I saw my first Post-It note from Operation Beautiful in the University bathroom at UNC Charlotte. On that day, I was feeling tired and discouraged. I went into the bathroom and found a random note on the mirror that read, “You are beautiful!” It was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment. The note was signed, www.operationbeautiful.com, so I vowed to go to the website.
Caitlin Boyle is the creator of the ingenious project designed to encourage women anonymously through positive messages planted on Post-It notes in public places. These random notes typically encourage a positive body image or outlook by including phrases like “You are beautiful inside and out” or “Scales measure our weight, not our worth.”
Operation Beautiful (OB) is part of a new movement of positive body image campaigns launched to boost the self-esteem of countless women, including those recovering from anorexia and bulimia.
Last year I wrote an article about OB as part of my Good News Network column, The Mental Health Minute. The article generated such interest that I decided to follow-up in greater depth. What follows is my interview with OB chief, Caitlin Boyle:
GNN: Tell me a few “success stories” from Operation Beautiful. For example, have girls suffering from anorexia or bulimia contacted you and told you how OB helped in their treatment or recovery?
CB: My favorite story is Vit’s. A teenager in Canada, Vit was in a treatment center for severe anorexia. Her doctors were concerned that it was going to eventually kill her. She slipped into the bathroom to throw up her lunch and found an Operation Beautiful note on the stall. The simple message – “You are good enough the way you are” – made her pause and reconsider her destructive behavior. She followed up with me a few months later and said she was out of the hospital and healthier than ever. Vit knew a stranger posted the note, but she felt like the timing was a message from God.
GNN: What inspired you to start Operation Beautiful? Has positive body image always been an area of interest for you?
CB: I was inspired to start Operation Beautiful after having a really bad day; I wanted to do something small and simple for someone else to make me feel better! I have definitely always been interested in showing people how they can be more positive in their life.
GNN: Do you feel that the media is largely responsible for women’s negative body image, or do women simply need to learn to be more supportive of one another?
CB: There is a lot of negative messaging in our society. The biggest mistake we make is beating ourselves up for not looking like models or celebrities. 99% of images in magazines are ‘photoshop’ed in some way. It’s time we stop emulating or striving for a type of perfection that doesn’t even exist in the real world. It’s OK to look like a human! And yes, we do need to learn to be more supportive of ourselves and each other.
GNN: What do you think families can do to encourage a positive body image? What about schools?
CB: I think its important for mothers and fathers not to engage in their own Fat Talk in front of children and to encourage their children to be healthy and happy, not just a certain size. I also think schools need to try to teach more health-focused skills, such as cooking.
GNN: What would you say to encourage girls and women who are struggling with anorexia or bulimia?
CB: That everything they need is already inside of them. They just need to reach out to other people for help and find their own inner strength.
GNN: Do you know of any therapists or recovery programs that have used the principles of OB in treatment?
CB: Yes, many treatment centers and therapists have used OB in their group discussions and programs.
GNN: How many OB notes have you left, and what were some of your favorites?
CB: I have left hundreds probably. I always like to say “Scales Measure Weight, Not Worth.”
GNN: Are you partnering with other self-esteem and body image campaigns, such as the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty?
CB: I am a part of NEDA Awareness Week, a Confidence Coalition partner, and a featured organizer for Fat Talk Free Week with Tri Delta.
GNN: What has been your most rewarding experience with Operation Beautiful?
CB: I don’t think there’s been one huge moment of reward – its just the daily act of waking up each morning and reading such inspiring emails that keep me going.
GNN: Tell us about the Operation Beautiful book and where it is available.
CB: Operation Beautiful: Transforming the Way You See Yourself One Post-it Note at a Time includes chapters relating to Fat Talk (negative internal dialogue), food, fitness, family” — all issues faced by the modern-day woman. Each chapter features Life Lessons, which are tried-and-true tips from women and professionals on how to achieve a more positive and balanced outlook on life.
The Operation Beautiful book is available for pre-order on Amazon, is full of inspiring notes and stories from women who have persevered through difficult times — whether it be a divorce, bullying at school, an eating disorder, or running a marathon. The book explores the social and cultural reasons why Operation Beautiful is so popular with women of all ages and backgrounds, and includes tips on how women can transform their own lives through positive thinking.
Visit Caitlin’s website at www.operationbeautiful.com.
Read more of Cristina Frick’s Mental Health Minute columns here, under ARTICLES.