This past Saturday Prevention Magazine gathered some of the foremost speakers on today’s health issues for their R-3 Summit in Austin, Texas. Keynote Joan Lunden spoke to attendees about her struggles and survival of breast cancer. Dr. Travis Stork from TV show “Doctors” delivered the message that women are at high risk for heart attacks and how to know if you are having one. Bob Roth, spoke on the value of meditation, and the different methods. There was also special tastings from celebrity Chef Monica Pope who spoke on the importance of local food sourcing (everyone loved her brownie made with beets). Panera served a delicious lunch that guests were raving about, and Honest Tea showcased some new flavors including a cinnamon tea that ran out early. In between various panels guests sampled the latest health products and even took in a yoga class or massage.
A shining light among a stacked panel of celebrity guests was a young lady once known as “The Ugliest Woman in the World.” Her name is Lizzie Velasquez. As a writer I cringe at including that title in this story, but it lends itself to the achievement of Lizzie and all that she has accomplished since. She is 26 years old and suffers from several genetic conditions, chiefly one that keeps her body from being able to put weight on. She has a zero body fat percentage and weighs just 64 pounds.
Lizzie encountered a video on YouTube that was titled “Ugliest Woman In The World” and she saw herself in it! She doesn’t even know why she clicked on it, or even why she read the comments below the video. To give you some context, one message said that her parents should have killed her at birth. Truly horrific, disgusting and mean things. Tangents of comments saying if they were her they would kill themselves, etc.
Instead of doing just that, Lizzie became inspired to talk about living through being bullied in such a horrible manner. A documentary about her life premiered at SXSW last year called “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story.” Along those lines, Lizzie spoke at the Prevention Magazine Summit a bit about bullying, but also about surviving. She also shared for the first time a recent diagnosis that she has of another condition called Marfan Syndrome. The syndrome causes the bodies connective tissues to not work which can affect many areas including the heart, blood vessels, bones, joints, and eyes.
Allie Hanley: You’re here today at Prevention Magazine’s R-3 Summit where people are learning about Breast Cancer Prevention, Health and Wellness, and so much more. Tell me what message you are delivering.
Lizzy Velasquez: I’m here actually to talk about something that I’ve never really talked about in any of my speeches before; And with it being the New Year I thought that this was the right timing for me to do it. I was doing a speech about driving through your obstacles and that included speaking about driving through my diagnosis I recently got. I was diagnosed when I was 25 and filming half way through the movie <her documentary film>. Everything happened so fast that I wasn’t able to sit down and process it on my own. It was a struggle, and it wasn’t something that was easy, and I never talk about it. Now I’ve gotten to a point where I am ready to talk about it. <in regards to Marfan Syndrome>
Allie: So what was one of the focus points of your discussion today?
Lizzie: To be completely honest, I think using the words diagnosis more than once was one of the big things. It’s so simple, just to say that your diagnosis doesn’t define you. Your diagnosis isn’t who you are. There is a way to make it be part of your life but not controlling your life.
Allie: You have faced many challenges in your life that few can identify with. What is some words of advice?
Lizzie: One of the biggest pieces of advice is that there is a light on the other side of whatever you are going through. At the beginning I would always say there is a light at the other side of being bullied, but as I have gotten older I have found that there is a light at the end of the other side of everything that we go through. I found it be that whenever there is adults talking to kids they says “It gets better, it gets better.” And that has become this cliché statement but the reality of the situation is that it’s not a cliché, and it’s a true statement. I have been lucky enough now to be able to say, “There is a light on the other side, I’ve been there, now please let me show you how to get through it.
Allie: We both agree that it’s become a cliché, “You’ll get through it.” For you, what is that breakthrough that can deliver that message in a way that it’s accepted?
Lizzie: I think it’s a reminder of why I was put on this Earth and my purpose. At the end of the day, I know I was meant to be in this body, I know that I was meant to live out the life that I am living. I don’t want to just let it be, I don’t want to take it for granted. Instead I want to make the most out of it.
I think one of the most important lessons I learned from it, was how to be comfortable in the uncomfortable. Like any situation that makes me feel awkward, I learned how to get through it. I know at the end of the day that’s going to make me stronger for the next thing.
Allie: So you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, what is a tip you do?
Lizzie: I think just stopping, closing my eyes, and reminding myself I can do this. I am brave enough to do this. There are times where I do feel shy, or timid despite living the life I do, I still feel like I don’t want to do this. So I just stop and say, “Lizzie, you are brave enough to do this, you got this.”
You can watch her documentary now on Amazon, Google Play, VUDU, iTunes, On-Demand and other online services. Learn more about her here.