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Checking In: Lizzie Velasquez

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Motivational speaker, author and YouTube personality Lizzie Velasquez opens up in her latest book, Dare to be Kind.

By Sarah Holcomb, Photo courtesy of Hachette Books

Between speaking around the country, starring in a YouTube series, and writing her fourth book, Lizzie Velasquez hasn’t slowed down since she graced the cover of Austin Woman in July 2016. In her viral 2014 TEDx talk, Velasquez, who was born with a rare genetic disorder inhibiting her from gaining weight, asked women, “How do YOU define yourself?” Now she’s sharing a raw, behind-the-scenes look at her life in the last few years, from dealing with depression to dating, in her latest book, Dare to be Kind, released on June 6.

We sat down with Velasquez to discuss her book and the strength she’s found in being vulnerable.

Austin Woman: Why did you write Dare to be Kind?

Lizzie Velasquez: Dare to be Kind is technically my fourth book, but it feels like my first. I feel like this book is actually me for the first time because the other ones were obviously written by me, but they’re very bubblegum and happy and geared toward a pre-teen audience. I was at a time in my life over the past two years where I was graduating from college and figuring out what this next chapter was going to look like. And it was nothing like what I expected. My career was reaching its highest point and I was learning all of these lessons. But when I first had this idea, I didn’t know that I was going choose to write about my breakdown and everything else that happened. So I feel that this book is everything that I was terrified to write, but knew I had to write.

AW: One thing you write about is vulnerability. You open up about your breakdown, depression and suicidal thoughts. Why did you include these personal struggles in the book?

LV: At the beginning of this year, I told myself I wanted to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. … I wanted to show myself that I can do something that’s a bit scary, versus doing and saying things that are really safe and general. About a year after my breakdown, I was in an extremely happy place and something just told me I was supposed to share everything that happened with other people. I didn’t know that it would be a book specifically, but I knew I needed to tell people what really happened. I’ve never had thoughts of not wanting to be here. Ever. Despite everything I’ve gone through. And now that I have, I have the opportunity to reach an audience of people I might not have necessarily been able to connect to before my breakdown.

AW: What do you hope happens when people read those stories?

LV: I hope that people realize that I’m human. I think I’ve built up this persona of being an inspiration and someone who’s positive all the time, and I do try to be those things, but I’m human and there are days where I feel sad and there are days I feel frustrated. I thought I could never let the world see that because that would be me losing credibility, and they might not look at me in the same light. Which now I realize is totally wrong and not true, but I wanted to be able to just say this is absolutely okay, and we all go through it at some point or another.

AW: Was writing helpful for you to process those experiences?

LV: It absolutely was. After every writing session, I felt like it was a therapy session. I started looking forward to each time we would write because it was my first time actually talking out loud about what was going on and what I was feeling. And it felt so great. …You know when you admit something? You take a deep breath, just like “I said it,” and now you’re not overthinking—“What are people going to think when I tell them this?” or the anxiety of figuring out when is the right time. I was able to just do it, and now it’s out there.

AW: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the last year?

LV: Being vulnerable [with myself]personally is the biggest lesson I’ve learned. Because I could go on a stage for a long time before now and say, “It’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to own everything you’re going through,” but I wasn’t really living that out. … Behind the scenes, I was telling myself, “I have to be an inspiration for everyone else.” I was putting all the pressure on myself: “I have to be there for them,” “This speech has to live up to the last speech,” “I need to continue posting on social media”—I was living my life for other people. And I wasn’t living my life for myself. So to now know that I can be vulnerable personally and publically.

AW: What advice would you give others as they try to be more vulnerable?

LV: Baby steps. The line in the book about “trying on some confidence”—that’s so true, you just have to try it on, you don’t have to fully throw yourself out there. … I started by telling one friend, one person I could really trust. I would go have coffee or dinner and open up about what I was going through. I continued to do that over time. So I think my best advice would be if you want to get over that vulnerability, find that one person that you can connect with and trust.

AW: What’s next for you?

LV: I would like to be able to devote more time to being in one place. What I do is incredible, but I do have to press pause on my social life every time because I’m not home for long periods of time. I would like to just stay home for just two or three months. I’ve worked so hard to be able to be a homeowner at 28 years old, and I just want to take that in and appreciate it—just press pause on things, on my career, and see what comes my way!

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