I came across this TED talk today featuring Lizzie Velasquez, a woman who has published three books and been a motivational speaker for eight years. Lizzie is a young woman who is one of only three people in the world living with a syndrome and physical deformity so mysterious that doctors still do not understand what it is. Upon seeing her, a first glance might evaluate her to be “unattractive” by conventional standards; she describes her syndrome as “her body not being able to gain weight” and that she has never weighed more than 62 lbs in her life. She is visually impaired and can only see out of one eye. She does not meet conventional beauty standards.
However, spend one minute listening to her and you feel an immediate connection, warmth, and confidence. Her humor is sometimes self-deprecating, but also truly self-affirming.
She speaks some of her struggles with being bullied as a child but she speaks more about her life-long solid belief that “I’m a fun kid and everyone is missing out”. Lizzie credits her parents raising her no differently than any other child for her ability to see herself as a person with physical impairments, but nothing else abnormal about her at all.
As I was mesmerized by Lizzie’s charisma, I reflected to myself: “why do we define people by their outside appearance before looking inside?”
Lizzie asks the audience several times: “what defines you?” “how do you define yourself?” How does that limit you?
Have you ever struggled to answer those questions? When asking yourself: “how do I define myself?”, what are the words or terms that come to your mind first? Are they words that describe you physically? emotionally? spiritually? intellectually? relationally?
Now ask yourself: when you meet someone for the first time, what are the ways that you initially find yourself describing them?
In Lizzie’s case, she has had experiences with many people in her life — children and adults — describe and judge her in a purely physical way. She has even been labeled “the world’s ugliest woman”.
We are all familiar with this type of judgment. We get messages from the media, from friends, from other men or women that certain physical appearances are more desirable or “beautiful” than others.
That kind of evaluation can cause pain. Why does ‘different’ have to mean less-than?
Lizzie says “in this situation where I saw this said about me, I had two options. I could choose happiness, or I could choose to give up.” She chose happiness.
What if you chose to be happy…from the inside? What if you decided who you were, how you defined yourself, and how you viewed others from looking inside and not just the outside?
Where have you faced adversity and instead of giving up, just worked even harder and bigger?
I encourage you to watch the video of this remarkable, brilliant, confident and funny young woman and take notice of any initial observations that come to you about her. Then, after the video is over take notice again of observations you have of her. What changed?