Happy Birthday, Beautiful

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Four years ago this summer, I was feeling pretty lost.  I was stuck in a dead-end job in the urban planning industry.  It was 2009, and the economy was collapsing around us.  Every month, one of my coworkers was fired.  I watched our company dwindle from 45 employees to 12, and I wonder every single Friday if today was the day.  My husband was in graduate school and only working part-time; my income was very much necessary.  There were some things I liked about my job, but mostly, I dreaded going to work.  It was bad.


I decided to make a change.  I looked around at my life and thought that becoming a physical therapist sounded like a great idea.  I wanted to work with athletes – runners, like me!  So I began to take classes at community college to fulfill my prerequisites. I was working 40 hours a week, waiting to be axed, working hard on HTP, and taking three science courses at night.  What was previously a cloud of depression exploded into constant, urgent feeling that I was too overloaded and wouldn’t succeed at anything.  Ever.  I felt like a failure.


One night, I found myself sobbing openly in a public bathroom.  I remember looking at the mirror and thinking, “You are a loser, you aren’t going anywhere, you are going to be broke, you suck.”  I thought such horrible, terrible things about myself.  And then – I reached into my bag, pulled out a piece of paper, and scribbled, “You are beautiful” on it.  People often think that Operation Beautiful began as a positive body image site, as that’s what it’s focused on today. But it really started because I just felt worthless in general and needed to remind myself that I was beautiful, capable, strong, and could be successful if I only focused on the task at hand.

first operation beautiful note

I went home and blogged about the note.  I put two seconds of thought into the name and called it Operation Beautiful, thinking that maybe a few readers would participate and I could make it a fun feature on HTP.  I wish I had that original post still, but in the first few days, I would delete whatever I had written before and add new notes.  It only took a few days of this to realize that Operation Beautiful was something entirely unique from HTP and needed its own home.


I remember calling MomHTP and telling her about the response on the blog.  I said, “I think this could be really, really big – but I don’t want to spend $9.99 registering the domain name.”  Seriously!  Hah.  To think that Operation Beautiful might’ve never existed because I didn’t want to shell out two lattes’ worth of cash.  Mom promised me that if Operation Beautiful flopped, she’d give me $10, and the rest is history.


In the last four years, I’ve received about 15,000 notes and written two Operation Beautiful books (one for adults and one for tween and teen girls).  I’ve traveled the country, speaking to about 65 colleges, churches, and businesses about the people and stories behind Operation Beautiful.  I was even on The Today Show, which remains one of the Top 5 moments of my life.


I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it a million times, I don’t feel like Operation Beautiful is ‘mine.’  I am incredibly honored to run the site and represent the movement, but it wouldn’t exist without the tens of thousands of people who have posted notes.  I know that the concept of Operation Beautiful is not everyone’s cup of tea, and that is totally fine by me.  But it’s undeniable that it has touched the lives of so many young girls and women.  I wish I could list all of the stories that I have heard… of women with eating disorders, from girls in abusive relationships, from LGBT teens struggling to fit in, from moms struggling with their postpartum bodies.  I’ve heard from two separate people that they were taking an elevator to the roof of a building and planning to jump off -  but they found a note in the elevator, and it made them abort their plan.  Each e-mail describes how the individual was in such a dark place and stumbled upon a note from a stranger – and they felt transformed.  I believe that we often underestimate how much a nice word or a random act of kindness can impact someone.  Sometimes, you just need a sign.  You know what I mean?


People sometimes ask me when I will ‘stop’ Operation Beautiful, and my response is always the same… I will continue to run the site as long as I get notes e-mailed to me at OperationBeautiful@gmail.com.  I hope the site lasts for decades!  I absolutely love everyone who has ever participated – thank you so much.  The site would not exist without your efforts, and from the bottom of my heart…. thank you.  I would not want to do anything else with my life, and I am so grateful for the support.


Thanks for FOUR YEARS of Operation Beautiful.  Happy Birthday!

operation beautiful

operation beautiful 2

operation beautiful 3

operation beautiful 4

operation beautiful 5

operation beautiful 6

operation beautiful 7

operation beautiful 8

operation beautiful 9

If you post a note, please e-mail a picture of it to OperationBeautiful@gmail.com.  Every note goes up on the site!  And follow us on Twitter and Facebook, too!



  • Sophie @ life's philosophie July 10, 2013, 12:16 pm

    Happy Birthday! So incredible. I remember reading about Operation Beautiful a few years ago and it changed my perspective on so much. It is hard for people to find the beauty and worth in themselves. It really is all about believing one step at a time and seeing that note on the mirror helps people start moving towards that realization. Thank you for taking that $9.99 risk! 100% worth it.

  • Suzanne July 10, 2013, 12:20 pm

    Happy Birthday beautiful! I’m glad you took the plunge to start this revolution!

  • Sara @ LovingOnTheRun July 10, 2013, 12:24 pm

    Happy Birthday to Operation Beautiful!! This is such a wonderful thing that you did and is such a great encouragement to so many out there! Keep up the great work!

  • Elizabeth July 10, 2013, 12:29 pm

    Love operation beautiful and the story behind it. Lately I’ve been feeling like you did when you wrote that first note, and I find it so hopeful when I read this. I love slipping notes into library books so the next person to read it will get a lovely suprise 🙂

  • Elizabeth July 10, 2013, 12:35 pm

    I’m glad I get to share my birthday with this!

    (As a related side note…I was walking to the subway yesterday and realized that I have more confidence in myself than I’ve probably ever had. Ironic.)

  • FitBritt@MyOwnBalance July 10, 2013, 12:38 pm

    Caitlin, I think what you are doing with OB is wonderful. I am now three years out of law school and am still struggling to find my happy place. I think I still feel just how you felt four years ago. I don’t know if I will have a wonderful idea that will help get me out of my funk, but I’m going to keep trying!

  • Joy July 10, 2013, 1:35 pm

    Happy Birthday to Operation Beautiful! Only four years and look at all you’ve done. Amazing work, Caitlin. You should be very proud of yourself.

  • Katie July 10, 2013, 1:40 pm

    Congratulations!! I teared up a little reading this post (and I am not a crier) but absolutely love your blog and your outlook on life. Keep up the good work!

  • hyedi July 10, 2013, 2:05 pm

    Happy birthday Operation Beautiful! This makes me so happy 🙂

  • Lorin July 10, 2013, 2:50 pm

    Congrats! I love the movement. I remember I put up a note in a gym women’s bathroom and I came back and it was in the trash! I think a cleaning person put it there, or at least I hope. I still enjoy putting up notes though!

  • Julie July 10, 2013, 3:01 pm

    I’ve read many of your posts about Operation Beautiful & feel I’m very familiar w/ it, but this post brought tears to my eyes. Such a cool story, Caitlin & such an amazing thing you’ve done. You should be SO proud!

  • Kim July 10, 2013, 4:52 pm

    Happy anniversary/birthday!

  • Nina July 10, 2013, 4:57 pm

    It’s funny how sometimes, we feel so small, yet we are able to do something this big for others. Thank you Caitlin for spending those 10 dollars for something that great!

  • Sunnie@ModernGirlNutrition July 10, 2013, 4:59 pm

    Hi Caitlin! I found your blog and LOVE it. I’m 16 and looking forward to buying your book for teens 🙂 Operation Beautiful was such a great idea and deserved to have the success it has had!
    Modern Girl Nutrition

  • diana July 10, 2013, 5:39 pm

    Renfrew in NYC has operation beautiful notes in their bathroom. I think of you when I wash my hands!

  • Melissa July 10, 2013, 5:42 pm

    Wishing Operation Beautiful the happiest of birthdays and many, many more to come! It is such a great concept and one I would love to see continuing to flourish. In my opinion, it is something we all can benefit from no matter how old we are, or where we are in life.

  • Amber K July 10, 2013, 8:13 pm

    Wow! I can’t believe it has been around so long and yet at the same time it feels weird to think there was a time when it didn’t exist.

  • Maggie July 10, 2013, 9:12 pm

    Happy Birthday to OB! I got my younger sister your book for teens and I love seeing her read it. You are such an inspiration in so many ways Caitlin! You really have made a difference in so, so many lives!

  • kirsten July 10, 2013, 10:20 pm

    Happy 4 years to OB! I remember when you wrote the first post!! Congrats on the continued success for this amazing project!

  • Liz @ I Heart Vegetables July 11, 2013, 7:52 am

    Such an amazing story!! I first started reading your blog around the time that Operation Beautiful was really growing 🙂 it’s been so cool to see it spread!

  • JenATX July 11, 2013, 8:50 am

    awesome post!

  • Jay July 11, 2013, 10:35 am

    “I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it a million times, I don’t feel like Operation Beautiful is ‘mine.’ I am incredibly honored to run the site and represent the movement, but it wouldn’t exist without the tens of thousands of people who have posted notes.”

    Do you give any of your proceeds to charity? 10% of every book towards a women’s shelter or trauma center in the name of OB would be a cool way of reinforcing that this project is not just yours, but the community’s. 🙂

    • Caitlin July 11, 2013, 11:44 am

      I can’t donate proceeds from each book sold because that’s not how it works (I don’t make $ everytime a book is sold), but I have made charitable donations in OB’s name – like a $10,000 one to GOTR that I won for my work through Amway. That was cool!

  • Aerevyn Harteis July 11, 2013, 11:48 am

    We share a birthday! I’m so excited!

  • Amanda July 11, 2013, 1:33 pm

    I love the operation beautiful movement! Such a wonderful thing! Thank you for starting it! I think all of us women and men need to start feeling good about ourselves and stop focusing so much on our negative traits. Focus on the positive! We are all beautiful!!

  • Maggie @readysetbreathe July 14, 2013, 9:46 pm

    I needed to read this right now. Thank you.

  • Rebekah at Another World is Probable July 16, 2013, 5:56 pm

    This is so sweet. I really love how you birthed this movement and encourage people to spread kindness and optimism. And how amazing that two separate people aborted their plan for committing suicide because of an Operation Beautiful note?!?

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