Anna Gragert
June 01, 2017 11:11 am
Jesse Grant/Getty Images for WE - Anna Buckley / HelloGiggles

Take a moment to remember what was going on in your life at age 17. If you’re anything like us, memories from this part of your life bring up a cloud of emotion, hormones, and mental distress. Now, imagine coming across a YouTube video entitled “The Ugliest Woman in the World” at that age — and realizing it’s all about you. It’s easy to envision such a video propelling one into the darkness — yet Lizzie Velasquez used this hurtful situation to not only find the light, but to bring others along with her.

If we had the ability to take a ray of sunshine and turn it into a human being, what we’d get is Lizzie Velasquez. She has a TED Talk that’s been viewed by over 11 million people; her third book Dare to be Kind is coming out on June 6th; and she also has a Fullscreen series called Unzipped with Lizzie Velasquez, which helps guests develop positive self-image using the power of fashion. Weaved within each of Lizzie’s projects is her infectious positivity, which is undeniably accompanied by her talent and keen sense of humor.

After having read her book, I had the opportunity to speak with Lizzie. And let me tell you: She brought me into the light, and I am incredibly grateful.

HelloGiggles: In the dedication of your book, you say, “There will be a day, when the dark clouds clear and the sun will be shining bright.” When was that day for you?

What’s funny is, when I wrote that dedication, it was something that came to me when I was about to go to bed. I was thinking about the book, and I just had this [moment when I realized what I wanted it to be], and I opened my phone and  wrote it all right down. And that was the dedication. I think, at that time, I was just looking back and reflecting on my life, and realizing that I don’t think there’s a specific time or event that I can say, “This is when the sun started shining again,” because I’ve been on this up-and-down rollercoaster of good days and bad days.

So, I think that, at the end of the day, the sun will always be there to shine — but on some days I might not see it. And that’s absolutely okay.

HG: It shocked me that you came upon the “World’s Ugliest Woman” video when you were only 17. If you could go back to this time and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?

LV: If I could go back to when I found that video, I think I would tell myself, “This is going to be the best thing that has ever happened to you.” At that time, if anyone would have told me that, I would have said, “Are you insane?” But now, I’m able to see, when I found the video — especially at the age of 17, when you’re sort of  in that weird stage when you’re in high school, but you’re already thinking about college, and what is that transition going to look like? — I just felt like, This is never going to get better. 

But now, looking back, I know that is really what gave me the big push that I needed to figure out how to take control of the whole situation myself — and to not let the situation take control of me.

HG: What do you do to relax? Do you have a favorite way to self-care?

LV: Honestly, my schedule is always so crazy, so to be able to just stay at home, and wear pajamas all day long, and have this little doggie with me and my friends and my family, and just relaxing and not having to worry about Does my hair look okay? Is my makeup done? That is everything to me. It’s what I look forward to at the end of a lot of crazy trips, because I know I’m going to have my day to do absolutely nothing and recharge.

HG: How do you recommend that those of us on social media end cyberbullying culture?

LV: First and foremost, I realize that there’s, unfortunately, never going to be an end to bullying or cyberbullying. Because it’s just something that, no matter what we do or how many people are doing this, it’s just not going to end. But, the good thing is, there can be a remedy to it … It only takes one person to be able to stand up for someone else online.

My biggest piece of advice is to always remember that the internet is written in pen. It’s not written in pencil. You can’t just erase it and make it go away. It’s always going to be there. It’s very easy for us to forget — when we’re at our laptops or holding our iPhones or whatever it might be, and we’re typing something and it just seems so innocent and we’re not really doing anything — but the impact that it has on the other human being on the other side of the screen who will be reading what you write, is way more impactful than you could ever imagine at that time.

So you should always remember that what you put online — #1: You can never take it away. And #2: You should write these things and picture yourself telling it to someone else, to their face. If you don’t think you could tell what you’re writing to someone else, to their face, you should reword it or rethink what you were going to post.

HG: Do you have any advice for schools that want to stop bullying in its tracks?

LV: My answer to this might sound a little bit crazy. But I think that stepping back and looking at the situation as a bigger picture — versus What I can see right now is that one student is sad and upset, and the other is [bullying] — and the reality of the situation is that you don’t have one person who’s [trying to hurt] someone else. You have two people who are hurt in two different ways.

The victim is being hurt by the bully, and the bully is being hurt by someone or something that’s going on in their lives. And if we’re just tending to the victim and looking down at the bully, we’re not really going to accomplish anything. So if you step back and say [to the bully], “Listen. First of all, what you were doing to this person isn’t nice. But, what is going on in your life? What is making you upset right now? And let’s talk about this together, so that we can try to figure it out and give you some tools or resources to work through this — versus putting you in a corner or time out.”

If you are the student in the situation — and you’re either the bully or the victim — know that you aren’t alone in whatever you’re feeling. And know that it’s so important for you to tell someone what’s going on, whether it’s a classmate, or a teacher, or a counselor. Someone who you can trust. And know that you’re not weak if you go and tell someone what’s going on. If anything, you’re being extremely brave and really, really strong to be able to say, “Hey. This is what’s going on and I need some help.”

HG: What would you like to see our government do about bullying?

LV: The biggest thing, I would say, is awareness. We often think — especially for much older generations of people right now — you remember it as this old stereotype of bullying. You automatically think that bullying is something that happens on the playground. And it should happen because it makes people toughen up and not take things to heart. But that’s so not true. The reality is that bullying is happening in so many different ways and in so many different forms. It’s affecting people from really, really young ages all the way to adulthood.

It’s important to know how these things are happening and being aware of it, and not so much going, “Okay, when I see this, this is how I’m going to handle it.” But more so going, “Okay, this is what’s going on, so how can we be proactive about helping whoever we can in the moment?”

HG: I truly admire how open you are about your dating life and while I was reading about how you don’t think people need a partner to feel fulfilled, I couldn’t help but think of all the people who say they will be “forever alone” or #ForeverAlone. What would you say to them if you could?

LV: I would tell them to, first of all, throw that hashtag away. I used to use it all the time, and it just needs to be gone and put in the trash. I, for a long time, was really hard on myself, and I kept thinking, “Okay, you know what? I’m just going to throw in the towel. No one is ever going to want to date me.” That was my mindset, and I was done.

I came to realize that no one else can love and appreciate me for me unless I can love and appreciate me for myself. Until I can find that happiness within, and say, “You know what? I am so happy. If I were to meet someone tomorrow, great! But if I were to never meet that perfect someone, I want to still be able to say, ‘I will still be so happy.'” So my biggest advice is, once you can take that step, once you can accomplish that and say, “I feel fulfilled by myself,” it’s going to be easier for you to be able to let someone else in and help them fulfill you.

HG: I love how you aren’t afraid to say that you hair makes you confident, and you do have great hair. What would you say is your #1 top tip for healthy hair?

LV: I feel like all girls would be like, “Of course you’re not supposed to wash your hair every single day,” but I really believe in just giving your hair a break. Even if your hair is crazy. My hair is naturally really big and curly and like the Texas stereotypical hair. So if I don’t blow dry it or tame it in some sense, I’m walking around looking like The Lion King. It’s like full hair, everywhere. But I’ve realized that if you take the time to have those days, and just let your hair breathe, it will work wonders.

HG: What are your favorite drugstore beauty products?

LV: I think my favorite hair product right now is the It’s A 10 spray. That stuff, I love so much.

HG: Is there one specific lesson you hope readers take away from your book?

LV: The biggest lesson that I hope they take away is knowing that being vulnerable, and letting yourself fall, is perfectly okay. And in some cases, it’s necessary. Because I always thought, “I cannot allow myself to break. I cannot allow myself to be weak.” And I could not have been more wrong.

Being able to to allow myself to — it sounds crazy — but to hit rock bottom, I was forced to be strong. I was forced to figure out a way to pick myself back up. So, I hope that readers take away that, if you’ve had that rock bottom moment already, I hope you know that you can get back up again. And if you haven’t had that rock bottom moment, I hope that if one day you do come upon it, that you’ll know that you’re strong enough to overcome it and get right back up.

HG: I seriously appreciate how you open up about feeling that being a rarity was a crucial part of your brand. I imagine so many people can relate to feeling like they need to brand themselves, especially with social media. How do you think we should combat this pressure?

LV: I look at branding in the same way that I look at social media. There’s a good and a bad side to it. When I look at [feeling like you have to brand yourself], the world label comes to mind. And I don’t like the word label. I don’t like saying, “You are this person. You fit in this category.” Because I put myself in a certain category for a majority of my life.

What I find is so exciting and so interesting, and an opportunity to make you learn more about yourself, is to say, “I’m starting here. This is my foundation. I’m a positive person. I’m a speaker. I want to inspire people. But I want to be able think if, down the road, I go down a path I’m unfamiliar with, I want to be able to own it, and I want to be able to take that back to my foundation, and to hopefully let that grow with the rest of the things I had going in my life.”

You can check out Unzipped with Lizzie Velasquez on Fullscreen here. To order Lizzie’s book, Dare to be Kind, click here

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