Friday, May 6, 2011

Operation Beautiful by Caitlin Boyle

Operation Beautiful: Transforming the Way You See Yourself One Post-It Note at a Time by Caitlin Boyle is a seemingly silly idea that has powerful repercussions.  One day when the author was having a bad day, she left a note on a public bathroom that read “You Are Beautiful.”  She took a picture of the note and posted it on her blog.  Thus a movement was born.  Readers began leaving notes in public places and taking photographs which they shared with on the blog.  Eventually, other messages from people who found the notes start arriving.

The message of this book starts off very powerfully, reminding the reader that we are beautiful no matter what, that our imperfections make us unique, that we are more than what we see in a mirror.  A powerful message that in small doses goes a long way.  But after pages of reading the same messages told in different ways, I couldn’t help feeling that there is so much more to being and feeling beauty than this endless barrage of messages that focus on appearance.  After about two chapters I was ready for Boyle and her contributors to move on, to discuss how intellectual pursuits, how compassion and altruism, how learning new skills for self-empowerment can all help fuel a sense of purpose.  However, the book never addresses the myriad ways that beauty manifests itself.  It alludes to it, occasionally, rarely.  Mostly the book is all about body-image, appearances, eating disorders, etc.

Perhaps this book will be the first in a series and Boyle will gather together a collection of notes her readers have shared that are more inclusive in how beauty is defined.  In an odd way, the book seems to be addressing the constant messages women receive about how we should look by focusing on precisely that—how we look.  Or how we think we look, anyway.  But it is rather like telling a junky not to use drugs and then showing them a pile of whatever substance was the drug of choice and saying, “Now remember, you are better than this.” Or like poking a person’s bruise and saying, “Does this hurt?” and then poking it again after they say yes, yes it does.

Perhaps the book in smaller doses would be better.  Oh wait.  It is.  It’s better in these little notes that different people leave around and are discovered by other people who occasionally smile.  I do like the idea of it.  I would imagine younger readers will love it.  I hope that Boyle will choose to move beyond the idea that beauty is only about diet, body-image, exercise, etc.  It is so much more.  But you know, if younger readers start to rethink how they see themselves on a purely physical better, it will open doors to appreciating beauty in the myriad ways it manifests itself within a single individual.  We are so much more than our bodies.  I wish this book had emphasized this more.

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