Who Is Lizzie Velasquez?
by Learnhall Contributor, Vicky Zhang
Lizzie Velasquez will never forget the day she came upon a YouTube video with 4 million views and thousands of cruel comments naming her the “World’s Ugliest Woman.” It was 2006; she was just a teenager. What she did afterwards displayed the amazing willpower of humanity – she turned her pain into meaning and success. Now a motivational speaker, author, and YouTuber, Ms. Velasquez has truly “turned lemons into lemonade” in her life and we should each think about how we can be more like her in our own lives, especially if we are facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Let’s meet this amazing human being, shall we?
Part 1: Meet Lizzie
On March 13, 1989, Austin, Texas parents Rita and Guadalupe Velásquez welcomed their first child Elizabeth Anne “Lizzie” Velásquez. Lizzie has two younger siblings, Marina and Chris, forming a beautiful family of 5. In 2012, Lizzie graduated from Texas State University where she majored in communication studies.
Before we discuss her extraordinary story, let’s first connect with her via her sharings of ordinary daily life (Special Books by Special Kids, 2018):
- “There are some days where I’ll read a comment and they’re saying something negative about how I look. I’ll take it personally…and start feeling so bad about myself until I finally realize, ‘What am I doing?'”
- “I feel the most lonely when I’m comparing myself to somebody else. But I’ve realized the dangers of that because it always leads to a very negative place.”
- “My definition of beauty is when you’re able to fully and proudly accept the uniqueness that is you…I think I’m still working on it.”
- “There are mornings where I wake up and I’ll feel frustrated…I allow myself to feel those emotions…I’m just gonna sit on my couch and eat ice cream all day and watch movies. I know the next day the sun is going to come up and I’m going to be happy again.”
- “My go-to sad song is probably anything by Adele or Sam Smith.”
- “I have my guilty pleasures of just laying around in my pajamas…being with my friends and family and doing nothing. It’s my favorite thing.”
- “Anything chocolatey [is my favorite type of dessert].”
- “[If I could meet anyone, living or dead], I would say Julia Roberts. I’ve adored her for so long. I call her Jules. In my mind we’re best friends and she just doesn’t know it yet.”
How would you describe Lizzie and what does she look like in your mind? For me, she’s relatable, fun, honest, and down-to-earth. I can resonate with her because I’ve had similar feelings and experiences – even if perhaps for different challenges.
Part 2: What Makes Lizzie Different and How She Inspires People
Her Rare Condition
Lizzie was born 4 weeks prematurely and weighed just over 2 pounds, 72.6% lower than the average birth weight of 7.3 pounds (Searing, 2020). Her disease is Neonatal Progeroid Syndrome, a genetic condition of the inability to gain body fat, leading to thin and wrinkled skin that makes muscle and the skeleton apparent, which also threatens the function of her eyes, bones, and heart. As one might expect, this syndrome is exceedingly rare. In fact, as of today there have been only 37 cases reported in world medical literature (Orphanet, 2022). Among all the difficulties she continues to face, a different appearance is the most noticeable and the one she has to frequently consider because of the cruelty of some people in our looks-obsessed modern-day society. At first, she never felt especially badly about her physical condition because her family treated her the same as other family members growing up. However, upon starting kindergarten, she felt like she entered another side of reality. Her different appearance became a reason for other awful students bullying her, an act that no one should impose upon anyone else under any circumstance. However, the negativity didn’t stop there. The internet makes it easy to access information, share happiness, and gain knowledge – yet also gives room for cyber-bullying to spread.
In 2006, Lizzie was 17 and a video labeling her “The World’s Ugliest Woman” blew up on YouTube with over 4 million views. If we Google her now, we still see many articles with headlines containing that phrase as if it’s her keyword phrase. You didn’t see such a title here because I wish to convey her perspective on not defining beauty with appearance. Additionally, it’s essential to realize that we must be very careful when using such destructive words (if at all). After the video incident, Lizzie decided to speak up about her experience, allowing people to understand what being different means.
Being An Inspiration
Lizzie once said that if she had one wish, it would be universal acceptance for everyone in the world, with no hate or discrimination towards anyone. She acknowledges that it sounded cliché, but if we allow ourselves to pause and meditate, it’s a genuine and touching wish. We realize that much negativity surrounding us results from our oft-subconscious reluctance to welcome “different” people and things into our lives, especially when “different” includes someone who may not be conventionally attractive or who may look grotesque in terms of society’s ridiculous expectations on looks.
When asked how to approach people who are different, Lizzie shared that it’s as simple as going up to them to say “Hi”, showing that you’re taking the first step forward, the hardest step, in order to be a positive change and to connect with someone who is different from you.
Lizzie didn’t become who she is now in one day. She also went through the journey of defining and searching. That’s when she decided to focus on the “ability” in “disability.” Yes, there are things she can’t do, but it’s not pity she wants; it’s about focusing on what she can do, making a plan about college, career, and family, and becoming the person she envisioned starting from Googling “how to become a motivational speaker” after realizing that she could help those who are suffering abuse from online bullies.
Lizzie always credits her family for her accomplishments. In addition to raising her with love and strength, her family inspires her to be brave about sharing kindness. Like many of us, Lizzie also thought confrontation was the most uncomfortable thing and wanted to avoid it at all costs. So, when she heard whispers, felt stares, or saw fingers pointing at her, she looked down and kept walking, having resentment quietly building up. Her parents, Rita and Guadalupe, showed us that there is perhaps a more savvy way to approach this. A central natural instinct of parents is to protect their children and put on the defensive suit. However, when those whispers and stares would happen, Rita and Guadalupe oftentimes walked up to the strangers, introduced Lizzie, and asked if they’d want to say hi. Lizzie didn’t like it at first because it led to more attention. She later realized that sometimes it’s shrewd to take a step back and scrutinize the complexity of a supposedly clear-cut situation; perhaps she could help curb cyber-bullying in a small way by trying to connect with those who may whisper, snicker, and laugh at her in her day-to-day life. In this way, maybe she could cut through their preconceived notions about her as “the other” and as “different” in order to let them see that she is a kind-hearted, friendly, and strong person, someone who is a good human being who merely has different challenges than they do.
Photo of This Amazingly Inspirational Paragon of Both Local & Online Communities
Here she is; can you see beyond the physical? Can you see her beauty, joy, and strength emanating from her face?
Motivational speaker and author Lizzie Velásquez at the 2017 Texas Book Festival. © 2017 Larry D. Moore.
Let’s make sure that we embrace our parents and people who care about us very early on in our lives. Listen to them and learn from them. Always know that you will have challenges every single day while you are on this earth; it is up to you to tackle those challenges head-on and make the best of what body, brain, and soul you have been given. We need to focus on turning our challenges into meaning and helping others; this is what Lizzie Velasquez continues to teach the world with her presence and with her ongoing work.
Orphanet. (2022, January). Prevalence and incidence of rare diseases: Bibliographic data. https://www.orpha.net/orphacom/cahiers/docs/GB/Prevalence_of_rare_diseases_by_alphabetical_list.pdf
Searing, L. (2020, February 10). The big number: Average U.S. birth weight drops 2.4 ounces in 23-year period. The Washington Post. Retrieved October 8, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/the-big-number-average-us-birth-weight-drops-24-ounces-in-23-year-period/2020/02/07/154bddce-48f0-11ea-9164-d3154ad8a5cd_story.html
Special Books by Special Kids. (2018, July 19). One of a kind Lizzie (the Lizzie Velasquez Story). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HiuNigJ-NH8