Her name is Lizzie Velasquez.
She is not what Hollywood would call “beautiful.” Her face is not perfectly in proportion. She’s not the type of girl that the boys would fawn over. In fact, she has been labeled as the “World’s Ugliest Woman.”
Lizzie was born with a rare condition called Neonatal Progeroid Syndrome that only two other people in the world have. The condition causes premature aging and includes a “larger than normal sized head; prominent scalp veins; triangular, aged face; wrinkled skin; and decreased fat under the skin.” Because of her condition, she is unable to gain weight and she has never weighed more than 64 pounds in her entire life; in 2010, The Telegraph reported that she consumes between 5,000 and 8,000 calories a day.
Despite the difficulties she has faced in her life, her condition has not stopped her from accomplishing her dreams. Today, Lizzie is a motivational speaker, whose story has appeared all over the world. She recognizes that she has had an amazing support system behind her. “I credit pretty much everything that I’ve done in my life to my parents,” she said. Recently, she graduated from Texas State University and will soon be publishing her third book. Not bad for the “World’s Ugliest Woman,” eh?
Lizzie was born four weeks prematurely on March 13, 1989, weighing only 2lb 10oz. Doctors told her mother, Rita, that there was almost no amniotic fluid around her as a fetus. As Rita said, “They told us they had no idea how she could have survived.” In one her motivational speeches, Lizzie stated, “When I was born, it was a miracle that I came out screaming.” Doctors warned her parents that she may never walk, talk, crawl, think, or do anything by herself. Despite that early prognosis, Lizzie overcame the odds and overall is healthy, despite her weight problem.
As she grew up, she had to deal with a lot of cruel bullying. “When I started kindergarten, I had absolutely no idea that I looked different,” Lizzie said. “I couldn’t see that I looked different from other kids. I think of it as a big slap of reality for a five-year old.” All day, kids shied away from her and she couldn’t understand why. She went home and asked her parents what was wrong with her and why the other kids didn’t like her. “They sat me down and said, ‘The only thing that’s different about you is that you’re smaller than the other kids,’” she said. “‘You have this syndrome, but it’s not going to define who you are.’” Her parents told her to keep her head high, smile, and continue being herself because the other kids would realize she was just like them, “…and so that’s what I did,” she stated.
It was when she was in high school that she discovered a video of her online calling her the “World’s Ugliest Woman.” It was only an eight-second video with no audio, but it had over 4 million views and thousands of comments. One such comment said, “Lizzie, please, please, just do the world a favor, put a gun to your head, and kill yourself.”
As a motivational speaker, Lizzie has a profound impact on the audiences she speaks to. In the speech featured on her website, she asked them, “What defines you as a person?” She admitted:
“It’s 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 I was disgusting. I would wish and pray and hope and do whatever I could to pray that I would wake up in the morning and I would be different and I wouldn’t have to deal with these struggles. It’s what I wanted every single day and every single day I was disappointed.”
Later on in her speech, she paused, scanning the audience, before saying:
“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. I’m 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 I’m visually impaired. Not the fact that I have this syndrome that nobody knows what it is. So I told myself, ‘I’m 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 my ugly, who called me a monster, was to make myself better and show them, ‘You know what? Tell me those negative things. I’m going to turn them around and I’m going to use them as a ladder to climb up to my goals…’”
She looked to the large crowd of people who came to watch her, those who hung on her every word and shouted out encouragement as she talked. It was a crowd that had teary eyes from being moved by her message and the story of how she overcame the odds to reach success. With a smile, she declared, “…that’s what I did.”