Lizzie Velasquez has had to deal with more than most. At college, she was bullied by online trolls who labelled her ‘the ugliest woman in the world’. More recently, she was the subject of horrid memes circulated online.
But the 28-year-old, who lives with a rare medical condition that causes premature ageing, hasn’t let the foul behaviour of others knock her back.
In fact, it’s given her more impetus to tackle the problem head on and even sympathise with those who have targeted her.
Velasquez is a motivational speaker (you might have watched her TedX talk titled ‘How Do You Define Yourself?’) and has worked tirelessly as an anti-bullying campaigner. She’s also the author of ‘Dare To Be Kind’, a book detailing her life story and the importance of tackling bullying with kindness.
The book is deeply personal, with Velasquez revisiting a time in her life when she suffered with severe anxiety, became hooked on prescription medication and came very near to taking her own life. She also addressed the strain of living with an undiagnosed condition for most of her life - although she has since been diagnosed with neonatal progeroid syndrome.
Against all odds, Velasquez has remained strong, gracious and fierce.
Here, we talk to her about why it’s okay to say ‘no’ sometimes and her one piece of advice for women in 2017.
What was the last thing you did that made you proud?
“Publishing my new book. It’s more personal than I’ve ever been. Sharing my deepest, darkest secrets with the world isn’t the easiest thing to do.
“I told myself at the beginning of the year that I wanted to make myself comfortable with the uncomfortable.
“Releasing this book was a huge step for me.”
Who inspires you and why?
“Often I’m told I’m an inspiration to people which I will forever be grateful for. But the reality is that I’m only able to help others because others are helping me.
“Everyday people who are doing whatever they can to help make a difference are what keeps me going.”
What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and keep pushing forward?
“When I close my eyes at night I’m able to go to bed with a heart full of gratitude. When I wake up in the morning my heart is full with thankfulness and peace.
“I don’t know what tomorrow will hold, but I do know I will live each day to the fullest.”
What’s the one thing you would change or do in 2017 to push women forward?
“I would encourage women to own their vulnerable moments. We’re all human and we don’t have it all together - that is perfectly okay.
“Admit when you’re having a hard time and don’t hesitate to ask for help. You will be very surprised when you realise we are all in the same boat at one time or another.”
How do you practise self-care?
“I used to be the definition of a people pleaser. I would say ‘yes’ to anything and everything and then, when I got home, I’d complain and vent to my family. I had to realise that it’s okay to say ‘no’ sometimes.
“Opportunities will always be there but the level you’d be able to fulfil those opportunities depends on you being fully present and working to the best of your ability.
“When I start feeling myself getting really stressed, not getting enough sleep and being in a bad mood, I know it’s time for me to press pause.
“My self-care routine involves: spending time with my loved ones, playing with my puppies or enjoying a glass of wine with my girlfriends while relaxing at home.”
What’s your biggest regret? And what did you learn from it?
“I don’t believe in having regrets. I believe everything happens for a reason even when we don’t want it to happen.
“Every high and every low moment has a lesson waiting for you to find it.”
Does success have a downside? If so, what is it?
“Just like everything else in our lives, with the good comes the bad. It applies to success as well.
“Success isn’t a destination, it’s a journey - a journey that will be sure to come with lots of great achievements and lots of setbacks.
“You have the power to decide if those downsides are going to define you in a negative way or a positive way.”
If you had one piece of advice for other women, what would it be?
“Fully embrace the fact that you are enough just being you. It’s so important for women to champion each other instead of competing against each other.
“Believe in yourself and believe in all of the women in your life. As females we are already strong but imagine if we all supported one another? What a world that would be.”
Fierce is a regular feature on HuffPost UK, asking trailblazing women what drives them. We’ll be speaking to a range of women including those who’ve found success in male-dominated industries, created a service to help other women and those using their position to empower others.