I am very excited to be chatting with Lizzie Velasquez whose film A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story has just premiered at SXSW. The documentary film, produced by Women Rising and funded entirely on Kickstarter, follows Lizzie’s touching journey up to her speaking at TEDxWomenAustin, the most viewed TEDWomen event in 2013, to ultimately lobbying Capitol Hill for the first federal anti-bullying bill.
Lizzie has been making YouTube videos since early 2011, honestly depicting her daily life and personal struggles. Her videos cover a broad range of topics but the common thread among them all is Lizzie’s incredible positive outlook and her genuine want to inspire others.
It is through Lizzie’s anti-bullying activism and by being such a relevant positive role model that has seen Lizzie be embraced by the mainstream media. As such Lizzie has been interviewed by Katie Couric and has appeared on primetime talk shows including ABC’s the View where she met Barbara Walters and Whoopi Goldberg.
We get to know Lizzie a little better and find out more about the inspiration behind her film A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story as well as what keeps Lizzie motivated, and where she sees herself in the coming years.
Your documentary film was just released at SXSW. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about it and why you wanted to make it?
I’ve been approached many times to do a documentary about my life over the years. It was always either the wrong timing or it didn’t feel like the right choice for me. When Sara Bordo called and asked me if I was interested in doing a documentary not only about my story but to share the story of anyone who has ever been bullied I knew right away that my answer was going to be yes. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together exactly in the right way. The rest is history!
Filming for your documentary must have been such an enormous personal journey to go through. Can you tell us; did you think that talking at TEDWomen would eventually lead to you lobbying Capitol Hill?
I never in a million years thought my TED talk would take on a life of its own much less leading me to head to Capitol Hill. Little did I know, that talk was the launching pad that I needed to start transitioning from a Motivational Speaker to an Activist.
How did you find working to lobby Congress?
While doing research prior to filming we quickly realised that there wasn’t a bill that was in place federally to help protect students from being bullied. I found myself getting so angry at the pure shock that some sort of measure wasn’t in place. I walked into Capitol Hill feeling very intimidated. After our first meeting I was ready to hit the ground running.
Have you learnt anything about yourself whilst filming the documentary?
While filming the documentary one of the biggest lessons I learned about myself was the importance of being vulnerable on camera and allowing myself to find a balance between helping others and helping myself. Without taking the time to reflect and work on myself, there was no way I’d be able to help anyone else.
Can you tell us, what do you hope to come out of your documentary film?
My hope for the film is that it continues to help influence for good. I hope that when people finish watching the movie they feel inspired for themselves and inspired to help join our mission to take the high road and to not bully the bully back.
So Lizzie, you are well known for promoting a positive outlook. How do you stay motivated in your day-to-day life?
I grew up with the mindset to always find a positive in any negative situation. After 25 years of living by that every day it has become second nature for me to find the good in any situation.
What best piece of advice would you give someone currently facing a seemingly insurmountable struggle in their life?
One of my favourite quotes is by Stephen Hawking. He said “Where there is life, there is hope.” My best piece of advice would be exactly that. If you’re able to wake up in the morning still breathing, the light at the end of the tunnel is ready and waiting for you to find it.
You were lucky to visit quite a few places in Europe in your documentary film. Do you have any plans to travel more in the near future?
Throughout the process of filming the documentary my eyes were open to the fact that bullying is a universal issue. Because of that I hope to be able to travel to more countries to speak and to share the documentary. Struggles and insecurities are a universal language.
Finally, where do you see yourself in the coming years?
Right now I am making a conscious effort to be present in the moment. To enjoy every single second of this exciting chapter in my life. I plan on taking a nice vacation this year and taking time away to disconnect for a little while. I want to regroup and have some quiet time to sit down and figure out what I want the next few years to look like.
All Photography: Lizzie Velasquez