Lizzie Velasquez will never forget the day she came upon a YouTube video with 4 million views and thousands of mean comments naming her the “World’s Ugliest Woman.” She was only 17 years old.
“When I saw it my whole world just felt like it crashed at that moment,” Velasquez, 26, tells PEOPLE of the experience that inspired her new documentary A Brave Heart, which premiered on Saturday at SXSW in Austin, Texas. “I thought, how can I ever pick myself up from this?”
Thankfully, Velasquez did find the strength to pick herself up. And now, she’s using her story to help others. The documentary chronicles her journey from victim to motivational speaker, as she travels the world sharing her message of positivity and self-acceptance.
“For me, it was really important to get my story out there and be able to help people who might be going through something similar or might need that extra boost of confidence,” she says. “I want people to feel like they can achieve anything they want – no matter what anyone else says.”
When Lizzie Velasquez was born, her parents were given a grim prognosis: she would never walk, talk, or see. But Velasquez – who weighs just 63 lbs. due to a rare syndrome that doesn’t allow her to gain weight – did just that by becoming an anti-bullying activist and motivational speaker.
In 2010, a YouTube video entitled “The World’s Ugliest Woman” went viral, and Velasquez was horrified to realize that she was the subject of the cruel video. Rather than retreating from the world, she used the experience as a springboard to become an outspoken advocate for those who are bullied.
She has since spoken at TEDx Austin and appeared on The View, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Good Morning America. Her message is simple: no one deserves to be bullied, regardless of how they look or what they’ve been through in life. And with her courage and determination, Velasquez is proving that there is nothing more powerful than someone who chooses to stand up for themselves – and others.
Jordyn Woods is a strong woman with an inspiring story to tell. After being bullied on social media for years, she finally found the courage within herself and created “The Voice That Will Save Lives,” which has since helped countless people through their own struggles of bullying or suicide prevention- both online and in real life!
“If I ever see that person who made this video they would be getting a hug from me,” says Jordyn while smiling at how amazing everything turned out considering what could’ve happened if somebody didn’t take action.
After her powerful TEDx talk went viral, Velasquez was approached by the group Women Rising and director Sara Bordo. They asked if they could document Velasquez’s daily existence and legislative efforts to pass the country’s first federal anti-bullying bill.
At the same time, YouTube star iJustine saw the potential in Velasquez’s story and agreed to be an executive producer on the film. With iJustine’s help, the film gained a wider audience and was able to achieve its goal of passing the anti-bullying bill. In addition to increasing awareness of bullying, the film also showed the importance of dedicated individuals working together to effect change. Thanks to Velasquez’s courage and determination, countless lives have been changed for the better.
Velasquez has met many people in his work who share the same feelings of frustration and anger that he does. The stories from these individuals are often shared online, but hearing them firsthand really drives home just how important their cause for equality can be!
Though she wants people to know that “you can do anything,” her life is not without struggles. Velasquez says there were times when I wished could escape out of my body and be someone else entirely – even if only for just a little while.”
When asked about the most difficult part of her journey, she mentions that it can be tough at times when you just want to give up. However with support from friends and family members who understand how hard this life really is for everyone involved in cancer research initiatives; they allow themselves those moments of sadness without judgment or shame – instead nurturing love towards one another through thick and thin qualities like understanding what each other goes through on days like these because we’re all human beings fighting against an enemy who doesn’t care if We Live Or Die.