Lizzie Velasquez: Smashing Screens and Standards
WHEN I made the choice to go on an Erasmus year I didn’t quite expect to perfect the art of procrastination to the extent that I have. Dishes that need cleaning, floor needing to be swept or that assignment due in the morning that needs to be started can be all be put aside to console a friend or just spend ungodly amounts of time on my horrendously slow internet.
In all that time I have discovered how much I love TED talks. Whether it’s a well-dressed lady being frank and blunt about sex and porn or my eternal girl crush and inspiration Amanda Palmer, TED talks are fantastic. In my most recent binge I discovered Lizzie Velasquez, a young woman born with such a rare syndrome that there isn’t a name for it and there are only three known survivors in the entire world. The first thing that struck me about Lizzie is her phenomenal sense of humour regarding the difficulties she faces in life. Not only is she completely blind in one eye she is also incapable of gaining any weight. Anywhere. While it may seem like a dream come true to some women, a few years ago a video was posted on the internet without her consent that was titled “The Ugliest Woman in the World”. It was eight seconds long and it simply showed a photograph of Lizzie.
After the malicious cyber-attack, Lizzie has devoted a lot of her time as a motivational speaker and even has her own book. I like to think the person who posted the video is still sitting in a dark room with no friends and is seething with jealousy over her success. But it wasn’t just the admirable way Lizzie dealt with, and constantly deals with, the cowards behind screens but how desensitised we have, as a society, have become to this behaviour. The original video had over 8 million views when Lizzie came across it. 8 million people watched this and it seems that none of these people though to report it. If that doesn’t cause me to lose faith in humanity I don’t know what else will.
It also reminded me of how easy it is for someone to write anonymously and avoid any kind of repercussions. Yes, I am all for freedom of speech but it is very clear that none of these people would dare say the disgusting things to a person in reality. Image has always been a major concern of the public; from corsets in Victorian times to high heels today, from hair dye to body paint of Celtic times. There has always been this demand to meet what society deems beautiful. So when someone doesn’t match these expectations, even if it’s completely outside of their control, it’s suddenly reasonable to pass judgment from afar? I am not naïve enough to believe that cyber-bullying is a new phenomenon. The internet is only the catalyst for behaviour that has always existed. Prior to computers it was texting and phone calls and before that it was gossip. Humanity seems determined to ostracise those who don’t match up. But then who really does?
I am blessed/cursed with milk-white skin that freckles and burns but refuses to tan and for a long time in secondary school I was the oddball who didn’t use fake tan (it looked awful on me and after one experiment with it I have never touched the stuff). However, pale skin is sought after in many warmer countries like Vietnam and Thailand. Beauty and appearance is a social construct and who are we to decide what is acceptably ‘pretty’ or ‘ugly’? While the dregs of humanity thought Lizzie’s appearance merited being openly condemned, I for one find her courage, optimism and positive more beautiful than any physical trait that women are supposed to possess in order to be considered beautiful.
For any interested I would thoroughly recommend Lizzie’s TED talk and her vlogs both found on YouTube.
Photos c/o coolage.in, trentonline.com