"I thought everyone looked like me." That's how Lizzie Velasquez viewed herself growing up—until she was 17 and accidentally found a terrible video on YouTube. It was an eight-second clip of her entitled "The World's Ugliest Woman," and to her horror it had more than 4 million views and what she says were thousands of nasty comments, the BBC notes. "Why would her parents keep her?!" one reportedly read. "Kill it with fire," another commenter posted. It was in that moment that Velasquez, who has two rare conditions known as Marfan syndrome and lipodystrophy, realized how different she was perceived to be. "I cried for many nights," she says, per the BBC. "As a teenager, I thought my life was over." Far from it: Today, at the age of 26, Velasquez is an anti-bullying advocate and the subject of A Brave Heart, a documentary that debuted over the weekend at the SXSW festival.
Velasquez's conditions have caused physical problems throughout her life, including an inability to gain weight (she's now 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 60 pounds or so), blindness in one eye and limited vision in the other, fatigue, and difficulty getting over sickness, the BBC reports. And the discovery of the YouTube video was painful—but the positive attitude her parents instilled in her helped her move past the hurt and even forgive the person who put the video up. Now Velasquez has her own YouTube channel with close to a quarter-million subscribers, has given a TED talk on defining your own beauty, and has joined with the mom of Megan Meier—a teen who killed herself after being bullied online—to lobby Congress for a federal anti-bullying bill. "Her experience of triumphing adversity and making it to the other side of a painful experience is universal," the director of A Brave Heart tells the broadcaster.