It was 10 years ago when Elizabeth “Lizzie” Velasquez, then 17 years old, came across a YouTube video of a local TV interview she had done. She clicked on it “not knowing that it would change my entire world.”
It was an eight-second video clip of her interview and was titled “The World’s Ugliest Woman.”
“When I found it, there were already 4 million views and so many awful comments," she said. "At that moment I thought, ‘Well, my life is over.”
But she decided not to feel sorry about herself, or feel bad about herself, and do what countless women have done for decades, if not centuries -- she decided to use her looks to her advantage.
“My parents said you can have your one good cry and let it out, but you have to pick your head up and move on to something positive,” she told Fox News Latino. “And for me, that was in the form of setting goals, speaking out against cyber bullying and reaching out to the media so people could hear my story.”
Now 27, Velasquez, a third-generation Mexican American who was born with a syndrome so rare that it doesn’t even have a name, has turned what she once considered a curse into her life’s biggest blessing. Velasquez, who was born four weeks premature, has 0 percent body fat and looks emaciated no matter how much she eats.
“I hated my condition because it caused so much pain in my life. Not physical pain, but emotional pain. I mean, being a teenager is hard enough, but being a 13-year-old girl with this syndrome, who is blind in one eye, who weighs 58 pounds, and who is constantly picked on by people is almost unbearable,” she said.
But, she said, as she grew older she grew to love her skin.
“Now I actually look at my condition as a gift,” she said. “I honestly think of it as waking up every morning and it’s Christmas Day and it’s something that I’m blessed to have and I want to share this gift with anyone who will have it.”
That “gift” has taken her story from her hometown of Austin, Texas, to all corners of the world. As a sought-after motivational speaker and author (her third book is set to be released August 2014), Lizzie has been interviewed by everyone from Barbara Walters to Katie Couric. She also has a documentary in the works entitled “The Lizzie Project.”
“This is not going to be a movie just about my life,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been given such a huge platform that I want to take full advantage of it. ‘The Lizzie Project’ is a call for anyone who wants to unite and make the online world a more positive place,” she said. “My mission is to show that there’s light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to bullying and I’m hoping to do that throughout this movie.”
The project is generating funds via Kickstarter and recently reached its goal of raising $180,000 in just 25 days. However, people can still donate by the May 31st deadline to help with all of the post-production costs.
“This documentary is another dream that I never knew I had,” Lizzie said. “It has not been an easy journey, but I always say there are three things that have gotten me to where I am today: My faith, my family and my friends. I know there is still a lot of work to do, but I just want to hug every single person who’s rallied around me, who has supported this project and helped spread the word. It has truly been a beautiful thing.”
For more information: thelizzieproject.com