OperationBeautiful.com: Our Kind of Ego-Boost

Can inspirational messages stuck in public places, like restroom mirrors, or at the gym, change the way women see themselves? The women of Operation Beautiful think so.

Even if you know better, you’ve probably done it. It might have happened on a day when you were feeling low, or maybe you were just parroting your friends. But at some point, you’ve looked in the mirror, grimaced at your reflection, and said something like, “I look fat.”

If there happened to have been a note on that mirror that said “You’re beautiful!” do you think you might have been nicer to your reflection?

Caitlin Boyle, who writes the blog Healthy Tipping Point, which describes her eating and fitness habits, thought so. In mid-June, she wrote: “I’ve begun leaving positive messages on the mirrors of public restrooms—at work, at the gym, at the grocery store. I scribble down whatever comes to mind. ‘You are beautiful!’ or ‘You are amazing just the way you are!’” Boyle, 25, an Orlando, FL, urban planner, also included a photo of one of her notes: “You are beautiful!” scribbled in pink highlighter on a sticky note.

The same day, in Ottawa, Ontario, Kristen Moulton, 29, a research assistant, read what Boyle had written, printed “Your imperfections are what make you beautiful” on a Post-it, and put it on the bathroom mirror at her office.

Operation Beautiful had begun.

400 Notes and Growing
Operation Beautiful is an underground movement—its members act anonymously—that aims to demolish women’s thinking that they are defined by their looks. The group's strategically placed Post-it notes tell the viewer that she wouldn’t be happier if she lost weight or got Botox; she's beautiful just the way she is. It’s part PostSecret, a project that lets you mail in your secrets anonymously on a postcard. And part Pay It Forward, as members hope their positive thoughts about body image will inspire others to put up their own messages.

Over 400 notes have been put up so far on everything from the cover of Allure (“True beauty is not found on the cover of a magazine”) to scales in gym locker rooms (“I can tell you what you weigh, but I can’t tell you what you’re worth”) to boxes of Slim-Fast meal bars (“There could never be a more beautiful you!”). The Operation Beautiful Web site lets Boyle's army send in pictures of their notes. Some Operation Beautiful-ers now include the Web site's URL on their messages so those who find them can join the mission.

Experts on eating disorders and related problems aren’t surprised that Operation Beautiful has caught on—and quickly. “Women are tired of feeling bad about themselves and don’t know how to get out of that hole,” says Jess Weiner, the author of self-acceptance books, A Very Hungry Girl and Life Doesn’t Begin 5 Pounds from Now. “This was born out of great frustration.”

No Weight-Watching Here

Women have been so conditioned to hate their bodies—and bond over it—that before Carrie Haderlie, 25, a newspaper reporter in Laramie, WY, posted her first note, she felt nervous and embarrassed that she wanted to compliment other women. But, “It gets easier every time,” she says.

How much impact can a few Post-its have? Could a note in a dressing room that said, “No matter what size you just tried on, you’re beautiful!” make a girl feel better about herself? Could it stop her from putting those clothes back on the shelf until she’d dieted her way to smaller ones?

Dr. Margo Maine, cofounder of Maine & Weinstein Specialty Group in West Hartford, CT, an outpatient practice that treats eating disorders, says yes. “When it comes to body image and appearance, we’re told we need to change ourselves, that we’re not okay as is," she says. “The notion that you may walk into a gym or dressing room and see a note that says you are okay as is would be an incredible antidote to what women experience constantly.”

It certainly worked for Hilary, a reader who emailed Boyle about finding a note in the locker room at the Penn State student gym that said, “Smile! You are beautiful!”

“Right before I found it,” she told Boyle, “I was thinking that my muffin top was probably showing because my shorts were a size too small. Then I saw the note and immediately laughed off the thought of my muffin top.”

To view the gallery of positive notes from women all over America who contributed to Operation Beautiful, click here.

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