Spotlight on anti-bullying advocate Lizzie Velasquez
Lizzie Velasquez battles a rare congenital disease that impedes her from accumulating body fat. The condition led to countless doctors’ visits and cyber-bullying to the extreme where one stranger called her “the world’s ugliest woman” on YouTube.
Instead of allowing life’s hurdles to get the best of her she refuses to be a victim and has built a huge following across the world. Via her YouTube channel, Velasquez shares her life with her fans in a raw and inspiring style.
Today, she is an international speaker and author who hails from Austin and has built a reputation as an anti-bullying icon.
Her documentary, A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, was unveiled at South by Southwest earlier this year. The film will be released Sept. 25 in major cities across the country, including New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Scottsdale, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Chicago.
The award-winning documentary follows the journey from victim to activist of the 58-pound 26-year-old Texas State University graduate. The film chronicles never-before-seen snippets of Velasquez’s life, the emotional and physical trail to her multi-million-viewed TedX Talk, and her mission in Capitol Hill as she lobbies for the first federal anti-bullying bill.
It also provides unique insight from those closest to her including family and fellow anti-bullying advocates.
This week, Velasquez participated in a Q&A with Popular Hispanics to talk about the documentary and what she has in store next. This is what she had to say.
PH: How did the idea for the documentary come about and what were your first thoughts about it?
LV: The idea for the documentary came about after a lunch I had with Sara, our director of the film. It was right after my TEDxAustinWomen speech went viral and I was asking her advice on how to handle all of the awesome things that were coming my way.
She called me a few days later saying she had this gut feeling that she was meant to shine a brighter light on my story through a documentary. She said you have no reason to say yes because I’ve never done a film before. Right away I said “I’m in!”
There was some hesitation on my end because I had the same gut feeling that she did. Sometimes you have to embark on new adventures just to see where they lead you and what they teach you.
PH: What made you decide to do the documentary and what is the main message you are trying to convey through it?
LV: There are two things that we are really wanting to convey in the movie. One is that it is my story but it is everyone’s story at the same time.
The other is that there is a light on the other side of being bullied. You just have to be brave enough to find it.
PH: In the documentary, you repeatedly stated you don’t let negativity define you, but rather turn that negativity into something positive by focusing on your goals and your accomplishments. How would you define your goals and your accomplishments thus far?
LV: I knew my main goals back in high school and college were to somehow make a difference in the world. When I was a kid I told my parents I wanted to be a waitress because I wanted to help serve people.
I think it’s always been instilled in me that I was meant to do something to help others. I’ve been blessed with a story and platform to be able to use my voice to help other people and for that I am forever grateful.
PH: On that note, how do you define yourself?
LV: I define myself as a young woman who loves to laugh and to be surrounded by people she loves. I also define myself as someone who has a sincere passion for helping others in any way, shape or form.
PH: How do the stories of others who have overcome bullying or are going through it, inspire or motivate you to continue on track?
LV: Hearing personal stories from people around the world that are able to take my message and directly apply it to their lives and then making an impact for others is a dream come true. It’s a reassurance that I’m on the right path.
PH: How have your Latina roots played a role, if at all, in the strong and passionate woman you have become?
LV: I have a very large extended family on both of my parents’ sides. I grew up surrounded by strong women who speak their mind and are wonderful mothers and are able to walk into a room and have their presence be known in the best way possible.
That is what I aspired to be growing up. My tias were who I pictured when I thought about becoming a young adult.
PH: Any projects or initiatives you are currently working on that you would like Popular Hispanics readers to know about?
LV: After the film release I am working on my fourth book. It will be unlike anything I’ve ever written before and I am beyond excited about it.
PH: In the documentary, you state you don’t believe bullying can ever be done away with completely, but people can still do something about it. What can everyday individuals do to combat bullying?
LV: I strongly believe that having an open dialogue about bullying is crucial. Parents or teachers especially. Instead of just saying bullying is bad, don’t do it, expand the conversation and really talk about why it’s bad and other options on how to handle it whether you are the bully or the one being bullied.
PH: There are many, many children and young adults battling some sort of illness or challenge. How do you get through your bad days and what advice do you have for others?
LV: It’s very important to allow yourself to have a bad day and know that it’s okay. In fact, it’s normal to have a bad day.
Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed I will make it a point to be able to press pause on everything else going on and take a day to let out my emotions or spend time with the people I love.
We all need a moment to recharge sometimes.