Monday, January 17, 2011

To My Readers: You Are Beautiful

I hope that headline got your attention!

There's something I really don't like about our culture. We place a ridiculous amount of emphasis on how we look. Look at the celebrities that we're urged to practically worship; the media is forever pointing out how thin (or not so thin) they've become, who's had what plastic surgery, who's wearing which designer. It starts so early, too. Look at the "beauty pageants" people put on for young children.

And all we're accomplishing with all of this obsession with appearances is that we're hurting ourselves and other people. The prevalence of anorexia and bulimia among young girls (and boys!) is proof of the damage it's doing. We label each other by appearances even before we've been introduced. We're so anxious to look the way magazines and television tell us is the "right" way to look. It's causing many of us to lose sight of our real value; we stop seeing ourselves as we truly are, and see only what we think we should be and aren't.

Enter Caitlin Boyle.

I don't know Caitlin, but she's the kind of person I'd like to know. Caitlin is the founder of Operation Beautiful, a movement geared toward ending "fat talk." You know the kind I mean. "I'm so fat." "I need to go on a diet." "I can't wear that, I look fat in it." And so forth. Caitlin leads seminars and inspirational gatherings which encourage people to view themselves and each other as beautiful exactly the way they are. She speaks to college campuses and wellness centers, trying to reach audiences of all ages.

Right, right, sounds like hippy-dippy feel-good gobbledygook. No, not quite. There's another aspect to Operation Beautiful, one which relies on people like you and me to spread the word. Get a pen and some paper and you're ready to go; Post-It Notes (tm) are ideal for this mission, but if you just use regular paper, you might also want to bring some clear tape.

Write a message on your paper. You can start with a simple "You are beautiful!" but creativity is encouraged. The purpose of whatever message you craft is to tell the readers of the note that they are beautiful exactly as they are. Write one or one hundred, or however many you feel like writing. At the bottom of each note, be sure to include the Operation Beautiful website address (

Messages ready? Time to set them free! Tape them to mirrors in public restrooms, or leave them in phone booths or on public bulletin boards or tucked inside library books. You might never know who will read them, but someone will, and you could just make their day. You could even save a life with this gesture of kindness; sometimes the little things are what tip the scales. It's a great project for groups or individuals, and it's neat because you can do it no matter who you are, where you are, or how old you are. You don't need a license, it costs little to no money, and there's no telling how far-reaching the results of your effort could become.

If you're so inclined, before leaving the message, take a picture of your words and email it to Caitlin. (The address is at the Operation Beautiful website.) Not only will she definitely write back to you, but she might use your picture on the website -- or in the book! There's already one Operation Beautiful book on the shelves, and she's working on the second volume.

This whole 'teaching other people to appreciate their own beauty' thing resonates with me because it's a lesson I've had a hard time learning. I was teased as a kid. I wore glasses, I hated to wear makeup or style my hair, and I was on the heavy side. I never felt pretty. In fact, when the man who later became my husband told me he had been nervous to talk to me because he thought I was pretty, my response was one of pure confusion. In the last few years I've finally started to feel confident about my appearance, but considering I finished high school almost twenty years ago, that should tell you how long it's taken me. If there had been an Operation Beautiful when I was a teenager, maybe it wouldn't have taken quite so long.

So my hat is off to Caitlin. And my tablet of sticky notes is going with me everywhere from now on, so I can participate. But I thought I would start here first, and move on to anonymity later.

If you're reading are beautiful.

(And you know what? So am I.)

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