Against All Odds

By: Jennifer Nunez

Illustration with word cloud relating to Bullying.

 

Lizzie Velasquez is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity and spite. In her book Lizzie Beautiful: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, she was born with a rare syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight. Doctors had no answers for her family about her life expectancy—a fact that was daunting and terrifying. Although she’s a 21-year old woman when this book is being written she weighs about 60 pounds, as much as your average third grader.

The book which is co-written with her mother, Rita, jumps between the voices of both mother and daughter. Both of them take turns chronicling Lizzie’s experience with this syndrome from birth up until adulthood. The future of Lizzie is always under a question mark because no one knows how severely this syndrome will complicate her life. Early on Lizzie must learn to cope with the physical ailments of this syndrome but also with bullies. People often react negatively to Lizzie’s appearance and she elucidates on how it’s affected her.

The effects of bullying are communal, they go beyond the interaction of perpetrator and victim. I could understand this concept during Rita’s narration when she sees other strangers pointing at her daughter; similarly, I gazed into this dynamic when Lizzie writes about her friends coming to her defense when they see others look at her as if she were a monster. Readers are sure to find comfort in the candid voices of both Rita and Lizzie.

Lizzie is honest about how there were times when other people’s words and rejection hurt her to the point of tears. One of the most vivid memories she recalls is how everyone ostracized her on the first day of kindergarten and wouldn’t come near her because they were scared. She wins them over bit by bit, and despite the constant harassment she endures during grade school, she doesn’t let that make her cynical. Lizzie remains open to knowing others and befriending them. She also believes that forgiving those who cause us pain is important to our happiness and health, and she advocates that we all try it.

Each chapter concludes with exercises and questions that elicit self-reflection and encourage readers to increase their joy and wellbeing. The suggested exercises are good for anyone wanting positive vibes, and it would be perfect timing to start this October since it is National Bullying Prevention Month. This is a time to take action and bring awareness to this problem. This is a wonderful book to help you, a loved one, or a friend find reconciliation or inspire change.

a-brave-heart-the-lizzie-velasquez-story

Lizzie repeatedly finds bullies everywhere time and time again. People ignore her, whisper and talk about her when she passes by, and ogle her. Sadly, she has become accustomed to this sort of reaction. In her book she discloses what has kept her strong: her faith, her family, and her friends. Yet, she also reveals her struggles with self-acceptance and self-worth. Anyone who has ever been through bullying or witnessed it knows how it undermines our self-esteem and how difficult it is to forgive the aggressors. Despite the attitudes of others, she maintains herself centered and focused on her goals. Lizzie had dreamed of becoming a motivational speaker for quite a while and finally did it when she was in college. She offers her narrative to others to encourage them to transform their suffering into strength.

If you get knocked down, you get back up. Because that’s been my mindset, I think that’s been the key to how I’ve been able to get where I am today. – Lizzie Velasquez

In her book she stresses the inherent value all people have, and that her mission is to help others who feel like they are different and excluded. By sharing her story, she hopes to move others who are facing afflictions to claim self-love and she wants to give them a dose of courage to go after their dreams. Bullying is a rampant problem that doesn’t discriminate: it can happen to anyone. Harassing and belittling others can be carried out one-on-one, digitally, systematically (let us remember the Holocaust), and many other ways. However, she has become an example to others for them to embrace their difference. Lizzie confides that now she’s found a different perspective in regards to her syndrome because it led her to her calling, it allows her to appreciate the forte that she developed through this physical condition. If she had been born in a healthy body, then she wouldn’t be able to help or empower others the way she does now—nor would she have built up the mettle that she did from receiving so much repudiation.

The book is short and the diction is easily read so this can be something people of various ages can read anywhere. No one will have to worry about going to the dictionary or thesaurus every three pages. Whether reading for your own pleasure or as a pick for a book club, it would be a worthy work to reflect on and discuss. The message of the book is one that is needed badly in our society. Reading Lizzie Beautiful emphasizes the power of family, love, and forgiveness. Lizzie and Rita’s words allow us an aperture of light to keep hoping for better, and hopefully to transform our own painful experiences into acts of compassion and absolution.

 

Follow Lizzie on Twitter: @littlelizziev   

 

 

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