"Even when you're 9 and not yet completely aware of all these social expectations, you are already getting the message that your body isn't good enough the way it is," said Caitlin Boyle, the founder of a feminine empowerment campaign called Operation Beautiful.
The goal of Operation Beautiful is to help women of all ages change the way they see themselves by leaving positive Post-Its in public places for others to find.
The notes are left in locations where negative self-talk often occurs. They have been placed on bathroom mirrors, scales, diet pills and books that someone struggling with self-esteem might pick up.
Boyle said that one group of creative women held a protest and picketed for positivity on a busy street corner.
In October, the phrase "YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL" was painted on an overpass in Birmingham. Since then, the message has appeared at several other locations throughout Birmingham and in Homewood.
Boyle said Operation Beautiful became popular almost instantly after she started it in June 2009.
She had the idea on a bad day when she was feeling overwhelmed by working a full-time job and attending classes at a community college at night.
"I think I had failed an exam, and I remember walking into the bathroom feeling so horrible about myself and my abilities. That's what caused me to post that first note," Boyle said.
Since then, photos of more than 7,000 notes from all over the world have been submitted to the Operation Beautiful website.
A collection of 125 of the most amazing notes and stories were published last August in a book, "Operation Beautiful: Transforming the Way You See Yourself One Post-It Note at a Time."
Boyle said her favorite messages include "Take a diet from negative thoughts" and "Scales measure weight, not worth."
Her favorite story about an Operation Beautiful note that had an impact involves a Canadian teenager named Vit.
Vit was in a treatment center for severe anorexia. When she went to the bathroom to throw up her lunch, she found a note on the stall that said, "You are good enough the way you are."
Several months later, Vit contacted Boyle to let her know that she was out of the hospital and healthier than ever.
Boyle said negative messages have caused too many people to strive for a type of perfection that does not exist in the real world.
"It's OK to look like a human!" she said.
The next Operation Beautiful book will focus on tweens and teens and is set to be released in summer 2012.
Although Operation Beautiful is primarily a campaign for women, Boyle said men have participated as well.
"I really like it when guys find the notes because they always e-mail me and say something like, 'I found this note on the subway, and I know it's supposed to be for girls but it really made me feel better too,'" Boyle said.
Boyle said she is no longer surprised by the success of Operation Beautiful. The campaign is simple, quick and effective for everyone involved.
"I think it makes people smile when they realize how much goodness there is in the world. The idea that someone would do this for a stranger is so uplifting," Boyle said.
For more information, visit www.operationbeautiful.com.