With Catherine Avril Morris
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In this daring, inspirational book, Lizzie reveals the hidden forces that give rise to self-doubt and empowers us to unlock empathy and kindness for ourselves and others. Through her own battles with anxiety and depression she demonstrates how we can overcome obstacles and move forward with greater positivity and hope.
Dare to Be Kind offers the path to self-acceptance, love, and tolerance, and provides a framework for living with confidence and resilience, and ultimately, forging a radically compassionate world.
"Sometimes we are met with overwhelming challenges that knock us off our feet-but [Lizzie has] been able to embody the power of hope and compassion in everything [she does]."—Michelle Obama
Bullying: It sucks.
I'm serious. That's it—that's all I really want or need to say on the subject: Bullying sucks!
As we address the art of kindness in this book, we must also address its counter subject: bullying. I know a thing or two about being bullied. I was bullied at school throughout my childhood, and later, I experienced unspeakable bullying online, all because I look somewhat different from your average twenty-eight-year-old. I don't want to brag, but I have pretty great hair, and I love clothes and accessories. So, stylistically, I can say I've got it going on. But physically, I'm on the smaller side… kind of on the tiny side.
If you saw me out on the street, you'd probably think that I'm a super-skinny girl. (Ugh—skinny. I hate that word. When I was younger, it was always used against me as an insult.) When I visited new doctors and specialists, their first concern would be trying to figure out which eating disorder I had. As a teenager, strangers would see me and think I had extreme anorexia. They would ask my mom, "Why don't you feed your daughter?" Once, someone even yelled, "Eat a burger!" at me on the street.
I guess I can see why people might think that, but I am definitely not anorexic. In fact, I eat a lot throughout the day. I don't have an eating disorder. What I do have is a very rare syndrome.
But we'll get to that.
I like to think of my bullying experience in kindergarten as a big slap of reality. As a five-year-old, I had no clue how mean people could be to each other. I didn't know being mean was a thing! I'd grown up with my siblings, my cousins, my parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents, and everyone just treated me like Lizzie—like I was any other beloved member of the family.
That's why going to kindergarten was such a shock. That first day, it was like there was a sign on my forehead that everyone could see except me: Don't sit by me. Don't play with me. Don't even talk to me. No one wanted to stand next to me in line. No one asked me to play with them. No matter what I did that day, I was all by myself. The most I got from the other kids were stares.
Whatever was going on, I thought surely it would go away by recess or maybe by the time we went to lunch. I had no clue it was something that would last throughout my entire elementary school career.
And that was just day one!
It wasn't just elementary school, either. In seventh grade, I was voted princess at the Homecoming Dance. I have no idea how that happened—who nominated me, who voted for me, or how I won. What I do know is the boy who won prince did not like me. He was embarrassed by me. He didn't want to stand next to me, and when all the other couples were dancing, he refused to dance because he didn't want to dance with me. So I just sat there on the stage, in front of everyone, alone and humiliated.
The bullying continued off and on throughout middle and high school, but the worst experience of all happened when I was seventeen years old.
At that point in my life, everything was actually going pretty well. Over the years, I had made friends and built up my confidence, and it had taken me a long time to get to that point. I had a desktop computer in my room, and one afternoon I was working on my homework. I wanted to listen to some music while I worked, so I went to YouTube, which was still fairly new then. I started looking around for a song to listen to, and on the right-hand side, under "Suggested Videos," something snagged my attention.
It was a thumbnail—a little photo of a girl with black hair and glasses.
I glanced at it quickly as I was scanning the page, but something about it caught my eye. The girl in the photo looked so familiar. I looked a little closer, and that's when my nerves went on alert.
Was that me?
At first I thought, No, that's not me. That couldn't be me. But when I clicked on it, of course, I found that it was.
All the air in my entire body suddenly vanished—it just whooshed out of me, and I was left sitting there, speechless and trying to breathe. I had one hand over my mouth and the other over my heart, which was beating incredibly fast.
I scrolled down the page and read the title of the video—"World's Ugliest Woman"—and then noticed the view count. Over 4 million viewers had already watched this video of me, because they all wanted to see the ugliest girl in the world. It was like the entire Internet was the circus, and I was the world's most popular sideshow attraction.
I watched the video. There was no sound to it, and it was only eight seconds long. All I felt, all I could feel, was shock.
When I scrolled down to the comments below and read the first two, I saw that they were awful.
Why didn't her parents abort her?
Kill it with fire!!!
My astonishment only increased. Why had 4 million people watched such a video? And why had so many gone out of their way to post such hateful, negative comments?
Then something happened: It was like the floodgates opened, and I just couldn't stop reading those comments, every horrible one.
If people see her face in public, they will go blind.
WHAT A MONSTER!
She should just put a gun to her head and kill herself!
Do everyone a favor and just kill yourself.
I ended up reading a good two thousand or so comments, one after another, while sitting there at my desk. I was desperately searching for just one person who might have stood up for me.
No one had. Not one comment was kind. Every single one was mean and nasty.
The door to my room was open. When I looked out into the hall, I could see into the living room, where my mom was sitting. I remember looking at her and then just starting to bawl. Instantly, I wanted to hide this awful discovery from my parents, because I knew they would feel so powerless and upset. They would feel the way I felt, but times a million.
So I just sat there and cried silently. You know when you cry really hard, and you want to make those awful ugly-cry sounds, but instead you hold it in? That's what I was doing. There was a towel on my bed, and I grabbed it and held it over my mouth to muffle the sounds. I was just praying my mother wouldn't look into my room and see me falling apart.
Then, of course, she did get up and came toward the hallway. I didn't see her. I was crying too hard. But she saw me, and she came into my room and asked me what was going on.
When I told her, she cried, too—but not in front of me. In front of me, she held it in. Still, I know my mom very well, so I knew exactly how upset she was. She had no idea what to do. She immediately told me to stop looking at the comments on the video. "Close it," she said, meaning I should close the Web browser window immediately. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't make myself close the window. I just sat on my bed and kept crying.
A while later, my dad came home, and we told him about the video. Being my dad, he tried to make light of it—but for just about the first time ever, making light of the situation wasn't easy. There was nothing he could say that could make things better.
That's not normal. My dad had always been able to make things better with a joke, a smile, and a hug. Not this time, though. None of us knew what to say. We were all completely shocked. I had been bullied before, of course, and my parents had always taught me to laugh it off, stay confident, and keep my sense of humor about me. But none of us had known anything like this could happen, so we had no preparation for it when it did.
Finding that video was by far the worst, most devastating and unexpected shock of my life. As soon as I laid eyes on it and all those awful comments people had posted, it was as if all the hard work I'd done over the years building up my confidence went right down the drain. In an instant, it was gone. It was the first time I had ever felt completely defeated.
Fast-forward a decade. At twenty-eight years old, I am a motivational speaker and an antibullying activist. I absolutely love my work. I feel that it's what I am meant to do, what I'm here on this earth to accomplish. But what's most meaningful and important to me is being able to support people and their families who have experienced what my parents and I did. My viewers on YouTube who post comments on my videos, sharing their own stories about being bullied or feeling alone and unwanted, are the people I am motivated by every day.
If you look at their comments, you might get the sense that bullying is a rampant problem—and it is. So many of us have our own stories of intimidation, victimization, and pain. Bullying comes in lots of different forms. But shaking our heads in sorrow or even reaching out in commiseration isn't enough. The problem of bullying has a solution, and it's a very simple one: kindness.
Kindness toward ourselves and kindness toward the bully.
That might seem ridiculous. Kindness probably seems like the last thing a bully deserves, and treating bullies with kindness is definitely difficult to do. Believe me, I know from personal experience, since that's my approach every time I encounter a bully.
It's been a long process, but I have come to see that a culture of kindness is what we desperately need. It is the best solution to the problem of bullying, in all instances and at all levels, from schoolyard taunting to the systemic marginalization of minority groups, and even to our country's problem of violence that has gotten so out of control.
Kindness is what I have found to be the best answer to all of these issues.
Kindness Begins at Home
The first step in creating a culture of kindness begins at home. More times than I can count, parents have asked me, "My child is being bullied—how can I help her through it?"
I can never give them an answer, at least not in a quick sentence or two, that will solve their problem. It's a tough and complicated issue, and besides, I'm not a parent. All I have to offer is what I've learned from my own parents and what they did to help me.
The way parents treat each other and their children creates their "family culture," and that culture sets the tone for the rest of a person's life. I am so grateful to my family for being the kind, loving, and supportive people they are. I am well aware that not everyone is as blessed to have had such a close and caring upbringing.
My parents have always done a really good job of keeping the lines of communication open between us. When I was growing up, they helped me feel safe enough to talk to them about whatever I was going through, even when it was something terrible. This is essential for parents to do if they want to help their children navigate tough social situations, both online and in school. It's important for kids to be able to talk openly and honestly with their parents about their lives, and not just when things are going well. When things are going badly is when it's most important to keep those lines of communication open and strong.
Parents define "safety" for their child in every aspect of life—no matter what age the child is. No matter how old we are, we need that safety net, and providing it is a big part of a parent's job.
Regardless of the particular structure of a family, from the first day of every child's life, their family's values and beliefs are setting their foundation. Let's be clear: There are many types of families, whether it's grandparents or other extended family members serving as a child's guardians, or a single parent taking care of a child on their own. Children learn how and whom to love—whether that's family members, friends, or community members—at home.
I like to think of those values as flowers that need regular sun and water. No matter how old a child gets, it is the parents' responsibility to keep watering those flowers. At times parents will have to use different lessons and methods to instill certain principles and beliefs: Sometimes it will be through love, and other times it will be through overcoming trials and obstacles as a family, with kindness and compassion.
That's how it starts at home: not just with a conversation here and there about bullying, but with a foundation that encompasses so many other things. Bullying is just one small part of the great, big whole.
At the same time, I understand how tough it can be for kids to talk to their parents about their problems and insecurities. Sometimes, kids are afraid to admit they're having problems because they're scared of getting in trouble, especially if they've made a bad decision that brought the problems onto themselves. Many times, they don't want to admit the awful things that are happening to them at the hands of their peers, because they're just too embarrassed by how they're being treated. Often, kids want to protect their parents from the pain they think their parents may experience when they learn how hurt and sad their child is feeling.
That's definitely how I felt growing up. I wanted to protect my parents from knowing all the awful, hurtful things that other kids were saying to me on a daily basis and, later, the hateful things people said to me and about me online.
My generation was really the first whose parents had to deal with their kids' activity on social media and figure out how to parent within that venue. Children are now living out their lives online from an incredibly early age, and we're only just beginning to see the consequences, which include cyberbullying, dangerous breaches of privacy, and so much more. That's why kindness and compassion are more important than ever.
The truth is, parents and guardians cannot ban their kids from being on social media, nor should they have to. Such strict limits just aren't realistic in the world we live in today. Social media is everywhere. It's a fact of life, part of the way childhood is in today's day and age. There are other ways to handle the many potential pitfalls of young people venturing online.
Lots of young kids don't realize what the Internet is really all about; they don't realize it's not just a happy place that's full of nice people! Sure, those things are part of it, but there is so much more to it, and so much potential for danger.
Aside from the various safeguards that can be put in place on the Internet or on social media platforms, parents should focus on compromise and limitations when talking with young people about starting social media accounts. For example, parents' insistence on having their tweens' or teens' passwords just makes the child feel as if they don't have any privacy. But maybe if a parent and child can agree to be connected as friends on social media, then the whole family can stay aware of what's going on in the child's life.
Of course, some children may rebel against those kinds of limits and expectations, which can also be a scary prospect for many parents. They might fear such limits will push their child away: What if my child just completely defies me? That can certainly happen, but that level of rebellion doesn't come out of nowhere. Maybe kids who act out toward their parents with hostility have been treated that way themselves, or maybe they've watched their parents treat each other that way.
Our entitlement culture has established that no one—children or adults—wants to be told no anymore.
Kids definitely don't want to be told no, whether it's "No, you can't have that cookie," "No, you weren't the best player on the team," or "No, you can't have a smartphone at age seven." Parents don't want to have to say no to their children. No one wants to be the bad guy.
But as kids get older, compromising with their parents on how they will approach their online life relies on their willingness to accept limits. Parents also have to remember that it's perfectly normal for children and teenagers to push those limits. That's a normal, albeit scary, part of growing up! For preteens and teenagers, pressures of all kinds—social, academic, hormonal, familial—are mounting all around them, all the time. Kids act out at those ages, and that is developmentally appropriate.
That's why it's so important for parents to stay tuned in, and not necessarily in an authoritarian way, either. Parenting a teenager isn't just about clamping down the controls.
In my opinion, the only thing that works is keeping the lines of communication as open and judgment-free as possible and equipping children to be smart enough to make their own good choices.
I recently met a woman named Cindy and her daughter, Alanna, who struggled with depression and was bullied at school. Alanna and her mom wore matching bracelets that were printed with a saying they loved: You Are Awesome! It was a simple, yet powerful daily connection that they shared. Every time Alanna looked at her bracelet, she could feel that little surge of confidence and love, knowing her mom had her back. Many teenage girls love jewelry and cute accessories, and Cindy made the effort to connect with her daughter on that teenage level, in a wonderfully positive way that would help Alanna any time she needed a boost.
Every single day, I wear a necklace stamped with the word BRAVE. I got the necklace from a company called All the Wire after the release of the documentary about my life, A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story. Because of the film and because of what I've been through, the meaning behind that single word, brave, is enormous to me. Wearing the necklace reminds me to be brave, no matter what I'm walking into. I love wearing reminders of what's most important to me. I also wear a ring with a dangling cross charm that reminds me to walk in my faith—to live according to my spiritual beliefs and remember God is always with me. My BRAVE necklace and cross ring are two of my favorite pieces of jewelry, and I rarely take them off.
In regard to Cindy and Alanna's bracelets, a person's alliance with their family can also serve as a positive reinforcement of who they are.
To create more kindness in our homes, it's incredibly important for parents to treat their children as they want their children to treat others. It's like the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—but my version of the Golden Rule isn't just about treating people the way you want to be treated. It's also about modeling kind, respectful treatment of others to show people how they can and should treat everyone around them.
As I've said, this starts at home. Parents must treat their children the way they want their children to treat other people out in the world. Parents, after all, are the first and best models for their children in how to be a good person. That's why this is such an important factor for parents to understand—and not just for parents who want to help their kids who are being bullied. It's also hugely important for parents who don't want their children to become bullies.
Some parents view bullying as a way to make their kids stronger, and they don't see all the possible, terrible consequences it can have. They just see it as, "Toughen up, kid." Some people believe bullying is a normal part of childhood—so normal, in fact, that they might not even consider certain behaviors to be bullying at all.
Even I have a hard time defining what bullying is. What do you think of when you think of bullying? Chances are, you picture a group of kids taunting or making fun of a smaller, weaker kid, or shoving them, or laughing at them. That's a very traditional image of bullying, and it's certainly one version of it.
So what is bullying? A simple definition of a bully is someone who uses their strength, whether physical, verbal, or emotional, to hurt or intimidate someone else they perceive as being weaker than themselves.
Just think about that definition for a second. Think about how general and wide-reaching it is. Then think about all the little things, all the small events that happen every day that could fit that definition—events that most people would think of as perfectly normal and acceptable, not bullying at all.
When children in the same family argue and fight, people call it sibling rivalry. Maybe siblings make fun of each other, say hurtful things about each other, and even get into physical fights in order to feel more powerful. Maybe they harbor competitive or jealous feelings. Whatever the reasons behind sibling rivalry, this phenomenon may not be seen as a good thing, but it's still viewed as common and normal.
The same is true of hazing rituals. Despite the fact that many colleges and universities across the country have cracked down on it in recent years, hazing is still all too common among kids entering high school or college or joining a fraternity or sorority. This is certainly true in my home state of Texas, where many students continue to view hazing as a necessary ritual to prove they're "macho" or worthy enough to enter Greek life on campus. Even parents seem to consider it a point of pride, after having gone through hazing rituals themselves; their children grow up and carry on the tradition.
Public humiliation is also one of many tactics used by bullies. In my mind, it's no different when a well-meaning parent uses that tactic to discipline their children. As soon as a parent shames their child in public, they have become a bully.
Thank goodness people are speaking out about this phenomenon. One of my favorite videos that I've seen on the subject was made by Wayman Gresham, a Florida father who posted his own public humiliation discipline video—with a twist. Instead of cutting his son's hair in the video, he said to the camera, "Good parenting starts before he even gets to the point of being out of control. Good parenting is letting your child know that you love them, regardless of what they are and who they are, and showing them the way by example."
I loved that message so much. Mr. Gresham is exactly right: Modeling kindness, setting that good example, is the best way to teach and inspire a child to be kind themselves.
As an anti-bullying activist, I am calling for a sea change—a cultural shift. Because enough is enough. There have been too many young children who have committed suicide after being bullied. There have been too many college kids who died after a "harmless" hazing ritual in their new fraternity. There have been too many people irrevocably harmed by someone else's thoughtless cruelty.
And this sea change, this cultural shift, has to begin at home. Mahatma Gandhi is known for the saying, Be the change that you wish to see in the world. When I was growing up, my parents really modeled this for me, and I followed their example when I found the strength to rise above all the hateful negativity that people threw my way. That's why I believe so deeply that change starts at home.
The love that family members share is essential, and it's so important to highlight it no matter what else might be happening. This is especially true when there is something causing true, deep discord among family members—something fundamental that could cause a real rift.
"Sometimes we are met with overwhelming challenges that knock us off our feet-but [Lizzie has] been able to embody the power of hope and compassion in everything [she does]."
- "[A] heartfelt and powerful treatise about the importance of being kind, gleaned from first-hand experience...Readers will be inspired by Velasquez's resilient spirit."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- "Lizzie Velasquez is making our culture a kinder one by encouraging people to undermine hate through self-acceptance and everyday acts of empathy. Her heart and humor shine through on every page!"—Lilly Singh, entertainer, comedianand author of How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life
- "Lizzie's story should be mandatory reading for everyone. It's powerful, inspirational, and will leave you with hope that there is good in this world; Lizzie is leading that movement with her words and passion."—Justine Ezarik, author of The New York Times bestseller I,Justine: An Analog Memoir
- "Lizzie is a true inspiration with a powerful and positive message. In a world where anyone can be bullied online, her story and insightful advice are the perfect guide to finding your own way."—Rosanna Pansino, author of the New York Times bestsellerNerdy Nummies Cookbook
"Eschewing victimhood, Velasquez argues that
everyone struggles with valleys in life and though her valley is rarer, it is no different in depth and impact.
This is a wonderful and fast read, full of vitality that captures the luminous spirit of kindness that
Velasquez so beautifully embodies."—Booklist
- "Lizzie Velasquez's courage and compassion shine through as she shares her inspirational journey. No matter what challenges you face in life, Dare to Be Kind can help you find the strength to overcome them."—Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do
- "Lizzie Velasquez is proof that the only way to make a dream happen is to believe in it. No matter what anyone says--especially the voice in your own head. She dares us to be kind to each other, love ourselves, and become the cheerleader in our own life's story."—LaurenZander, Co-Founder of Handel Group and author of Maybe It's You: Cut theCrap, Face Your Fears, Love Your Life
- "Lizzie Valasquez touched me. And I'm so glad she did. (Take this in the least creepiest way possible.) Her story, her strength and her kindness are not only inspirational to me, but to millions. And to millions more! This incredible book needs to come with every bedside table, coffee table and school desk around."—Liza Koshy, comedian and social media personality
- "I dare to be more like Lizzie! People full of love and light are the ones that are setting the bar for all of us. Dare to Be Kind is incredible and I'm so excited to see what else is in store for this lovely lady! Spread love always."—Miles McKenna, actor, comedian and LGBTQ+activist
- "Lizzie's message of spreading kindness and positivity is one that speaks to all ages. I loved Dare to Be Kind!"—AmymarieGaertner, actress, dancer andsocial media personality
- On Sale
- Jun 6, 2017
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Legacy Lit