Editor’s note: This is the inaugural year for CultureMap’s Top Texans Under 30, a program that celebrates the twentysomething power players making a difference in their industries and communities across the Lone Star State — and, in some cases, the world. The full list is here. For now, read all about Lizzie Velasquez.
When Lizzie Velasquez was looking for music on YouTube one day, she found something that changed her life. The Austinite, who was diagnosed with the rare neonatal progeroid syndrome, which prevents her from gaining weight, discovered that strangers had labeled her the “ugliest woman in the world” on the video-sharing site.
Although it struck her to the core when she discovered that she’d been the target of cyberbullying, Velasquez decided to fight back. In December 2013, she spoke at the inaugural TEDxAustinWomen, and the talk changed everything for her.
Today, the 27-year-old has her own YouTube presence with more than 675,000 subscribers (and counting). She’s an advocate for the first federal anti-bullying bill and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and she is the executive producer of an award-winning documentary based on her life, A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story.
We caught up with Velasquez on her travels to gain some tips from her for making a difference in the world.
CultureMap: What inspires you to do what you do?
Lizzie Velasquez: Each one of us has a light to shine. Sometimes we don’t know how to shine our light or might need that extra push. If I can be the person who helps others realize that they are bright stars and can do whatever they put their mind to, I will gladly do it for the rest of my life.
CM: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other Texans trying to make a difference?
LV: I would tell them congratulations for wanting to use their voice and their talents to make a difference. I would also encourage them to embrace the good days and the bad days. Cherish your accomplishments and learn from your struggles.
CM: Sum up Texas in three words:
LV: Friendly, proud, hot!
CM: What’s one thing that people might not know about you?
LV: Even though I’m a very extroverted person, I still get shy in social situations. I have to remind myself: “Be yourself. You got this!”
CM: Finish this sentence: “It’s a good day when … ”
LV: It’s a good day when the sun is shining.
RSVP now for the CultureMap Social: Top Texans Under 30 Edition, October 25 at 800 Congress, to celebrate Velasquez and her fellow Austin winners.