When Lizzie Velasquez was 17, she stumbled upon a Youtube video titled "The Ugliest Woman in the World," and proceeded to see footage of her own face. Born with a medical disorder that results in an atypical physical appearance, Velasquez wasn't unfamiliar with bullying, but the pages of seething YouTube comments about her appearance were worse than anything she'd ever experienced. She was devastated, but decided to fight back by becoming a highly successful, TED Talk-giving anti-bullying activist and motivational speaker. Her incredible story has caught the attention of many, including director Sara Hirsh Bordo, who decided that Velasquez's story needed to be shared with the world. The result is a documentary called A Brave Heart , which details the now 26-year-old Velasquez's journey from victim to activist.
"Everybody knows what Lizzie does and the experience that she’s had," Bordo tells Bustle. "But what is so powerful is how she is who she is."
Bordo credits Velasquez's parents, who are featured prominently in the film, for helping the Brave Heart star become the confident, inspiring person she is today. The filmmaker says that Velasquez's mother and father have supported their daughter unconditionally since day one.
"One of the things that I think is so amazing and remarkable about Lizzie, and the way that Lizzie is who Lizzie is, is because of how hard her parents love her and accepted her from the very beginning," says Bordo, tears coming to her eyes. "It's rare."
A Brave Heart, in theaters now, explores the ups and downs of Velasquez's moving journey, through the storytelling vision of Bordo. The director and Velasquez have collaborated ever since the latter woman gave her viral TED Talk in 2013, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and when Bordo got the idea to share Velasquez's story with an even bigger audience, A Brave Heart began to take shape. Mostly, the director just wanted a platform to tell audiences that it's possible to overcome overwhelming odds, if, like Velasquez, you're surrounded by love and support.
"That sense of inner beauty and self-worth....I think it starts very young at home," Bordo says. "And I think it goes from telling your little girl how smart she is and how pretty she is [to]... acknowledging what her gifts are, because it isn’t a one-size-fit-all definition and it isn't a one-size-fit-all way of how we value our kids. It’s about finding the gifts that they're here with and being able to shine a light on them."
Velasquez echoes this sentiment, and urges others to be there for the young people in their lives as much as possible, even when making the time to do so might be a challenge.
"Everyone is so busy in their daily lives... but I think if we are able to make time for all of these other superficial things, you can use that time and that energy for your child or a niece or a nephew or anyone who might just need that person to just hear them out for 15 minutes," says Velasquez. "That's it. Let them know that they are acknowledged, that they are loved, that they’re appreciated, that they’re worth being on this planet."
As both women attest, the support Velasquez has felt from her family, friends, and others has had an instrumental impact on her ability to succeed in life. Now, she is making an impact on others through her speeches and other motivational endeavors, as portrayed in A Brave Heart.
"I’m really proud that when people walk out of the film after spending time with Lizzie, 'beautiful' is the very first thing that they say to her," says Bordo. "And I think that it's because of the way she lives her life. I think that courageous choices inspire you to feel a certain way about someone."
The director adds that she's also proud of a certain headline that she says she sees "all the time" now. What is it? "Lizzie Velasquez: the Most Beautiful Woman in the World." Take that, cyberbullies.