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Anti-bullying activist Lizzie Velásquez on how self-love changed her life

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Motivational speaker and anti-bullying advocate Lizzie Velásquez talks about dealing with bullying and how she pulled through her darkest time to inspire others.

Growing up with a rare disease, Velazquez, now 32, says that she lived in two different worlds. At home, her family treated her just like everyone else. She says that her parents were a source of support, and raised her to be optimistic and confident. That got harder when she started school.

As Velásquez transitioned into high school, she started to gain more understanding about her situation. This new level of self-acceptance inspired Velásquez to make new friends, join the cheerleading squad, and write for the school newspaper. She had started to feel gratitude for what she had accomplished, but the Youtube video threatened her shaky foundation when she found a video calling her "The World’s Ugliest Woman”.

Despite her feelings of defeat, that moment of bullying activated Velásquez. In 2013, she gave a TEDxAustinWomen Talk about her experience, reaching millions with her uplifting messages about beauty and happiness. She has written two children’s books, given interviews on national talk shows like The View, and the documentary film A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velásquez Story premiered at SXSW in 2015.

“My mission is always just to remind people that no matter how different you are, you are meant to be in this world, and being different is unique. Your purpose in life is out there waiting for you," says the motivational speaker.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, Velásquez takes pride in being Mexican-American. As she travels around the country, speaking to young people about confidence and self-love, she is grounded by the support of her family and the deep connection to her culture. “It’s shaped who I am and I think that comes out with my values and the things that have really been a part of my foundation,” says Velásquez.

Video Transcript

LIZZIE VELASQUEZ: No matter how different you are, you are meant to be in this world. And being different is unique, and that is so special. Your purpose in life is out there and waiting for you.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Hey, everyone. Welcome to "Unmuted." Today I'm talking with Lizzie Velasquez, an anti-bullying advocate and motivational speaker who's using her platform to inspire others. I've been following your story and your social media for a while now, and I know that you live with a health condition. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

LIZZIE VELASQUEZ: I was diagnosed with neonatal progeroid syndrome. It's made up of two different conditions. One of them is lipodystrophy and, basically, that just doesn't allow me to gain weight. The second part is Marfans, the type that I have is very rare, and it affects my eyes, my bones, and my heart. Despite being in a very small body, I live a very normal life.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: And you've talked about the bullying you received as a kid. When you were 17, a video labeling you the world's ugliest woman was circulated on YouTube. What was that like for you?

LIZZIE VELASQUEZ: I felt like growing up I lived in two different worlds. At home, I was just Lizzie, and I looked like everybody else, and everyone treated me exactly the same. I was now entering this other world where I had to face the reality of, no, I do not look like everybody else.

You asked me how I felt about bullying when I was in elementary and middle school. It was horrible, and I hated it, and that was mostly because I hated myself at the time. Then I go to transition into high school, and I'm at a point where I'm starting to accept myself. I can look in the mirror and appreciate, and have gratitude for the reflection that's looking back at me.

And then to just see a video that says world's ugliest woman, it felt like, within two seconds, everything that I had worked for up until that point was just sort of knocked over. Little did I know that that moment was going to be such a defining one in my life.

You are the one that decides what defines you. I use their negativity to light my fire to keep going.


BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: It did sort of activate you, right? Because now you are this very prominent, outspoken, anti-bullying advocate. How do you continue to nurture your own confidence and self-love?

LIZZIE VELASQUEZ: For so long, I think once I started growing my platform, I felt like I could only post positive stuff. There are many times where I would be typing, and I would be crying. With quarantine and being at home, the more I scrolled, the lonelier I felt when I start feeling like I'm falling down the rabbit hole of comparison. I had to learn that I'm not a superhuman. I'm just a human.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: I did see a post where you were talking about having FOMO sometimes, when you see people posting about relationships or dating. How do you navigate something like dating?

LIZZIE VELASQUEZ: It's very hard. I have this medical condition that forever has been in the back of my mind that I have to automatically say, don't worry, I don't have an eating disorder. Like I'm fine. I feel like I have to automatically go in defense mode.

My life is very public, so to hear someone say like, oh well, you have too many eyes on you all the time, or whatever, I just-- I have to keep that in mind. So that's a little hard, but it's just-- it's complicated. I will sit there, and I will scroll for hours, and I will look at everyone's engagement photos, gender reveals, and all of these big life moments, and feel horrible about myself. I have to put it down and know that it doesn't mean we should stop clapping and celebrating for those other people, because our moment is next.