Once called ‘World’s Ugliest Woman,’ Lizzie Velasquez fights bullying with her …

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story': Film Review.

Lizzie Velasquez was 17 when she stumbled upon a video about herself on YouTube called “The World’s Ugliest Woman.” Velasquez, who is blind in one eye and has a rare syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight, was shocked by the thousands of hateful comments viewers wrote about her appearance. The makers of “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story” leave a few too many questions unanswered, but their subject’s immense optimism steamrolls through the documentary’s shortcomings.The documentary, directed by Sara Bordo, gives an inside look into how 26-year-old Velasquez emerged as an impactful, passionate activist after enduring the cruelty of online bullies.

The first shot of Lizzie Velasquez in A Brave Heart—the documentary that won the audience award at this year’s SXSW– is designed to startle and provoke a reaction. Today, Velasquez, 26, is a YouTube influencer with her own channel, and has used her experiences to become a motivational speaker and anti-bullying activist. Velasquez’s journey into the spotlight started when she came across a YouTube video that labeled her the “world’s ugliest woman” when she was just 17 years old.

But the documentary isn’t just a look back at Velasquez’s struggles to fit in; it’s a call to action, showing how she’s taken her cyberbullying experience in stride by giving a successful TED talk in 2013 and even lobbying for a federal anti-bullying bill in D.C. For the film, Velasquez allowed Bordo and the crew to follow her to her motivational speeches around the world as well as accompany her on her visits to her doctor. At the Austin, Tex., TEDxWomen conference in 2013, Velasquez gave a speech — which now has almost 10 million views — entitled, “How Do YOU Define Yourself,” and since then, she has served not only as a role model for being confident in one’s own skin, but also as an advocate for victims of bullying. On top of that, Velasquez reached out to Justine Ezarik (iJustine to YouTubers), a fellow content creator and friend who served as an executive producer.

JUSTINE EZARIK: I found Lizzie a few years ago on Instagram, and I forget the exact picture that she posted, but I saw one picture that was her, and I left a comment and then Lizzie commented back, like “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you commented,” and then I wrote back, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you commented back!” So it was this whole crazy thing and then we started talking, and I went to Texas maybe a year later for a panel and I invited her to come. It was just exciting — we kind of bonded over the Internet and had very similar experiences with the Internet phenomenon, with making YouTube videos and dealing with haters and things like that. With Velasquez and Bordo promoting the cause, the pair’s anti-bullying movement has garnered the support of stars like Kristen Bell, Giuliana Rancic, Octavia Spencer and Hilary Duff. “Every time [we travel] I write a list of every single thing that I obviously know I need,” said Velasquez of the routine, noting that her one-night trip to Los Angeles was “a breeze” compared to her usually longer trips. “I could carry both of my bags!” A BRAVE HEART: Velasquez and the film’s team wear jewelry from the Brave Collection, a line handmade by female artisans in Cambodia, that supports women from underprivileged backgrounds to support themselves. Back in January last year, after my TED talk, Sara called and was like, “I had this crazy idea, I want to do a documentary on your life,” and I said yes. But when asked what she’ll be wearing during as they embark on their press tour, Velasquez notes that while she’s a fan of fashion, shopping can be difficult. “It’s hard to find clothes that fit me,” she admitted, “because I’ll find stuff that works but then I’ll have to get it altered.

Director Sara Hirsh Bordo sets out not just to honor Velasquez but to underscore some of the horrors of the internet, which allows and encourages a new kind of hate speech. Some things have to be completely taken apart and then put back together.” At five-foot two inches and roughly 60 pounds, Velasquez understandably has a difficult time dressing her petite frame; however she’s never without her silver cross ring, a custom-sized gift from a friend in high school. “It’s a really good reminder, every time I look down,” she says. As for clothing, Velasquez cites a small shop in Nashville, Bluetique, that has been particularly helpful in outfitting her special occasions, fitting all the garments to her small stature. “We’re rotating some things we might have worn in New York — we’re now wearing them in LA — and some things we wore in LA we’re wearing in New York,” laughs Bordo, noting that they’ll forgo a social media post if they have plans to wear an outfit at a later date. EZARIK: I was so honored, you know, like, “Are you sure you want me to be a part of this?” I’ve just been so inspired by everything that’s being done, it’s so impressive. Her father is a teacher who worked in the same elementary school that Lizzie attended, and the film demonstrates what a difference it can be for a bullied child to have a nurturing home environment.

The reality of the situation is we have so many people simply saying those words but not giving an in-depth explanation of HOW it could possibly reach the destination of “better.” The documentary about my life, A Brave Heart, I feel, is that very explanation. I like to say this is my film, but it’s everyone’s story—everyone’s story meaning not that people share my exact experience of finding what I call the “bad” video when I was 17.

The disease impedes her from accumulating body fat; she literally has zero percent body fat and has never weighed more than 64 pounds, however though it is not terminal. When I started making videos, there weren’t people who were that into video games or doing tech-type things [on YouTube], and I was getting judged for that. I’ve responded back to many of them to engage in the conversation and to understand why they say those terrible things, and a lot of the time the response is, “I didn’t think you would actually see that” or “Wow, I’m not actually even mad.” So a lot of the time people are just saying things and they’re not thinking that a real person is there.

When I think about it like that, people don’t understand the impact people can have, and I think Lizzie did a great job of turning the negativity into something that can be turned into something positive for the world. Due to our PG-13 rating, that dream isn’t coming as easily as we hoped, because of the heavy topics and themes that are talked about in the film—like Tina Meier’s story.

You are enough no matter what; you were put on this earth for a reason” Soon you’ll be able to see her story on the big screen in the documentary film @ABraveHeartFilm in theaters on September 25th. Check out Lizzie’s Instagram @LittleLizzieV – she’s taking a lifetime full of bullying to help teach the world #IAmMoreThan the names they call me. #ImWithLizzie and Lizzie taught me #IAmMoreThan who I think I am. What I found while I was looking at Justine’s videos, which I just love so much, and seeing her comments, I would see people saying awful things and I would get defensive for you, Justine, even when I didn’t know you. It’s hard for me to understand because my story is only one of so many others who deal with—and have dealt with—instances of bullying and cyberbullying in the severest of ways. EZARIK: Yeah, and you know, as terrible as those things are, it’s interesting that you have the power to voice your opinion, whether it is good or bad.

We will continue to work as hard as we can and raise as much awareness as we can so that the hope is shared and that the realities are heard—heard in the sense that even though some comments and/or stories are very difficult to hear, are painful to watch, and are uncomfortable to discuss, you never know whose life it might save if you’re just given the chance. I often hear about bullying in the workplace, which shocks me because you think that bullying happens in school and college, but bosses bully people, too. For the documentary, were there moments that were particularly hard to film, Lizzie, or ones that particularly touched you while you were watching, Justine? I didn’t say anything the entire time they were talking to me, and they both thought I was really mad, but I wasn’t, I just didn’t know how to process it.

And the amount of people that we had to touch and support this film from the first day we launched our Kickstarter through this whole journey, it was historic. And with Lizzie being just finally able to tell that story, because the thing about YouTube is you come across random videos of people and you immediately judge them, you know? But then, the stories behind all of those videos, just to tell the whole story, to tell the behind the scenes… [the documentary] accomplished all of these goals.

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