Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Laredo Tribune. Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Currently Known For:
2006 - Present
March 13, 1989
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Nobody wants to be the victim of online bullying. This is especially true if millions of people see your face and suddenly start criticizing you without even knowing who you are. One person that knows this all too well is Lizzie Velasquez, who was born in Austin, Texas on March 13, 1989. Velasquez is one of just a few people in the world that was born with Marfanoid-progeroid-lipodystrophy syndrome, which has left her severely underweight while also being blind in one eye. Velasquez, however, has been able to turn her condition into a career of motivation and faith.
Velasquez saw her life changed when she was just 17 years old. Someone had posted a video on the popular website YouTube with the harsh title “The World’s Ugliest Woman”. The video was short, and it featured Velasquez. She, along with a few million other people, saw the video and it crushed the teenager. Velasquez spent several nights crying because of the comments.
With the help of her large family that offered a lot of support, Velasquez was able to turn the attention into a positive. “Growing up with that was huge for me because when I would go on holidays and just be with all of my cousins and my aunts and my uncles and everything, they just made me feel like Lizzie,” she said. “They never treated me differently. They never did anything special for me. They treated me like everyone else, and having that foundation and having that support on both sides of my family was huge.”
Being bullied online was a bit of a surprise for Velasquez, who says that she didn’t face much of it while growing up. “The only time that I can say I really had to deal with being bullied (in person) was when I was in elementary school,” she said. “I look back now and realize that kids have no filter; they are just going to say whatever comes to their mind out loud without thinking of the consequences. The main reason I was bullied was because I didn’t look like the other kids. I was very small and would never stand up for myself so I was an easy target. Luckily though, I never had to deal with being physically bullied. I mostly had to endure name calling and other kids staring and pointing at me.”
Velasquez had her life featured in a documentary after she gained some exposure, with Sara Hirsh Bordo directing. “Her experience of triumphing adversity and making it to the other side of a painful experience is universal,” Bordo said. “As soon as Lizzie became more open and honest - whether it was her TED talk or her YouTube videos - it was clear that people were thirsty for a story where somebody stands up and says ‘I’m not going to be a victim, I’m going to make a change.’”
The film helped Velasquez to come out more as a motivational speaker, a profession which she still holds to this day. “I never pictured myself being a motivational speaker at all,” Velasquez said. “I didn’t know it was a thing until I did my first speech in high school. After that day I knew speaking was going to be a huge part of my life.”
“It is fine to be who are you,” Velasquez wants people to know. “It is a good thing not to be just like everybody else. What makes you unique is what makes you beautiful, because it’s what makes you you. And the world needs you, exactly as you are. That’s the truth, plain and simple.”
“I always say that creating positive change in the world starts with just one person: you,” Velasquez adds. “That’s why it is so important to learn to be the right kind of selfish. It’s essential to learn the art of taking care of ourselves so that we can have the energy and the willpower to take care of each other and the world that we live in…If you want to change the world, you start small, right at home.”
Velasquez knows that it’s OK to feel down sometimes, and has advice for working on yourself in those times. “We all need to give ourselves permission to feel our true feelings, even if those are decidedly darker or heavier than happiness,” she said. “Instead of keeping that bright, positive attitude and claiming, ‘I’m fine!’ no matter what’s really going on, we need to be honest, with ourselves and others, about how we’re really feeling…I so admire anyone brave enough to be open about the moments in their lives they might rather have kept hidden, because their candor helps everyone feel more ‘normal’ and less alone.”
“You’re good enough as you are,” Velasquez continued. “You’re beautiful as you are. But equally accept that it is natural for everyone to love and be loved. We don't need to run from love; we need to run toward it.”
Like Velasquez, there have been many children that have been bullied either in person or on the internet. She has advice for those that have been victims of harsh comments. “My advice to parents of children being bullied is to support and reassure them that things will get better even if they don’t think it will. The biggest thing I owe to helping me get through bullying was having a strong support system around me,” she said. “If a child knows that they have family who they can talk to without judging them or making them feel bad is one of the greatest things a child could have. Some kids feel that they are going to be a tattle tale if they tell an adult what is going on so they also need to be reassured that they aren’t doing anything wrong and they won’t be in trouble if they tell someone about the situation.”