? What don’t you want bullying victims, and bullies, to forget?
The one thing I want people to take away from my documentary is that the fact of the matter is every single person on this planet is different. Our differences should be embraced instead of attacked. I hope that people will take away a better understanding of themselves, which will in turn help them understand others. There is one very important thing that I want anyone who is bullied or bullying others to remember: People who are hurting or have had a troubled life are the ones who feel the need to bully other people. We all need to be conscious of someone else even when we don’t know their story or background.
What kinds of things did your mom do to help you with your self-esteem and self-worth?
From the day I was born my mom began the foundation of my self-esteem and my self-worth. She instilled in my the values and beliefs to know that I was made perfectly in God’s image no matter if I believed at the time or not. Raising me with that mindset was a key factor in helping me dealing with the bad comments on YouTube. She would always say, "Lizzie, with the bad comes the good. Some people might try to make you feel bad about yourself, but you know and WE know that, in God’s eyes, you’re perfect and that’s all you can ask for."
How did you mother help you recover after reading the hateful YouTube comments?
After finding the bad YouTube video, forgiveness was the last thing that came to mind. My mom’s heart of gold, her own values, and her faith is what helped me use forgiveness as a way to turn the negativity into something positive. She opened my eyes to the fact that other people might not have a great life and in turn they hurt other people. Even though I was very upset and hurt with them I couldn’t let it be a dark cloud over my head.
Is your documentary directed at moms, kids, or both?
The documentary is for everyone -- kids who have been bullied, kids who bully others, and the parents who are sometimes unaware of what their children might be going through. This is a huge issue right now and we want to shine a light on it in a way that will evoke positive changes.
What do you hope parents will learn from watching your documentary?
My hope is that parents who watch my documentary learn some tools that will help their children create a healthy and positive plan of action if and when bullies come up against them.
Do you feel compassion for bullies?
I will always feel compassion for bullies. I know what it’s like to be in the position where you truly believe hurting someone else will make you feel better. Luckily, I had people around me who helped show me that there was another positive option to get through those feelings. Now, it’s my hope to be that option for people who don’t have the same support system that I’ve had.
Images via Lizzie Velasquez