You Are Beautiful: How three simple words started a movement

In 2002, Matthew Hoffman—who is a member of the Chicago Ideas Co-op—took a simple design, carrying an even simpler phrase, and printed some stickers. “You Are Beautiful” is all they said and, as Hoffman notes, that first batch of stickers left a little to be desired. “The very first stickers were pixelated and barely stuck, but it was this idea that I had, and I just put it out there. I just did it,” said Hoffman. But those low resolution, barely-adhesive creations were the start of a project that, 15 years later, has grown in both size and scope. While people can still buy stickers with the phrase emblazoned on them, large-scale public art installations followed throughout Chicago. But now, Hoffman is trying to take the You Are Beautiful project to every state in the nation.

This country-wide proposal is one that, much like You Are Beautiful itself, came together seemingly on a lark. When Hoffman first started posting stickers around Chicago, there was no master plan, but as feedback came in, he realized that this three-word phrase carried a lot of weight. “One day, mail just started coming to the studio,” said Hoffman, “There were letters about how people came across a sticker and wanted their own to create these moments for others.”

And for Hoffman’s current project? Well, that started in a similar way. Thankfully, he’s used to thinking on his feet

“Kickstarter approached me and said, ‘What’s something that you’ve always wanted to do to take what you’re already doing to the next level?’” So on a whim, Hoffman just threw out a big idea, one he didn’t expect to stick. But that’s exactly what happened. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we got an installation in every single state and then, after that, in every single country?’ It’s one of those things where I accidentally said something then I immediately realized what I had done.”

Currently, You Are Beautiful is running a Kickstarter that only has a few days left, and is inching ever closer to its goal, with the hopes that his ambitious idea of filling states with these installations will become a reality. What started out as a way to put positive messages into the world has grown into something that Hoffman thinks is more vital than ever. “It’s more important and needed than ever,” said Hoffman. “From where I stand with this sort of message, it’s not a hippie, feel-good thing. This is a protest. It’s almost like a fight against all the negativity. It’s a way to combat that.”

Hoffman hopes that, aside from filling the country with his art, others will take up similar causes and create their own version of You Are Beautiful. “I’ve never done anything in any traditional way,” said Hoffman. And when pressed for the advice he’d give other young creatives about to start their own journey, he has a different three-word phrase for them: “Just do it.”

Learn more about You Are Beautiful’s campaign and donate to its Kickstarter here.

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