In an ugly world, the person dubbed on YouTube as “the world’s ugliest woman” is showing us all not only how beautiful she is, but how beautiful the rest of us can be, too, and if that’s not enough for you, she’s also fulfilled all but one of her life’s goals, including an unexpected one – starring in a documentary all about her. That’s pretty damn good for someone doctors thought would never be able to speak or walk. Yep, 26-year-old Lizzie Velazquez has showed them all, and good for her.
TakePart writes, Velasquez “was born with a rare congenital disease that impairs her vision, strains her heart, and prevents her from gaining weight, which means she’s never weighed more than about 65 pounds.” Regardless, the Texas State University graduate managed to live a pretty typical life. That is, until her senior year of high school when she clicked on a short YouTube video labeled “World’s Ugliest Woman,” only to find to her own horror that the video was of her.
What’s worse is that the video already had 4 million views and climbing. Below it were comments like, “Please just do the world a favor, put a gun to your head and kill yourself.” Velasquez said during a TEDxWomen talk in 2013, “In my mind, the best way that I could get back at all those people who made fun of me, who teased me, who called me ugly, who called me a monster, was to make myself better.” Velasquez moved the crowd to tears, and her TEDx talk on YouTube has done much the same for its viewers.
And if you don’t believe in the essential good in people, consider that her TEDx talk has far surpassed her bullying videos with well over 9.5 million views. You can check out that video, below:
In her talk, Velasquez told the audience that she dreamed of being a motivational speaker, even as she was already succeeding at that very goal with her TEDx talk. She also said she wanted to graduate from college, write a book, start a career and begin a family. So far, she’s succeeded at all of them but raising a family; however, with her track record, one has no doubt she will succeed there, as well. On top of that, she was approached by Texas native Sara Hirsh Bordo to star in a documentary that debuted in theaters just last week, called “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story.”
Bordo’s documentary on Velasquez followed the YouTube star and inspiration to millions from her early years of being bullied as a child, all the way up to her current work as an anti-bullying advocate strong and confident enough to lobby Congress for her cause. Bordo says she was inspired to make the documentary based off of Velasquez’s TEDx talk, stating:
“The reception online was no different, and it really in a very short amount of time took all of our breath away, the support it was getting and the amount of sharing, but what we kept seeing more and more was kids, adults, both genders, all ethnicities, just kept saying, ‘I wish it was longer. Can we hear more?’”
That was all Bordo needed to hear to jump on the opportunity despite never having directed a film in her life. The former marketing director approached Velasquez with a pitch and Velasquez accepted right then and there, even though she’d previously turned down several offers from other film producers and reality television opportunities. However Bordo pitched the project, Velasquez felt it stood out enough for her to accept, and it’s been a wild ride ever since. The two started up a Kickstarter campaign to get funding for the film and the cash drive amounted to over $200,000 in less than a month – a Kickstarter record for documentary campaigns.
The Kickstarter funding proved to not be quite enough, however, and that’s when Bordo had to get creative, shooting whatever she could from there on her own with a GoPro camera as the two traversed the globe for four months for Velasquez’s speaking engagements. Bordo also covered Velasquez’s doctor appointments and basically became her shadow in that time. One speaking gig at a conference in Mexico City was actually in front of 10,000 people, where Velasquez was joined on stage by Hillary Clinton and Mark Zuckerberg. Bordo said, “I just asked enough advice from other filmmakers to point me in the right direction, but I didn’t ask too much to have other people’s way of doing it in my head.”
Central to the documentary is a trip Velasquez took to Washington D.C. in 2014 when she lobbied Congress and met with parents in order to encourage the passing of the Safe Schools Improvement Act. The act was introduced initially in 2007 by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.). TakePart writes that it would mandate schools “prohibit bullying and harassment in their codes of conduct and establish uniform standards for elementary and secondary schools to track and report instances of bullying.” Currently, such data is not tracked, and there is little to no information available that illustrates the extent of bullying in people’s lives, nor the number of people who have suffered from bullying. Consequently, it’s very difficult to know who is at risk, how many are at risk, and how bullying can be addressed adequately as a result.
Velasquez has received support from people and organizations across the board, especially from the LGBT community – that is, across the board except when it comes to Congress, itself. A vast majority of our “representatives,” it seems, would rather not represent their bullied constituents, seeing the act and its cause as a non-issue. TakePart states “[j]ust 95 of the 535 members of Congress support the bill, according to an online interactive campaign launched by the ‘Brave Heart’ filmmakers.”
Velasquez and Bordo remain undeterred, however. October is National Bullying Prevention Month and the pair are planning another trip inside the Beltway. There they will host discussions and screenings of the film hoping to get Congress to open its damn eyes and do something about bullying before another life is lost to suicide. Bordo said:
“Lizzie brings a sense of survival to this issue and a sense of thriving on the other side of it, only because of her personal sense of drive and purpose to make it better for other kids. And that, we hope, is the missing link to getting more support for the bill.”
Velasquez and Bordo are also supported by several dozen parents who have lost children to suicide as a result of bullying. Bordo said, “We have parents who have lost children who are always telling us, ‘Your story is so important because maybe that would have given [our] children the hope to hang on.’”
Bullying is an important issue, and one that can result in death. It’s a worthy cause, and one Congress should pay more mind to as lives are being lost.
Luckily, Velasquez and Bordo are not the only ones out there working on this issue. There are many dedicated people and organizations standing against bullying these days, such as former Detroit Public Schools teacher Baxter Jones, currently on hunger strike to gain attention against bullying. Jones began the Facebook page “Baxter’s Beat Back the Bullies Brigade – 5B” to fight against bullying in the face of Michigan’s Emergency Manager laws, showing that bullying comes from all kinds of sources, even our own government. You can read up on Baxter Jones’ own plight, struggle and cause, here.
What Congress and others unmoved by bullying enough to take action fail to see is that the ridicule those suffering from bullying endure is really a mirror. The harm bullies cause is truly much more a reflection of who they are as people and institutions more so than their intended targets. The ugliness they lob at their victims is nothing more than a slimy projection onto the beauty and power of those they continuously attack. It’s either a means for making themselves feel superior, or driven by alternative incentives to gain something for themselves. Considering our current Congress, is it really so surprising that they remain unwilling to adopt the Safe Schools Improvement Act?
Luckily, people like Lizzie Velasquez, Sara Bordo and Baxter Jones are showing the bullies that no matter how hard they try to beat them down, they shine. They have the strength, courage and conviction to stand up and inspire others to do the same, and live their lives proudly, defiantly in the face of this often cruel and ugly world. Together, they are really showing us all how to beat back the bullies, and that is a light that will continue to outshine the dark cloud of bullying still blocking out the sun for so many people across the world. Kudos to them. Their strength and courage is saving lives, and that’s a feat far greater than anything any bully will ever accomplish.
Here’s to all the heroes standing up in the face of bullying and inspiring the world to continuing singing the song of themselves, even as outside forces try their best to muffle their songs.
Beat back the bullies!