After Being Called “The World’s Ugliest Woman,” She’s Teaching Us All Something About The Danger Of Judgement

Photo: Courtesy of Cinedigm.
Lizzie Velasquez is used to being on camera. Velasquez, who suffers from a rare condition that prevents her from gaining weight, is a vlogger whose YouTube channel has over 450,000 subscribers. But when she began filming the documentary about her life, A Brave Heart, she was determined not to cry. “Since I’ve started my YouTube channel, I’ve really grown into feeling comfortable with showing a tiny peek of being vulnerable,” she said during a recent interview with Refinery 29 in New York. “At the beginning of filming, I told Sara [Hirsh Bordo, the film's director] I wasn’t going to cry on camera because I never show that side, and that went out the window very quickly.” A Brave Heart explores how Velasquez turned her childhood bullying and the traumatic experience of being called “The World’s Ugliest Woman” on YouTube into a vocation of activism and motivational speaking. The movie follows Velasquez as she goes to the doctor to learn about her diagnosis — she has a combination of Marfan syndrome and lipodystrophy — and battles illness while on Capitol Hill lobbying for anti-bullying legislation. Velasquez says that she and Bordo did not aim to make a longer version of the 2013 TED talk that propelled Velasquez to a wider audience. “Lizzie’s vlogging is almost always very insular. It all takes place in her apartment. It’s first person,” Bordo explained. “It’s all about who Lizzie is. What I wanted to show is how Lizzie became Lizzie, and that’s where her amazing parents became a very, very, very important piece.” While we spoke, Velasquez's mother, Rita, was in the room, along with producers Jessica Chou and Ngoc Nguyen. Velasquez cited the women present when asked who inspires her.
Recently, Velasquez has found an unlikely bedfellow in her anti-bullying crusade: Kylie Jenner, who featured Velasquez’s story as part of her #IAmMoreThan campaign. “I had a chance to talk to her on the phone,” Velasquez said. “When you hear the names, you instantly have all of these ideas as to what they are like. I was very surprised at how vulnerable she was with me, and to open up on how she’s been treated online and things of that nature. I just think it was so awesome to have such a huge, huge platform to be able to highlight other people, not only me, but the other five people that she highlighted.” Did Velasquez have any preconceived notions about a member of the Jenner family? No, that’s not her style. “I come from the mindset of: You can’t judge someone, because you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. That’s how I feel about myself,” she shared. “I feel like a lot of people can’t judge me if they don’t know who I am. I wouldn’t say that I had all of these ideas, because I always remind myself that you don’t really know what’s going on in their life.” A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story is in theaters and on demand September 25.

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