Kindness is key for anti-bullying activist Lizzie Velasquez

Labelled the ‘world’s ugliest woman’ in a cruel online post, Lizzie Velasquez is refusing to allow the people who branded her a ‘monster’ define her, writes Rita de Brún

Lizzie Velasquez

Born with a rare syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight, Lizzie Velasquez is tiny, doll-like and beautiful to the core.

As a high-school girl in Texas, she found a video someone posted online. In that, she was labelled the world’s ugliest woman. By the time she saw it, it had been watched four million times and generated thousands of comments; many of the toxic kind.

Fast forward a few years and she’s 24 and every bit the Texan dynamo. She’s giving a Ted Talk. As she does, her inherent loveliness is apparent in every word she says and every dainty step she takes across the stage.

As she talks, she reveals that her initial response to the video was to cry her eyes out. She didn’t wallow. Instead, the then schoolgirl decided not to allow those who called her a monster to define her.

That done, she set herself some goals — to graduate college, write, and become a motivational speaker. By the time she stood on the Ted stage she had “worked her butt off” and accomplished all three.

Velasquez is the sort of lady that could talk all day on the topic of what life has taught her. But the first two lessons she shares are: “That we’ve all been put into this world for a specific purpose, and that I can’t expect anyone else to love me the way I want to be loved unless I love myself first. This is not always easy because there are times when I feel down about myself and I’ve to remind myself I’m in control and tell myself to be confident.” As for wanting to be loved, is she hoping her knight-in-shining-armour will come looking for her on a white stallion, whisk her up alongside him and gallop away with her into the sunset?

“For sure,” she laughs and when she does she sounds like a carefree teen. “Ever since I was very young, I’ve liked the idea of meeting my fairy-tale Prince Charming and having this really great life with him. I want that but I’ve stopped trying to make it happen.

“Right now I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and if I were to meet my Prince Charming, I’d be so thrilled and happy. But if I don’t, and that is a possibility I know, then I’ll still be as happy as I am.”

Because she exudes a sense of having the depth of the ocean within her, we skip the small-talk and yak on about some of topics usually debated in late-night bars.

On reincarnation, she says there’s a possibility she’s been here before. “Maybe I was put into this tiny little body and had all of these experiences so I could teach people,” she says.

She’d like another shot at life if given the option: “I’d see that as
another opportunity to help others,” she says.

This reply doesn’t surprise me, as the importance of doing all in one’s power to make a positive difference, no matter how small in this world, is a theme she returns to like a homing-pigeon.

If she had one wish? “Oh man, that’s such a hard one,” she replies. “I feel everything I’ve wished for, for me has happened. So if I’d just one wish it would be to show the world that being kind to one another is possible, that it’s not out of our reach, that it’s something we all can do.” Not everyone battling life’s challenges stands strong throughout. Many fall and either can’t or don’t get back up again. On that grave topic she says: “That’s what’s great about the platform I have. I know the fear of thinking nobody will ever know how I really feel; of thinking others will find out only when it’s too late for me.

“So, when I’m told stories [of hurt] from all over the world, I speak about them and write about them, and say: these are the people who need our help.” Being the voice of the voiceless is very much what Lizzie Velasquez is all about, and few are better qualified for the role. After all, instead of letting the haters drag her down she garnered strength from their viciousness and rose up to become the bright spark of inspiration she is today.

She knows all about bullying and uses that experience to call on those experiencing it to “never feel embarrassed to let anyone know you’re being bullied. Tell someone what’s happening. Know that we’ve all gone through it.” Her attitude to bullies is a startling: “I’d ask the bully what he or is she going through, what hurt is causing the behaviour and how I could help.” She says that and I believe that she would. She has wisdom as deep as the ocean, awareness that most could only hanker after, and a heart as golden as a glorious morning sun.

She hasn’t yet written a How to Live manual. But I hope she does, as the positive energy, kindness and empathy with which she approaches life is a lesson to us all.

Dare to Be Kind by Lizzie Velasquez is published by Little, Brown and is in the shops now.


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