Documentary pushes U.S. government to take action on bullying in schools

Documentary on the life of Lizzie Velasquez, once cyberbullied as ‘The World’s Ugliest Woman,’ takes the discussion on bullying to Capital Hill urging lawmakers to take action on the issue.

(CINEDIGM)- A documentary on the life of Lizzie Velasquez, once cyberbullied as ‘The World’s Ugliest Woman,’ will be released in the U.S. on Friday (September 25).

The film follows Lizzie on her 26 year journey from childhood to motivational speaker to present-day activist taking the discussion of bullying to Capital Hill urging lawmakers to take action on the issue.

The 58-pound Velasquez was born with a syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight causing her to appear gaunt and frail.

Raised in a loving home, she was unaware of her distinctly different appearance until entering school at the age of five and experiencing bullying for the first time.

“What it is is what I like to call a big slap of reality to know that I’m a five-year-old kid and it was my first time to realize how different I looked and that was very hard because I had to understand that I didn’t have the power to change the way I looked when I so desperately just wanted to fit in so that was hard and growing up through elementary school and middle school I was sorta forced to make the best of the cards that I was dealt,” said Velasquez.

At the age of 17, Lizzie found a YouTube video dubbing her ‘The World’s Ugliest Woman’ and read the hundreds of comments that teased and cruelly mocked her appearance.

“When I was 17-years-old I accidentally found a video where someone labeled me ‘The World’s Ugliest Woman’, it had over four million views and thousands of comments and of course I can give you, just imagine yourself in the situation I was in you’d immediately know exactly how I felt in that moment. And I sat there and read every single comment, I don’t know why I did, I just couldn’t stop, I think in a way I was just so desperate to find a nice comment or find someone that was sticking up for me and I didn’t find it and I felt absolutely crushed,” Lizzie said.

Struggling with her own identity and issues of ‘fitting in’ Lizzie eventually became a passionate public speaker. In 2013 she was invited by Ted Talks and spoke on her own journey about learning to define herself.

“I think that what’s hard is that right now we live in a world where you can be judged by your looks, your culture, by absolutely anything and is it fair? No, not at all but is it something that we can sorta help and remedy, absolutely,” Lizzie said.

The Ted Talk was given in Austin, Texas and was viewed by millions online leading to invitations by The Kate Couric Show and The View to appear on their shows.

At the Ted Talks Lizzie met Sara Bordo, CEO of Women Rising and a budding filmmaker.

Lizzie agreed to work with Sara on a documentary that would be a story about Lizzie’s life and include her shift from motivational speaker to activist.

“And the end result of the film and what we’re seeing right now is being able to create noise around the safe schools improvement act, being able to create noise around people saying I care about bullying and the people that represent me on Capitol Hill need to care about bullying too,” said Bordo.

On September 16 in Irving, Texas Ahmed Mohamed was taken away in handcuffs for bringing a homemade clock to school that staff mistook for a bomb.

The teenager’s arrest launched a social media campaign called #IStandWithAhmed, which was the No. 1 trending topic in the United States on Twitter that day with about 600,000 tweets, many critical of the school district and police.

For both Bordo and Velasquez the experience of Ahmed is defined as bullying and would be counted and recorded under their proposed bill.

“Like what Lizzie and I were talking about it last night and I think what we’re seeing is, wow if the bill was actually in place this would be counted and it’s not in place. And it’s not in place and it’s not being counted in a way that can be contributed to the overall conversation of what’s happening in schools and discriminating against kids,” Bordo said.

Velasquez added, “I just feel like so much more could be done, this could be such a huge learning lesson and with the bill if it was passed, what it would require is keeping statistics and numbers of incidents such as this to where we could look back and work on a curriculum or work on something where we can know how to handle it, instead of just posting it in the media.”