Pret-a-Reporter

Dynamic Duo: 'A Brave Heart's' Lizzie Velasquez and Sara Bordo

Amy Dickerson
Lizzie Velasquez and Sara Bordo

Velasquez, star of the new documentary about facing bullies who called her “the ugliest woman in the world,” and Bordo, the film's director, open up about their friendship, late nights on the road and doing it all in style.

Lizzie Velasquez has gone viral twice.

The first time it happened, she was 17 years old and the video was posted without her consent. Titled "The Ugliest Woman in the World," the clip showed footage of Velasquez, who suffers from a rare congenital disease that prevents her from gaining weight, and, by the time she finally saw it, it had over 4 million views.

LADIES IN LACE: Velasquez wears a Zara top and Altar'd State skirt, Bordo wears Tadashi Shoji.

Flash forward about seven years, and Velasquez went viral again. This time, however, it was on her terms. At the Austin, Texas, TEDxWomen conference in 2013, Velasquez gave a speech — which now has almost 10 million views — entitled, "How Do YOU Define Yourself," and since then, she has served not only as a role model for being confident in one's own skin, but also as an advocate for victims of bullying.

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In the almost 10 years since the the first video was posted, the resilient 26-year-old has forgiven the user who posted the video (and the thousands of anonymous commenters that left nasty messages on the post), built her own YouTube channel (which now has more than 450,000 subscribers) and become an international inspiration.
 
Following her TED Talk's viral success, Velasquez partnered up with Sara Bordo, who directed and executive produced the speaking event, and they've been a team ever since.

FASHION FRIENDS: Velasquez and Bordo in matching Kendra Scott pendant necklaces.

"I had never done a film before, at all," says Bordo of the decision to turn Velasquez's harrowing story into the documentary, A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, which won the Documentary Spotlight award at this year's SXSW festival. "But I asked Lizzie if she would consider letting me tell her story, and she and her family said yes. We launched the Kickstarter about six weeks later and started shooting the day after."

The pair has since been on a "whirlwind of an adventure," not only filming Velasquez's story — from her difficulties fitting in as a child in Austin to her newfound career as a motivational speaker — but traveling across the country to lobby on behalf of Safe Schools, an anti-bullying bill. With Velasquez and Bordo promoting the cause, the anti-bullying movement has garnered the support of stars like Kristen Bell, Giuliana Rancic, Octavia Spencer and Hilary Duff.

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Now, the duo is traveling for press tours before the film's big premiere on Sept. 25. But at this point they've got their travel routine down.

"Every time [we travel] I write a list of every single thing that I obviously know I need," says Velasquez, noting that her one-night trip to Los Angeles was "a breeze" compared to her usually longer trips. "I could carry both of my bags!"

A BRAVE HEART: Velasquez and the film's team wear jewelry from the Brave Collection, a line handmade by female artisans in Cambodia, that supports women from underprivileged backgrounds to support themselves.

But when asked what she'll be wearing as they embark on their press tour, Velasquez notes that while she's a fan of fashion, shopping can be difficult.

"It's hard to find clothes that fit me," she says, "because I'll find stuff that works but then I'll have to get it altered. Some things have to be completely taken apart and then put back together." At 5-foot-2 and roughly 60 pounds, Velasquez understandably has a difficult time dressing her petite frame; however she's never without her silver cross ring, a custom-sized gift from a friend in high school. "It's a really good reminder, every time I look down," she says.

As for clothing, Velasquez cites a small shop in Nashville, Bluetique, that has been particularly helpful in outfitting her for special occasions, fitting all the garments to her small stature.

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But as with most millennials, the biggest conundrum for Bordo and Velasquez in the age of social media and vlogging is the dreaded outfit repeat.

"We're rotating some things we might have worn in New York — we're now wearing them in L.A. — and some things we wore in L.A. we're wearing in New York," laughs Bordo, noting that they'll forgo a social media post if they have plans to wear an outfit at a later date.

Adds Velasquez, "Like my TED dress — it's so sad because I can never wear it again!"

However, it was that talk — while wearing the now-legendary black-and-white dress — that led to a collaboration with Kylie Jenner, who is an also an anti-bullying advocate.

REMINDER RING: Velasquez wears a James Avery ring and Brave Collection bracelet.

"I think what was really awesome was when you think of a celebrity such as someone like Kylie, you have all these assumptions about them," said Velasquez of her participation in Jenner's #IAmMoreThan Instagram campaign. "But when I talked to her, she was able to be really open with me and vulnerable and talk about how she feels with all of the bullying that she's going through."

She continued, "She said one thing to me that really stuck out to me because she was asking me about mean comments online and I said something to the effect of, 'I get that a lot, but it's probably not on the same level as you do.' And she kind of interrupted and said, 'No, no, no, no — yours is a lot worse. Mine is just about a different topic. They're both equally not great.'"

 

#Day4 - I'm getting a little more personal... When Lizzie Velasquez (@LittleLizzieV) was 17 years old, someone posted a video of her on YouTube calling her the world's ugliest woman. "By the time I saw the video, it had 4 million views." Now 26 years old, Lizzie's condition was diagnosed last summer. Lizzie suffers from a rare congenital disease that less than 10 people in the world are known to have. The disease impedes her from accumulating body fat; she literally has zero percent body fat and has never weighed more than 64 pounds, however though it is not terminal. Throughout her entire life, this condition has resulted in a lot of #bullying. It is so unacceptable to treat people like this. People are so quick to say horrible things about me everyday over and over and sometimes I can't take it. Even I at times get affected by it, I breakdown, I hide, I cry. It's resulted in a lot of anxiety for me that I've never had to deal with before ever. My every move has been documented for the whole world and its been a nightmare trying to find myself through all of this. And I've absolutely lost apart of myself. Lizzie, you are so strong and I admire you so so much. Lizzie has taken that negative energy and has turned it around by traveling around the world doing motivational speeches. When I asked her what the key messages were of her speeches, she told me that "Most importantly I try to convey that all you need to have is a brave heart to accomplish whatever you want to achieve. Let the negative build you up instead of knocking you down. You are enough no matter what; you were put on this earth for a reason" Soon you'll be able to see her story on the big screen in the documentary film @ABraveHeartFilm in theaters on September 25th. Check out Lizzie's Instagram @LittleLizzieV - she's taking a lifetime full of bullying to help teach the world #IAmMoreThan the names they call me. #ImWithLizzie and Lizzie taught me #IAmMoreThan who I think I am. For me, this is expected it comes with the territory. But Lizzie, you should of not had to go through that. Let's change this together. I love you Lizzie! I'll see you soon.

A photo posted by King Kylie (@kyliejenner) on

The road so far has indeed been an emotional one for Velasquez and Bordo, whose film also sheds light on the consequences of bullying by discussing the tragic suicide rates among bullied teens.

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"I think a lot of the things that we're doing are very heavy in many different ways," says Velasquez. "And so I think being able to travel with each other and have inside jokes and deliriously laughing at crazy hours in the night is what's making this whole thing really special."

Adds Bordo, "We're at a point now where this is the fun part, even though it's a lot of work, and we just really want to just soak everything in because this is our first opening weekend for a movie, and we'll never have that again."

Lizzie Velasquez and Sara Bordo were photographed by Amy Dickerson at Lucques restaurant.

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