Our 2018 Millennial of the Year is anti-bullying activist, author, motivational speaker, and role model to countless young people Lizzie Velasquez. Lizzie is on the front lines in the battle against the throwaway culture, championing love, kindness, solidarity, and the fundamental worth and dignity of every single person.
We live at a time when it’s no longer possible to deny how pervasive both bullying and the objectification of others are—vividly seen in the misbehavior of the rich and powerful and experienced regularly by everyday Americans. Sadly many Christians are seen defending both, not just in justifying the words and actions of their favorite politician, but more broadly. Cruelty is dismissed as “kids being kids,” and the objectification of women—ignoring the dignity and integral nature of each person in order to revel in capricious societal and individual biases—is defended as a (supposedly inevitable) manifestation of human nature. Free will is essentially denied, as immoral behavior and a degrading culture are defended.
But Lizzie—a 29-year-old Roman Catholic woman from Texas with Marfanoid–progeroid–lipodystrophy syndrome, a rare congenital disease that prevents her from gaining weight—has put forward an authentically Christian response to this culture of dehumanization. She has not only confronted the culture of cruelty, but regularly displays compassion for the hurt and insecurity that so often underpins those engaging in this cruel behavior. Her understanding of the root causes of cruelty extends to her recognition that consumerism fuels the widespread obsession with conforming to fleeting notions of attractiveness. Corporations foster and prey on insecurities in order to sell products and maximize their profits.
It’s more important than ever to recognize that dehumanizing someone isn’t only bad when it results in genocide or sexual assault—that objectifying another human being is always wrong and never benign. This is essential for understanding the nature of human flourishing and what the common good looks like concretely.
Against the destructive rugged individualism in our society, she’s notes that no man is an island. And she encourages people to not be afraid of reaching out to others. It’s easier to battle consumerism, materialism, insecurity, and dehumanization when we have the support of others, who recognize our inherent value and worth. The strong support of her family has likely helped her to appreciate this.
Lizzie reminds us that “uniqueness is a good thing.” This is inseparable from human dignity and worth, and it is no surprise that those who dehumanize others are often promoting bland conformity to an impersonal paradigm. One of her main goals is to get people to know that they are loved and accepted for exactly who they are. Appreciating our uniqueness and the uniqueness of others allows for genuine authenticity.
Her effectiveness in delivering this personalist message comes from her openness, honesty, vulnerability, humor, compassion, and the fact that she too is battling these things. She is open about battling insecurity and self-doubt, even as she describes their sources. The pervasive force of these is something few women and girls can escape entirely. Girls are taught to objectify themselves and that their self-worth and beauty is not innate. This has to be consciously resisted and deprogrammed. And we see Lizzie resisting in real time, and at the end of the day, she can say that she does not want to change the way she looks in any way, even as the struggle continues. It is her witness that is powerful.
It is for this witness against a culture of cruelty, materialism, and dehumanization that our 2018 Millennial of the Year is the remarkable, the relatable, the beautiful Lizzie Velásquez.