From “the world’s ugliest woman” to one of the world’s most inspiring examples

Lizzie Velasquez, who speaks in the video above, is a writer and a motivational speaker. She was born with a very rare genetic condition that makes her unable to gain weight no matter how much she eats. She has never weighed more than 28 kg, and this makes her look very “ugly.” She narrates in this video (8:30) the pain and emotional trauma she experienced when she found out—as she was still in high school—that someone had posted a video of her on YouTube describing her as “the world’s ugliest woman.” One of the commentators told her: “Lizzie, please, please just do the world a favor, put a gun to your head, and kill yourself!”

She, however, never allowed herself to be imprisoned in the image the people wanted to impose on her. Instead of hiding behind closed doors, she decided to become a motivational speaker and confront people face to face. She also wanted to become a writer and now she is about to publish her third book at the age 24. I strongly recommend that you watch this video, which is not only about her story, and not only about “beauty” and “ugliness”, but also about how to define yourself as a person instead of letting other people define you.

I have a confession here to make. I admit that whenever I saw a person (especially a woman) who looked very “ugly”—whether it was the result of an accident, a medical condition, or just born that way—I felt sorry for him or her. I particularly remember a schoolgirl that I occasionally saw from the window of the bus when I commuted to the University of Damascus, in which I did my undergraduate studies. Her face looked very “ugly,” which made me feel very bad for her. I always imagined her insensitive schoolmates poking fun at her and she suffering so much pain and sadness as a result. I imagined her life to be really difficult and unbearable.

However, having watched this video, I think I shouldn’t have felt that way. She might have a much more fulfilling and happy life than mine. She might have already achieved more than I would like to achieve in the rest of my life. Feeling “sorry” for the “ugly,” the “disabled,” or the “poor” does not mean that you can see beyond their appearances and conditions. They can be much stronger, determined, and confident than you. Sure, sympathy and appreciation for the fact that they might be facing problems and challenges which you have never encountered or imagined yourself to encounter is not a bad thing. But try not to look at them from above; look at them as people standing on a par with you.

Since in this blog I talk frequently about religion, I would like to say one more thing related to Lizzie. Lizzie is a devout Catholic. Her faith has played a major role in transforming her life and helping her cope with challenges. “Besides my family and my friends, my faith is everything to me. When I have a bad day, I know the only thing I have to do is put it in God’s hands, and I know he will help me overcome anything,” she told the Catholic News Agency.

This brings me to a previous post I wrote here in this blog a couple of months ago: Atheist Criticism of Religion – Why does it often miss the point?  In this post I discussed a statement typed over a photo of a woman with an artificial arm: “Thank science, not God. What ‘God’ cannot repair, science will.” I’m just wondering now: how could science have helped Lizzie overcome her condition instead of God?

Certainly, religion is causing so many problems around the world. But never underestimate its potential as a resource for moral and emotional strength. This is one of the reasons why religion continues to be a major force in the world today despite the fact that the most of its truth claims have already been discredited by science.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that non-religious people are incapable of being as strong and determined as Lizzie. I’m just trying to point out that some people (and this doesn’t include me by the way) can draw strength and determination from religion.

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