By Tara Fannon
Caitlin Boyle is a fellow-body positive change-maker. Her initiative, Operation Beautiful, originally featured on her site, Healthy Tipping Point is as clever as it is subtle. The idea is to leave encouraging posit-it notes with body-positive messages, like 'you're beautiful inside and out' or 'scales measure weight, not worth', in public places for other people to find. Caitlin says, “I was inspired to start Operation Beautiful after having a really bad day at work; I wanted to do something small and simple for someone else to make me feel better! Turns out she's made thousands feel better.
Caitlin has received over 20,000 notes from all over the world since it started, including notes from Asia, Europe, and Africa. In 2010, Operation Beautiful was turned into a book, Operation Beautiful: Transforming the Way You See Yourself One Post-It Note at a Time, that includes 125 amazing notes and stories and tips on how to lead a happier and healthier life. Caitlin's now working on a second book, a follow-up of sorts, called Operation Beautiful:One Note at a Time. It's aimed at tween and teen girls and, like the first book, it includes notes and stories with teen girls and adult women reflecting on their teenage experiences. Caitlin admits to being initially surprised at how quickly Operation Beautiful took off but in hindsight understands the power and value of interacting randomly with body positive messages. The exchange of such positive notes between strangers, she explains, can be uplifting and inspiring. But it's the symbolic placement of these notes on objects like mirrors and weighing scales in spaces where negative self-talk occurs like bathrooms and changing rooms that illustrates the delicate yet powerful grass-roots movement to push-back against the media and industry and enact real and lasting change.
According to Caitlin, change depends more on us as diverse individuals, as society members, as ultimately consumers. I tend to agree. There's a lot of power in how we (the people), in our everyday lives, respond to media and industry's representation of ideal bodies. Sure, it can feel like a case of David and Goliath. We might ask ourselves- 'what good can 'wee little us' do to change the direction of mediated discourse that is written solely to satisfy a money-making system that has shunted humanity aside'? (that's right capitalism, with rich (mature) white-guy stakeholders at the helm, I'm talking to you). For sure, the more we know the more we can and, seemingly do, push back but it's work that keeps coming when we're working against a system that insists on de-humanizing, demoralizing and disembodying. Maybe I'm wrong, and I hope I'm not, but I get the feeling that 'wee little us' are more aware than ever that it's all a bunch of bullshit: the rhetoric, the representations, the 'experts' that say it's all so, the products and services designed by the experts who say this and that will 'help' us look better, feel better, love our bodies, like ourselves and on and on and on it goes. But that's the world we live; a world of high standards and higher prescriptions where corresponding ideas about how people should not only look but act, be, aspire masquerade as truth and are just accepted as such.
Just stop for a minute and think about that. It's ridiculous, tiring, worthy of eye-rolling. We need the body-positive/body-acceptance organizations like Endangered Bodies and Operation Beautiful. It's part of what change on the grounds looks like. But here's the thing. Here's my thing. It's been largely female-centric and I get why. Girls and women happen to be the target du jour, their sex and gender historically conflated, put on display, making it easy to get wrapped up in the belief that media and industry rhetoric and representation are simply out to keep women down. But media and industry shenanigans concern everybody. In a Western, capitalist, consumer-driven, materialistic system, we're all targets and if we haven't been, our turn will come. I say this not to be a downer but to hopefully lift the veil on the process and reveal the bullshit. What if the system is less about keeping a specific group down and more about using people's gender, ethnicity, race, class, ability against them as a strategy to compel everyone to compete and judge and fight one another to win something, that lets face it, changes like the tide? What if? Take it back, take it back, take you back.