Lizzie Velasquez was 17 when she stumbled across a YouTube video entitled “The World’s Ugliest Woman”. What she didn’t expect was that the woman featured in the video would be her. It was an eight-second clip and had been watched over four million times.
“I was shocked,” Velasquez recalls, “but it wasn’t until I started to read the comments that my stomach really sank.”
“Why would her parents keep her?!” read one of the comments.
“Kill it with fire” said another.
And they continued on and on. Some commentators said she should kill herself, and one said people would go blind if they saw her on the street.
“I cried for many nights – as a teenager I thought my life was over,” she says. “I couldn’t bring myself to talk to anybody about it, I didn’t tell any of my friends, I was just so shocked that it had happened.”
Velasquez was already used to being bullied daily for the way she looks. Born with two rare conditions – Marfan and lipodystrophy – she is unable to gain weight, no matter how much she eats. When she started kindergarten she remembers how classmates recoiled from her, afraid.
She currently runs her own YouTube channel with over 240,000 subscribers and a TED talk she was subsequently asked to give in Austin in 2013 entitled “How do you define yourself?” has over 7 million views on YouTube.
Now Velasquez’s life and anti-bullying work is the focus of a new documentary due to premiere at SXSW. Sara Hirsch Bordo, the director of the film, says that it is not just about Velasquez’s story but is a universal story, for everybody who has been bullied.
Her message is simple and inspiring: “I am not going to be a victim, I’m going to make a change.”