In a time when beauty is defined by supermodels; success, by wealth; and fame, by your number of social media fans, Lizzie Velasquez asks the question: How do you define yourself?
Lizzie shares with us, what a rare medical syndrome has taught her about love for family and for the self; about courage in the face of cruelty; and about being the architects of our own lives.
Im really, really, really excited to be here.
I kind of want to tell you
a little bit more of the - I dont want to say basics -
because we really dont know anything about my syndrome.
I was born with this very rare syndrome,
that only two other people in the world including myself, that we know of, have.
Basically what this syndrome causes, is that I cannot gain weight.
Yes, it does sound as good as it is.
I could eat absolutely whatever I want, whenever I want
and I wont really gain any weight.
Im going to be 25 in March,
and Ive never weighed over about 64 pounds in my entire life.
When I was in college, I hid -
well, I didnt hide it, everyone knew it was there -
but it was a giant tub of Twinkies, donuts, chips, Skittles,
and my roommate would say, I could hear you at 12:30 am,
reaching under your bed to get food.
But Im like, You know what? Its alright, I can do these things!
Because there are benefits to this syndrome.
There are benefits to not being able to gain weight.
There are benefits to being visually impaired.
There are benefits to being kind of really small.
A lot of people think,
Lizzie, how in the world are you saying there are benefits
when you can only see out of one eye?
Well, let me tell you what the benefits are
because they are great.
I wear contacts--conTACT. Half-off conTACTS.
When I wear my reading glasses: half-off prescription.
If somebody is annoying me, being rude:
Stand on my right side.
Its like youre not even there. I dont even know youre standing there.
Right now, if I stand like this, I have no clue
that theres this whole side of the room.
Also, being small, I am very willing to volunteer myself
to go to Weight Watchers or to some gym, and say,
Hi, Im Lizzie. I will be your poster child.
Put my face on whatever you need, and I will say,
Hi! I used this program. Look how well it worked.
Even though there are amazing things that have come from this syndrome,
there are also things that have been very, very difficult, as you can imagine.
Growing up, I was raised 150% normally.
I was my parents first child.
And when I was born, the doctors told my mom,
Your daughter has no amniotic fluid around her.
So when I was born, it was a miracle that I came out screaming.
The doctors told my parents,
We just want to warn you: Expect your daughter to never be able
to talk, walk, crawl, think, or do anything by herself.
Now, as first-time parents, you would think that my parents would say,
Oh no. Why? Why are we getting our first child
with all these unknown problems?
But thats not what they did.
The first thing they told the doctor was,
We want to see her, and we are going to take her home
and love her, and raise her to the best of our abilities.
And thats what they did.
I credit pretty much everything that Ive done in my life to my parents.
My dad is here with me today, and my mom is at home watching.
Shes recovering from surgery.
She has been the glue thats held our family together,
and shes given me the strength to see that shes going through so much,
but she has this fighting spirit that shes instilled in me,
so that I have proudly been able to stand in front of people and say,
You know what? Ive had a really difficult life.
But thats okay.
Thats okay. Things have been scary, things have been tough.
One of the biggest things
that I had to deal with growing up
was something Im pretty sure
every single one of us in this room has dealt with before.
Can you guess what that is?
It starts with a B. Can you guys guess it?
Audience: Boys! Lizzie: Boys?
I know what you all are thinking.
Why cant I sit here with them? (Laughter)
I had to deal with bullying a lot, but as I said, I was raised very normally,
so when I started kindergarten,
I had absolutely no idea that I looked different.
I couldnt see that I looked different from other kids.
I think of it as a big slap of reality for a five year-old,
because I went in to school the first day, decked-out in Pocahontas gear.
I was ready!
I went in with my backpack
that looked like a turtle shell because it was bigger than me,
and I walked up to a little girl and smiled at her,
and she looked up at me like I was a monster,
like I was the scariest thing she had ever seen in her life.
My first reaction was,
She is really rude.
I am a fun kid, and shes the one missing out.
So Ill just go over here and play with blocks. Or boys.
I thought the day would get better, and unfortunately, it didnt.
The day got worse and worse. A lot of people just wanted to have
absolutely nothing to do with me, and I couldnt understand why.
Why? What did I do? I didnt do anything to them!
In my mind I was still a really cool kid.
I had to go home and ask my parents,
Whats wrong with me?
What did I do? Why dont they like me?
They sat me down and said,
Lizzie, the only thing different about you
is that youre smaller than the other kids.
You have this syndrome, but its not going to define who you are.
They said,Go to school, pick your head up, smile,
continue to be yourself, and people will see
that youre just like them.
And so thats what I did.
I want you to think, and ask yourself this in your head, right now:
What defines you?
Who are you?
Is it where you come from? Is it your background? Is it your friends?
What is it?
What defines who you are as a person?
Its taken me a very long time to figure out what defines me.
For so long I thought what defined me
was my outer appearance. I thought that my little tiny legs,
and my little arms, and my little face were ugly.
I thought I was disgusting.
I hated when Id wake up in the morning when I was going to middle school,
and would be looking in the mirror getting ready, and thinking,
Can I just scrub this syndrome off?
It would make my life so much easier if I could just scrub it off.
I could look like other kids; I wouldnt have to buy clothes
that had Dora the Explorer on them. I wouldnt have to buy stuff
that was Bedazzled, when I was trying to be like the cool kids.
I would wish, and pray, and hope, and do whatever I could
so I would wake up in the morning and be different,
and I wouldnt have to deal with these struggles.
Its what I wanted every single day,
and every single day I was disappointed.
I have an amazing support system around me,
who never pity me, who are there to pick me up if Im sad,
who are there to laugh with me during the good times,
and they taught me that, even though I have this syndrome,
even though things are hard, I cant let that define me.
My life was put into my hands, just like your lives are put into yours.
You are the person in the front seat of your car.
You are the one who decides
whether your car goes down a bad path, or a good path.
You are the one who decides what defines you.
Now let me tell you: it could be really hard to figure out
what defines you, because there were times
when Id get so annoyed and frustrated, and say:
I dont care what defines me!
When I was in high school I found a video,
unfortunately, that somebody posted of me,
labeling me the worlds ugliest woman.
There were over four million views to this video; eight seconds long,
no sound, thousands of comments; people saying,
Lizzie, please - please - just do the world a favor,
put a gun to your head, and kill yourself.
Think about that, if people told you that,
if strangers told you this.
I cried my eyes out of course, and I was ready to fight back
and something kind of clicked in my head,
and I thought, Im just going to leave it alone.
I started realizing that my life is in my hands.
I could either choose to make this really good,
or I could choose to make this really bad.
I could be grateful, and open my eyes
and realize the things that I do have,
and make those the things that define me.
I cant see out of one eye, but I can see out of the other.
或许我的一只眼睛无法看见这世界。 那又怎样？ 我还有另一只。
I might get sick a lot, but I have really nice hair.
(Audience) You do, you do!
You guys are like the best little section right here.
(Lizzie laughs) You made me lose my train of thought!
Okay... where was I?
Audience: Your hair!
Hair! Hair. Ok, ok, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
So I could either choose to be happy or I could choose
to be upset with what I have and still kind of complain about it,
but then I started realizing:
Am I going to let the people who called me a monster define me?
Am I going to let the people who said, Kill it with fire! define me?
No; Im going to let my goals, and my success, and my accomplishments
be the things that define me - Not my outer appearance,
not the fact that Im visually impaired,
not the fact that I have this syndrome that nobody knows what it is.
So I told myself Im going to work my butt off
and do whatever I could to make myself better,
because in my mind, the best way that I could get back at all those people
who made fun of me, who teased me,
who called me ugly, who called me a monster
was to make myself better, and to show them:
You know what?
Tell me those negative things,
Im going to turn them around,
and Im going to use them as a ladder
to climb up to my goals.
Thats what I did.
I told myself that I wanted to be a motivational speaker,
I wanted to write a book,
graduate college, have my own family, and have my own career.
Eight years later, I’m standing in front of you,
still doing motivational speaking.
First thing, I accomplished it.
I wanted to write a book; in a couple of weeks
I will be submitting the manuscript for my third book.
I wanted to graduate college, and I just finished college.
(Cheers and applause)
Im getting a degree in Communication Studies
from Texas State University in San Marcos,
and I have a minor in English.
I really, really tried to use real-life experience
while I was getting my degree, and my professors were not having it.
I wanted to have, lastly, my own family and my own career.
The family part is kind of down the line, and my career part,
I feel like Im really doing well with it, considering the fact that
when I decided I wanted to be a motivational speaker, I went home,
I sat in front of my laptop, went to Google, and typed in:
How to be a motivational speaker.
Im not even joking.
I worked my butt off. I used the people who were telling me
that I couldnt do this to motivate me.
I used their negativity to light my fire to keep going.
Use that. Use that. Use that negativity
that you have in your life to make yourself better,
because I guarantee you -
guarantee you -
You will win.
Now I want to end, with asking you again.
I want you to leave here, and ask yourself what defines you.
Brave starts here.