Imagine opening your Facebook feed to discover an embarrassing photo of yourself accompanied by some snarky, grammatically atrocious text and several thousand shares. You’ve become a meme, which for many 21st century global citizens rightfully constitutes deep, existential dread. But now imagine heading to YouTube in hopes of listening to some music, only to find that you’ve become a viral sensation labeled “the world’s ugliest woman.” How would you respond?
That’s exactly what happened to 26-year-old, 63-pound Tejana Lizzie Velasquez, who was born with a rare syndrome that makes her unable to gain weight. To add insult to injury, the video’s comment section was filled with all the despicable vitriol we’ve come to expect from Internet anonymity, with some YouTubers going as far as suggesting that young Ms. Velasquez kill herself. Now we all know that the YouTube commentariat consists primarily of hormonal 15-year-olds who haven’t quite gotten the grasp of social filters, but that certainly doesn’t make their hateful words any less upsetting and cruel.
So what did Lizzie Velasquez do? She turned into a high-profile global crusader against cyber bullying. You go girl. Indeed, many of you may recall her widely shared TedxAustinWomen talk from back in 2013, in which the supremely confident and charismatic Velasquez shared her tragic story with a sense of optimism and purpose that resonated with millions of viewers. Since then, she’s become a motivational speaker and one of the primary lobbyists for the country’s first anti-bullying bill, called the Safe Schools Improvement Act. And filmmaker Sarah Hirsh Bordo followed it all with camera in hand, culminating in the feature documentary A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, which won an Audience Award at this year’s SXSW Film Festival.
Through a fly-on-the-wall observational style, A Brave Heart follows Velasquez as she blossoms into a nationally recognized speaker and activist, and finds her own sense of purpose along the way. From the floor of Congress to candid backstage moments, the doc is a profile of a remarkable woman and a celebration of the indomitable human spirit. So next time you consider getting into a flame war with some pre-pubescent Internet troll, stop and think how you might better serve humanity. Or if you prefer: What would Lizzie do?
A Brave Heart opens in theaters nationwide on September 25, 2015.