Valley Voices

Kassy Vang: ‘Ugliest Woman’ champions battle against bullies

Imagine being raised as a normal child not knowing that you were different from everyone. Picture yourself finding a video of you on YouTube with over 4 million views, labeled as the “World’s Ugliest Woman.” How would you feel? How would you have reacted?

Born with two rare diseases that control the way she looks, Lizzie Velasquez was treated differently from everyone else throughout her childhood and into her early youth. The symptoms of Mayan syndrome and lipodystrophy are: They affect the body’s connective tissue; preventing her body from depositing any adipose tissue, which means she does not have any body fat, and causes premature aging and tissue degeneration.

Despite being born with these two rare diseases, Velasquez was showered with love and normalcy throughout her life by her family.

Raised as normally as possible, Velasquez never knew that she was different from all the other children. Even though she was raised as a normal child, Velasquez was still avoided by her peers during her childhood.

During her middle and high school years, bullying and self-consciousness arose in Velasquez’s life.

In middle school, the sting of bullying was so strong that she would always be thinking, “Can I just rub this syndrome off? It would make my life so much easier.” (The power of bullying is so strong that even a laugh, giggle or gesture would impact so much of a person’s life.)

When Velasquez was 17 years old and surfing on YouTube, she came across an eight-second video showing a muted video of herself labeled as the “World’s Ugliest Woman.” Reading through the comment section, there were comments advising and suggesting ways for Velasquez to kill herself.

Of course, as a teen, Velasquez was devastated. But the way she took this negativity and stood up for anti-bullying made me choose her as the model that lives with passion and loves with compassion.

Instead of hiding in shame and letting the negativity take over her, she embraces the negativity and lets it go.

Velasquez realizes, “I can either choose to be happy or choose to be kind of upset and still kind of complain about it. But then I started realizing, ‘Am I going to let the people who called me a monster define me? Am I going to let the people who said kill it with fire define me?

“No. I am going to let my goals, and my success, and my accomplishment be the things that define me, not my outer appearance.’ ”

She used the “negativity to light my fire to keep going. Use that ... Because I guarantee you, you will win.”

Fueled by this negativity, today, 26-year-old Velasquez is an anti-bullying motivational speaker and a writer. One of her many achievements was giving a TED Talk in 2013 that has gained over 10 million views, inspiring many people to stand up and speak up.

She gained 500,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel and became a subject in a documentary directed by filmmaker Sara Bordo: “A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story.”

Velasquez was even acknowledged by Kylie Jenner and many more celebrities, “Lizzie, you are so strong and I admire you so so much.”

The most recent accomplishment that Velasquez did was when she “headed to Washington to lobby lawmakers to support the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Introduced by Rep. Linda Sánchez, D-Whittier, the bill would require schools nationwide to implement anti-bullying guidelines.”

This action showcased how serious and important anti-bullying is to her and everyone.

I believe Velasquez lives with passion and loves with compassion because she is not only doing this for herself but also for anyone who is out there suffering from bullying, and everything she does is motivated by her passion to stand up against bullying.

Kassy Vang is a junior at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified School District. She is the first-place winner in the high school category.