You Decide What Defines You
Anyone who has ever experienced bullying knows how devastating the cruel remarks can be, and how they can stick with you for years to come. But 26-year-old Lizzie Velasquez was born with a rare genetic disorder that impacts nearly everything about her -- her face, muscle tone, brain, eyes, heart and her ability to gain weight. At only 5’2” and 63 pounds, plus the aged appearance caused by her disorder, Lizzie stands out, making her a target for bullies for nearly all of her life. But Lizzie is living proof that big things can come in small packages! And what she now has to say to her most vicious bullies might just surprise you.
God blessed Lizzie with loving parents who managed to shield her from people’s cruel comments in her youngest years. She was their little miracle. Doctors had warned that she probably wouldn’t live, and even if she did, she would probably never be able to walk or talk or do anything for herself. But she did live, and her parents vowed to raise her to the best of their ability.
It wasn’t until Lizzie started kindergarten, and the other kids shied away from her, that Lizzie first realized she was different. The kids were scared of Lizzie, and often didn’t want to sit by her or play with her. She describes it as a “big slap of reality for a five-year-old.”
But her parents cheered her on, and Lizzie forged ahead. She worked hard to make friends. She was active in school activities, including cheerleading and the school paper. Things were going well. That is, until she came across a video of herself on YouTube.
Credit: Getty Images
It wasn’t the video itself that hurt -- it was only 8 seconds long. It was that the video had been titled “The Ugliest Woman Alive.” And it was that the video had been viewed 4 million times, and a slew of mean comments filled the bottom of the page. Comments calling her saying her parents should have aborted her. . .that she should be killed with fire. . .that she should do everyone a favor and end her life. And to add insult to injury, all of the comments were mean. Lizzie said,
“I read every single comment thinking there would be one person to stand up for me. Not one person said, ‘She's a child, leave her alone,’ or ‘You don't know her story, why she looks like that.’' I felt like someone was putting a fist through the computer screen and physically punching me. I bawled my eyes out.”
It was no easy task to work past the hurt all of those comments inflicted. But God gave Lizzie the heart of a lion, and she forged on.
Not long ago, Lizzie was a speaker at a TED Talk -- regular conferences that showcase speakers meant to inspire, enlighten and inform. The speech Lizzie gave has gotten her a lot of attention, having been viewed over 8 million times. And in it she talked about the day she found the video of herself. She said,
“Even though things are hard, I can't let that define me. My life was put into my hands just like your life was put into yours. You were put in the front seat of the car. You are the one who decides if your car goes down a bad path or a good path. You are the one that decides what defines you.”
And Lizzie decided she wouldn’t be defined by her condition or by the hurtful comments she’d seen and heard. Instead, she would be defined by her accomplishments. And with such grit and determination, she has had many. Lizzie graduated college, has written several books and has been working as a motivational speaker. And after her TED Talk speech, she was approached to be featured in a documentary titled “A Brave Heart.” She says,
“When you see the film, it is my story, but it's also everyone's story. People can relate to being bullied or feeling insecure or being embarrassed by their looks. Unfortunately bullying will never end - ever. It's a big reminder that there is work to do to ensure others do not feel alone. We have to show them there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
And what Lizzie says to her own bullies may surprise you. Lizzie has a message of gratitude. Because their cruel words fueled her desire to succeed. She decided she would turn all of the hurtful, negative comments thrown at her as motivation to accomplish her goals -- a strategy that has been working wonders for her. And she is dedicated to a career of motivational speaking so that others can be encouraged and inspired to do the same. To take whatever negativity is weighing them and use it to propel them forward.
Credit: A Brave Heart Film
It’s not to say that this approach to life will cure you of all unhappiness. There will still be down days. But the key is to keep moving forward. Lizzie says,
“I always tell people [that] I allow myself sad days to be alone and close the blinds and listen to sad music like Adele and cry, eat junk food and have a pity party. I let it out of my system for one day, but the sun comes out the next day I have the power to go on.”
Watch the video below to hear Lizzie’s incredible speech from TED Talk: