Health & Wellness

Lizzie Velasquez on beating back bullies after being called 'world's ugliest woman'

When Lizzie Velasquez came across a hurtful YouTube video at age 17 that mocked her as "The World's Ugliest Woman," she was convinced the world was just a mean and hurtful place.

But in the 10 years since, she's used the hate to motivate millions of others to beat back the bullies.

She's become a sought-after motivational speaker, has her own YouTube channel, is writing her fourth book, and is featured in a Lifetime documentary premiering Monday titled "A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story."

WireImage
Lizzie Velasquez discussed "A Brave Heart:: The Lizzie Velasquez Story" at AOL Studios in September 2015.

Velasquez, 27, who has neonatal progeroid syndrome — a rare genetic disease that affects her heart, eyes and bones, and prevents her from gaining weight — was at first devastated by the video.

A year later, she gave her first motivational speech when the assistant principal at her Austin, Texas, high school asked her to tell her story to 400 ninth-grade students.

RELATED: Meet woman who can’t gain weight: At 21, she’s 60 pounds

At first, Velasquez worried no one would be able to relate to her, but it quickly became clear to her onstage that her story resonated with the other teens.

Courtesy of Emily Duncan
Velasquez shared what standing up to bullying means to her with "I Am That Girl" author Alexis Jones.

"When I started speaking, I realized I could connect with every single person because we all know what it's like to be bullied and to feel insecure," Velasquez told TODAY. "In that moment, I had never felt so confident in my own skin."

Velasquez went on to deliver a TED talk, where nearly 11 million viewers tuned in to hear her story. There's been no looking back for this anti-bullying warrior.

"Gaining fame has definitely come with amazing opportunities, but there's also a new sense of responsibility," said Velasquez. "I feel the need to live up to the inspirational standard I'm setting for myself."

Velasquez has taken on her newest role as an anti-bullying activist.

RELATED: Lizzie Velasquez: 'Ugliest woman' video changed my life for the better

She hopes that through her efforts, girls everywhere will not feel so alone, which is why she's teamed up with Secret this October in honor of National Bully Prevention Month. All month long, the deodorant brand has been inviting women and girls to share an anti-bullying pledge on social media using the hashtag #StandUpWithSecret.

Courtesy of Lizzie Velasquez
Velasquez used Secret's custom Snapchat filter, which gave girls on high school and college campuses the opportunity to show what standing up to bullying means to them.

"I feel like I'm walking on cloud nine every day now," Velasquez said. "To be able to connect with people around the world who are touched by my story and now feel confident to stand up for themselves makes me feel like I'm living out my purpose."

"I was able to get on the other side of bullying and if I was able to do that, then you can absolutely get there as well."

TOP