A woman once viciously labeled the "world's ugliest woman" debuted a powerful anti-bullying documentary at the annual South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, over the weekend.
Lizzie Velasquez, who's an author and motivational speaker, premiered "A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story," on Saturday, which chronicles her inspiring journey from bullying victim to anti-bullying advocate. The 26 year old suffers from a rare congenital disease that prevents her from gaining weight, and although the syndrome led to her being bullied throughout her youth, she now calls it a "blessing" because she's able to help others.
"I know what it is to be bullied and what is to be bullied online, and I want to be the protector of those who think it won't get better," Velasquez said, according to The Independent UK. "Instead of just taking shelter of my tears, I chose to be happy and realize this syndrome is not a problem but a blessing that allows me to improve myself and inspire other people."
At 5 feet 2 inches tall, Velasquez weighs 58 pounds and is blind in one eye. Medical experts say that her condition may be a form of neonatal progeroid syndrome.
At age 17, the Austin native, who is one of only three people on Earth born with the syndrome, was left shattered and broken after searching for music on social networking site YouTube. To her horror, she came across a mean-spirited video of herself entitled "The World's Ugliest Woman" that had 4 million views and hateful and cruel comments.
"I don't even know why I clicked on it, but I did and that's when I lost it," she recalled. "Calling me a monster or asking why my parents didn't abort me ... how in the world can I forgive the people who told me to kill myself?"
In 2013, Velasquez made international headlines when she gave an uplifting TED Talk after launching an anti-bullying campaign. A YouTube video of the speech has been viewed by millions around the world and it inspired her new documentary.
"We all have difficulties in life, but nothing compared to what she has been through. Her positive attitude elevates the spirit of any person in the world," said Sara Bordo, a first-time director working with Velasquez on the film project.
Velasquez, who's in the process of lobbying for the first federal anti-bullying bill in the United States, was raised in the Catholic church and credits her faith for the ability to overcome life's struggles.
"It's been my rock through everything; just having the time to be alone and pray and talk to God and know that He's there for me," she said. "Even when it seems like things will never get better in the darkest times, if you have faith and continue to push yourself, you can eventually get through anything."
Watch the trailer here: