A for­mer vic­tim of vi­cious bul­ly­ing, to­day Lizzie Ve­lasquez teaches un­con­di­tional kind­ness

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A for­mer vic­tim of vi­cious bul­ly­ing, to­day Lizzie Ve­lasquez teaches un­con­di­tional kind­ness.

Lizzie Ve­lasquez al­ways knew she was dif­fer­ent, she just didn’t know why. The 28-yearold from Texas has a rare con­di­tion that was only di­ag­nosed three years ago: neona­tal progeroid syn­drome (NPS), which is a com­bi­na­tion of Mar­fan syn­drome—a ge­netic con­di­tion af­fect­ing vi­sion, the heart and con­nec­tive tis­sue—and lipodys­tro­phy. “Lipodys­tro­phy is re­spon­si­ble for my in­abil­ity to gain weight,” ex­plains Ve­lasquez, who long-suf­fered “skinny” taunts—just one facet of the bul­ly­ing she has en­dured since kinder­garten, which cul­mi­nated when, at 17, she learnt that the in­ter­net had la­belled her “the world’s ugli­est woman.” Eleven years on from her nadir, Ve­lasquez has be­come an in-de­mand mo­ti­va­tional speaker and evan­ge­list for kind­ness—a sim­ple trait she be­lieves can change the world, as she tells in the fol­low­ing ex­tract.

The B-word, Bul­ly­ing: It sucks. I know a thing or two about be­ing bul­lied. I was bul­lied at school through­out my child­hood and later, I ex­pe­ri­enced un­speak­able bul­ly­ing on­line, all be­cause I look some­what dif­fer­ent.

I like to think of my [first] bul­ly­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in kinder­garten as a big slap of re­al­ity. As a 5-year-old, I had no clue how mean peo­ple could be to each other. I didn’t know be­ing mean was a thing! I’d grown up with my sib­lings, my cousins, my par­ents and aunts and un­cles and grandparents, and ev­ery­one just treated me like Lizzie—like I was any other beloved mem­ber of the fam­ily.

That’s why go­ing to kinder­garten was such a shock. That first day, it was like there was a sign on my fore­head that ev­ery­one could see ex­cept me: Don’t sit by me. Don’t play with me. Don’t even talk to me. No-one wanted to stand next to me in line. No-one asked me to play with them. No mat­ter what I did that day, I was all by my­self. The most I got from the other kids were stares. And that was just day one! In sev­enth grade, I was voted princess at the Home­com­ing Dance. I have no idea how that hap­pened—who nom­i­nated me, who voted for me, or how I won. What I do know is the boy who won prince did not like me. He was em­bar­rassed by me. He didn’t want to stand next to me and when all the other cou­ples were danc­ing, he re­fused to dance with me. So I just sat there on the stage, in front of ev­ery­one, alone and hu­mil­i­ated.

The bul­ly­ing con­tin­ued off and on through­out mid­dle and high school, but the worst ex­pe­ri­ence of all hap­pened when I was 17 years old. At that point in my life, ev­ery­thing was ac­tu­ally go­ing pretty well. Over the years, I had made friends and built up my con­fi­dence, and it had taken me a long time to get to that point. One af­ter­noon, I wanted to lis­ten to some mu­sic while I did my home­work, so I went to Youtube. I started look­ing around for a song to lis­ten to, and on the right-hand side, un­der “Sug­gested Videos,” some­thing snagged my at­ten­tion. It was a thumb­nail—a lit­tle photo of a girl with black hair and glasses. The girl in the photo looked so fa­mil­iar. Was that me? At first I thought, “No, that’s not me. That couldn’t be me.” But when I clicked on it, of course, I found that it was.

All the air in my en­tire body sud­denly van­ished—it just whooshed out of me, and I was left sit­ting there, speech­less and try­ing to breathe. I had one hand over my mouth and the other over my heart, which was beat­ing in­cred­i­bly fast.

I scrolled down the page and read the ti­tle of the video—“World’s Ugli­est Woman”—and then no­ticed the view count. Over 4 mil­lion view­ers had al­ready watched this video of me, be­cause they all wanted to see the ugli­est girl in the world. It was like I was the world’s most pop­u­lar sideshow at­trac­tion.

I watched the video. There was no sound to it, and it was only eight sec­onds long. All I felt, all I could feel, was shock. When I scrolled down to the com­ments below and read the first two, I saw that they were aw­ful.

Why didn’t her par­ents abort her?

Kill it with fire!!! My as­ton­ish­ment only in­creased. Why had 4 mil­lion peo­ple watched such a video? And why had so many gone out of their way to post such hate­ful, neg­a­tive com­ments? Then some­thing hap­pened: it was like the flood­gates opened, and I just couldn’t stop read­ing those com­ments, every hor­ri­ble one.

If peo­ple see her face in public, they will go blind. WHAT A MON­STER! She should just put a gun to her head and kill her­self! Kill your­self. Do ev­ery­one a favour and just kill your­self.

I ended up read­ing a good two thou­sand or so com­ments, one af­ter an­other, while sit­ting there at my desk. I was des­per­ately search­ing for just one per­son who might have stood up for me.

No-one had. Not one com­ment was kind. Every sin­gle one was mean and nasty.

The door to my room was open. When I looked out into the hall, I could see into the liv­ing room, where my mom was sit­ting. I re­mem­ber look­ing at her and then just start­ing to bawl. In­stantly, I wanted to hide this aw­ful dis­cov­ery from my par­ents, be­cause I knew they would feel so pow­er­less and up­set. They would feel the way I felt, but times a mil­lion.

So I just sat there and cried silently. There was a towel on my bed, and I grabbed it and held it over my mouth to muf­fle the sounds. I was just pray­ing my mother wouldn’t look into my room and see me fall­ing apart.

Then, of course, she did get up and came to­ward the hall­way. I didn’t see her. I was cry­ing too hard. But she saw me, and she came into my room and asked me what was go­ing on.

When I told her, she cried, too—but not in front of me. In front of me, she held it in. She im­me­di­ately told me to stop look­ing at the com­ments on the video. “Close it,” she said, mean­ing I should close the web browser win­dow im­me­di­ately. But I couldn’t do it. I just sat on my bed and kept cry­ing.

A while later, my dad came home, and we told him about the video. My dad had al­ways been able to make things bet­ter with a joke, a smile, and a hug. Not this time, though. None of us knew what to say. We were all com­pletely shocked. I had been bul­lied be­fore, of course, and my par­ents had al­ways taught me to laugh it off, stay con­fi­dent, and keep my sense of hu­mour about me. But none of us had known any­thing like this could hap­pen, so we had no prepa­ra­tion for it when it did.

Find­ing that video was by far the worst, most dev­as­tat­ing and un­ex­pected shock of my life. As soon as I laid eyes on it and all those aw­ful com­ments peo­ple had posted, it was as if all the hard work I’d done over the years build­ing up my con­fi­dence went right down the drain. In an in­stant, it was gone. It was the first time I had ever felt com­pletely de­feated.

Fast-for­ward a decade. At 28 years old, I am a mo­ti­va­tional speaker and an an­tibul­ly­ing ac­tivist. I ab­so­lutely love my work. I feel that it’s what I am meant to do, what I’m here on this earth to ac­com­plish. But what’s most mean­ing­ful and im­por­tant to me is be­ing able to sup­port peo­ple and their fam­i­lies who have ex­pe­ri­enced what my par­ents and I did.

So many of us have our own sto­ries of in­tim­i­da­tion, vic­tim­i­sa­tion, and pain. Bul­ly­ing comes in lots of dif­fer­ent forms. But shak­ing our heads in sor­row or even reach­ing out in com­mis­er­a­tion isn’t enough. The prob­lem of bul­ly­ing has a so­lu­tion, and it’s a very sim­ple one: kind­ness.

Kind­ness to­wards our­selves and kind­ness to­wards the bully. That might seem ridicu­lous. Kind­ness prob­a­bly seems like the last thing a bully de­serves, and treat­ing bul­lies with kind­ness is def­i­nitely dif­fi­cult to do. Be­lieve me, I know from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, since that’s my ap­proach every time I en­counter a bully. It’s been a long process, but I have come to see that a cul­ture of kind­ness is what we des­per­ately need. It is the best so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of bul­ly­ing, in all in­stances and at all lev­els, from school­yard taunt­ing to the sys­temic marginal­i­sa­tion of mi­nor­ity groups, and even to our coun­try’s prob­lem of vi­o­lence that has got­ten so out of con­trol.

Kind­ness is what I have found to be the best an­swer to all of these is­sues.


“They kept on try­ing to fig­ure out what was wrong with her,” said Rita Ve­lasquez of her daugh­ter, Lizzie.

“It’s ironic to me that Youtube, and of all things, was my first to be a big­gest tool in learn­ing writes mo­ti­va­tional speaker,” Ve­lasquez (with Eva Men­des in New York last year).

In 2015, Kylie Jen­ner sup­ported Ve­lasquez’s cam­paign to urge the US gov­ern­ment to pass an anti-bul­ly­ing bill called the Safe Schools Im­prove­ment Act.

An edited ex­cerpt from Dare to Be Kind by Lizzie Ve­lasquez, avail­able now at K-mart Big W, Tar­get and book­stores (Af­firm Press, $22.99).

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