“Kill it with fire!” “Do everyone a favour and kill yourself!”
Imagine if you logged on to your computer one day to find those callous statements on one of your social media pages. That’s exactly what happened to Lizzie Velasquez.
Lizzie was born with an extremely rare condition that prevented her from gaining weight and made her look different from the other kids at school. After suffering bullying through her early school years, she was beginning to be accepted as a teenager, joining the cheerleading team and making friends, when the bullying started again. And this time, she couldn’t escape from it when she got home. It was online, for everyone to see, including Lizzie from the sanctuary of her own bedroom. She found a short video of herself on YouTube, dubbed ‘The World’s Ugliest Woman’. It had had thousands of views, and had generated thousands of hateful comments from cyberbullies.
However, while this was clearly a low point in Lizzie’s life, she refused to let that determine who she was, or who she would become. She took that hatred—from complete strangers who didn’t even know her—and channelled it into feelings of power and positivity that saw Lizzie, now 26, emerge as one of the world’s leading anti-bullying activists.
A new documentary, A Brave Heart – The Lizzie Velasquez Story, follows her inspiring journey from bullying victim to anti-bullying campaigner. Part of the documentary focuses on Lizzie’s attempts to get a new bill passed in the US government that could help victims of bullying. The Safe Schools Improvement Act would ensure that schools prohibit bullying and harassment in their codes of conduct, and would have to record instances of bullying and harassment in their annual school safety reports. At the time of writing, this bill still hadn’t been passed.
“Unfortunately the bill still hasn’t gotten enough votes to be put to the floor.” Lizzie says. “I think what’s most important right now is the need for awareness of the bill. Not many people know about it and I believe what is important is the personal stories of children being bullied in school.”
In the film, we meet the mother of Megan Meier, a 13-year-old girl who hanged herself in her wardrobe after being bullied online. Lizzie says cyberbullying is a real problem for today’s children and something needs to be done about it to prevent more lives being affected, or even taken.
So, what advice does Lizzie have for someone who experiences cyberbullying? “Know that when it comes to the internet, with the good comes the bad,” she says. “Not everyone will have something nice to say. If you ever feel like it’s too much, take a break from social media and do something positive.”
She also says parents and carers play a big role in tackling the problem with their own children: “Keeping a healthy conversation open with your child about the good and not so good days is key.”
Lizzie has taken her anti-bullying message around the world. She also received a standing ovation for her influential TEDx Talk, which has been viewed in excess of 10.5 million times.
Lizzie has just finished writing her new book and is looking forward to sharing it with everyone in 2017.
You can see the full documentary trailer here.
If you are worried about your child being a victim of online bullies, see What can you do if your child is being cyberbullied.