Back when I was a kid, bullying was still a “playground norm,” and I ultimately internalized a lot of what was said to me. I’ve mentioned before that I was picked on a lot for my weight. I was always the fat girl. Luckily the bullying let up once I started high school (go figure), and stopped altogether- at least to my face- once I hit my junior year. What changed? I think it was the first year I truly felt comfortable in my body and how I looked… partly because I lost 20 pounds after getting my tonsils removed. It sucks that it had to take such a dramatic weight loss to make me feel that way, but I was always told that the way I looked was “wrong,” and that’s what I believed. Regardless of why I felt better, the way I carried myself junior year emanated confidence, self worth and tenacity. I think people caught on to that, and started valuing me as I valued myself: a force to be reckoned with. Mind you, I was still not thin by any means, but I wholeheartedly believe the positive change within myself changed the way others perceived me.
Wouldn’t it be great to make everyone feel the same way, but just the way they are? That’s what Caitlin Boyle, founder of Operation Beautiful, is trying to do.
Operation Beautiful is a blog full of notes that anyone can leave in public, reminding onlookers that they’re beautiful just the way they are. The ultimate goal of Operation Beautiful is to end Fat Talk- or, negative self talk- because what truly matters is what you think and tell yourself. I got to interview Caitlin on this topic, and how Operation Beautiful started: with just one sticky note on a public bathroom mirror.
What drove you to actually post your first sticky note on the public bathroom mirror?
Caitlin: I was having a terrible day and found myself in front of a public bathroom mirror, crying and thinking so many horrible things about myself. “You are so stupid, you are a waste, you are an idiot.” I reached into my bag, pulled out a sheet of paper, and wrote YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL on it. I posted it on the mirror, and I felt so much better just thinking about who would find my note and how it would make them feel. I took a photo of it, blogged about my experience, and the idea quickly went viral. I’ve received 17,000 notes from every continent over the last 4.5 years.
You describe Fat Talk as negative self-talk. Do you think that negative self talk can be more toxic than other people’s hurtful words?
Caitlin: Yes, I do. Negative self-talk is often a loop that plays over and over again in our mind. It’s in the background of everything we do. We take the things that other people say and we internalize it. So someone may say one nasty thing to you, but it may live on forever in the form of negative self-talk.
How much accountability do you think the media holds for the negative self image?
Caitlin: A great deal. The representation of men and women is so completely warped that 70% of teens feel like they aren’t “good enough” after reading a magazine. Adults don’t fare much better. The reality is that most marketing is designed to make us feel bad about ourselves, because then we will need to buy a product to “fix” ourselves.
Since Operation Beautiful started, what has the response been like?
Caitlin: It’s been tremendous to be a part of this program. Women and girls who post the notes report that the act helps them feel better about themselves and better about the rest of the world, too. It’s an uphill battle to be positive in such a negative environment, but I think OB has helped many people in the fight. One of my favorite things about OB is how the younger girls are really taking up the cause. It warms my heart to see middle school bathrooms covered in OB notes.
What is your personal definition of beauty?
Caitlin: It’s about being true to yourself, good to others, and a positive influence in the world.
Operation Beautiful has become a worldwide campaign that thousands participate in by leaving words of encouragement everywhere. All of the notes Caitlin receives appear on the blog, so why not spread the love? Next time you’re out, grab a sticky note and remind the next person who looks in the mirror that they’re perfect just the way they are. It shouldn’t have to take a 20 pound weight loss to feel that way, either. See notes and submit your own at OperationBeautiful.com.