Once called ‘the world’s ugliest woman,’ Lizzie Velasquez now inspires others

Nadine Kalinauskas
Shine On
Photo by: Lizzie Velasquez
Having no body fat or muscle tissue makes Lizzie Velasquez prone to injuries that most people would never think about -- like stress fractures in her feet from walking or standing, since the bottoms of her feet have no padding. (She's in a cast right now. "I fracture my foot if I'm not wearing the supportive shoes I'm supposed to wear," she confessed to Yahoo! Shine. "I'm usually wearing the cute shoes that match my outfit.") But it's made her think about New Years' resolutions, and how people are often focused on improving their outward appearances. "Instead of making it a goal to lose weight or to grow your hair longer, whatever it is to make yourself physically better, people should look toward making not only their character better, but helping others," she suggests. (Read her story: Lessons from "The World's Ugliest Woman": Stop Staring and Start Learning.)

When Lizzie Velasquez, 24, was in high school, she discovered an eight-second video online that featured a photo of her face. It called her the "world's ugliest woman" and had been viewed more than four million times.

What would have destroyed many only made Velasquez, who suffers from a very rare syndrome that prevents her from putting on weight and cost her the vision in one eye, stronger.

"Am I gonna let the people who called me a monster define me?...No. I'm gonna let my goals and my success and my accomplishments be the things that define me," she said.

She vowed to become a motivational speaker, an author and a college graduate.

Only a few years later, she is proudly all of the above.

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At a recent TED Talk in Austin,TX, Velasquez shared her life story before asking the crowd, "What defines you?"

"For so long, I thought what defined me was my outer appearance," she told them, admitting that when she was younger, she woke up every day wanting to look different.

But thanks to her "amazing" support system, Velasquez found the strength to rise above the bullying and negative thoughts:

"My life is in my hands. I could either choose to make this really good or choose to make this really bad."

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"The best way that I could get back at all those people who made fun of me…was to make myself better," she said, sharing how she chose to turn around the negative things and use them as a ladder to reach her goals.

Her message struck a chord. This morning, Velasquez wrote about the overwhelming response to her talk:

"Before I went to bed last night I thanked God for the INCREDIBLE messages of support and love I've been flooded with. I also prayed for the people who are hurting in their own lives and in turn take it out on me," she wrote on Facebook. "This morning when I woke up, my phone, email, twitter, YouTube, and Facebook were about to explode with love!! I've said it before and I'll say it again, THANK YOU! Thank you for believing in my message and thank you for helping me share my story."