Lizzie Valesquez was once labeled by the Internet as ‘The World’s Ugliest Woman’. Now, she’s turned her bullying experience into a career — she’s a motivational speaker whose videos have been viewed more than 20 million times.
In addition to YouTube, Lizze’s published three books and is the subject of a new documentary chronicling her life journey.
In an interview with Dr. Drew for HLN, Lizzie opens up about her experience and how she’s been able to overcome adversity.
HLN: How did it feel the first time you saw the Internet post that called you, ‘The World’s Ugliest Woman’?
Lizzie Velasquez: It was devastating. I was about 16 at the time, and I was in my sister’s room and on her computer. I noticed someone pulled an old clip from a talk show I appeared on when I was a little girl, and the headline for the video screamed, “The World’s Ugliest Woman.” As if that weren’t bad enough, there were 5 million views and thousands of pages worth of comments. I read every single comment and 98% of them were vicious. I didn’t cry at first, but then some of the comments started referring to my parents and that’s when I lost it.
I could see my mother sitting in a chair just outside of my sister’s room, and I knew that if she saw the post, it would break her heart. I can handle my own sadness, but it kills me to see my parents in pain. I imagined how my mother would feel and I just started bawling. I was crying so hard that I literally could not catch my breath. But today when I see a negative post, it just makes me stronger. It’s like they’re daring me to lock myself in my room and cry all day. But you know what? I’m the last person you ever want to dare. It motivates me. Bullies think they’re hurting me, when they’re actually inspiring me. But don’t get me wrong, it took me a long time to get to this place.
HLN: When did you realize you were different?
Velasquez: I realized I was different my first day of kindergarten. Growing up, my parents and our extended family raised me as a normal kid. I truly had no idea that I was different from other people until my first day of school. I was treated like a monster that day. No one wanted to play with me. No one wanted to sit near me. My 5-year-old brain couldn’t compute it. I was like, “Hey, I’m a fun kid. Why is everyone avoiding me? Why is everyone staring at me?”
Being accepted and loved was the only life I had ever known up until that point. I remember leaving my house that morning and feeling so excited, but I came home that day feeling sad and confused. I rarely, if ever, talked to my parents about how I was feeling. I would only let myself cry when I was alone in the bathtub, or after they went to bed. I never wanted them to see me sad. I knew how much they loved me and the thought of them suffering too would have only devastated me more.
HLN: What about the medical obstacles you’ve faced?
Velasquez: I was just 2 pounds, 10 ounces when I was born. They told my parents I would likely never walk or talk. Doctors weren’t sure I’d even make it out of the hospital alive, but I was released after just six weeks. Glaucoma cost me the sight in my right eye when I was 4 years old. Another unexplained part of my syndrome is my inability to gain weight. I’m 5’2″ and have never weighed more than 65 pounds.
HLN: Today you’re in such a good place — how did you get there?
Velasquez: Without a doubt, I credit the three F’s in my life. The first is my faith. I was raised in church and prayer has played a major role in my life — especially getting me through the low points. The second is my family. I give my parents so much credit for the person I am today. It’s not like they were given a guidebook on “raising Lizzie.” I was their firstborn child and they did the best they knew how.
I have the most amazing parents in the world. Conversations with me about my medical condition were always delivered with the most positive take. They explained to me that I have a rare syndrome, and that I would always be smaller and thinner than my peers. They never delivered a message with a negative spin. They never instilled fear in me. They never let me feel that I was “less than.” And finally, my friends. They are my lifeline.
Kudos to Lizzie for not letting the cruelty of world break her spirit. Dr. Drew On Call airs Monday through Thursday on HLN at 9 p.m.