When Lizzie Velasquez logged onto YouTube in search of some good music, she had no idea her life was about to change forever. Velasquez, who was in high school at the time, stumbled across a video titled "The World's Ugliest Girl" and soon discovered that she, in fact, was the subject of the video that had collected more than 4 million views and scores of horrifying comments. The video, only eight seconds in length and completely silent, showed a single photo of Velasquez from when she was just 11 years old.
She was shaken.
Born with a rare disease that makes it impossible for her to gain weight, the now 26-year-old has never weighed more than 64 lbs. in her life. Bullied throughout her childhood years by classmates and later online by complete strangers, Velasquez decided to take charge of her life and silence the backlash once and for all.
She began making a variety of videos on YouTube, ranging from how to speak in public to how to define beauty. She then began speaking to large crowds of young children, teens, and adults. She even released three books. But Velasquez's groundbreaking moment was during her TEDx talk in 2013. Her motivational speech has received more than 9.5 million views on YouTube to date—this time with scores of supportive comments.
"The best way to get back at everyone who called me a monster was to make myself better," she explained in the TEDx talk.
A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story hits theaters today and documents her inspirational journey. Most importantly, the 78-minute film shows how Velasquez silenced the negativity in her life by becoming an anti-bullying activist. She even plans to travel to Capitol Hill and lobby in favor of the first federal anti-bullying bill.
Velasquez's story is one that can resonate with many of us, regardless of age. Her personal anecdotes illustrate just how dangerous bullying has become, both on screen and off, and can be used as a teaching tool by children and parents to spread awareness.
Check your local listings to see where the documentary will be airing, and learn how to host a screening or show the film in your child's school.
Jennifer Cole is an editorial intern at Parents magazine who loves barre classes, dark chocolate and curly haired pups. Follow her on Twitter: @jcole918