Don’t send kids wrong message about their bodies

She looked in the mirror one day and didn’t like what was staring back at her. Christy Magnani, 38, was getting old. OK, older. To many, this college professor and mother of two from Folsom, Calif., remains in the bloom of youth. But to her, the mirror did not lie.

Magnani

She looked in the mirror one day and didn’t like what was staring back at her.

Christy Magnani, 38, was getting old. OK, older. To many, this college professor and mother of two from Folsom, Calif., remains in the bloom of youth. But to her, the mirror did not lie.

“I noticed this wrinkle here,” Magnani says, pointing to the vertical line between her eyebrows.

“And these wrinkles here,” she says, meaning the beginnings of crow’s feet around the eyes.

“And these frown marks, too,” she added, meaning the parentheses around her mouth.

Magnani had seriously considered getting a little work done on her face. Many of the other Starbucks-swilling moms waiting for kids outside the local elementary school were doing it, she thought. And there certainly are numerous plastic-surgery centers from which to choose.

“But all of a sudden, I caught my eight-year-old daughter looking at me looking at myself in the mirror,” Magnani recalls. “At that moment, I realized I’m making quite an impression on her.

“Girls start developing negative body stereotypes as young as six and, as mothers, we’re their role models. I thought, I can either choose for her to emulate healthy behaviour or unhealthy behaviour.”

That was the final episode in a confluence of events that spurred Magnani, a business professor at Sierra College and William Jessup University, to start essentially a one-woman campaign to educate women to forgo aesthetic plastic surgery and learn to embrace their faces — and bodies — through all stages of life.

Her website (www.realbodystory.com) and lecture program, Real Body Story, were launched, seeking online contributions from women wanting to share their body-image issues.

Body-image awareness, it seemed, saturated Magnani’s life to such a point that she had to act. It had been more than 15 years since she had overcome an eating disorder during her college days as a tennis star at Sacramento State. But she found the same old obsession still prevalent in the culture.

Around the same time as the mirror incident, Magnani was dealing with the emotional fallout from her younger sister’s decade-long struggle with anorexia and bulimia, which resulted in hospitalization several times.

And then there was that peer pressure from friends and acquaintances who were getting the so-called “mommy makeover” — Botox, tummy tuck, liposuction and breast augmentation.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I’m 38 and I thought I left behind all of that social comparison and body issues when I left college,’ ” says Magnani, who also has a 13-year-old daughter. “There’s really no difference between eating disorders and plastic surgery. It’s all about perfection.”

More than 16 million aesthetic-plastic-surgery procedures are performed annually, according to the American Board of Plastic Surgeons.

It’s become so widespread that a surgeon has even published a children’s book, “My Beautiful Mommy,” which tries to explain to tykes why Mom is going to have a tummy tuck and nose job. And comedian and repeat plastic-surgery customer Joan Rivers recently published Men Are Stupid and They Like Big Boobs: A Woman’s Guide to Plastic Surgery.

In a recent interview with National Public Radio, Rivers was asked if surgery is worth the risk and whether it sends the wrong message about age acceptance.

“Good luck to them,” Rivers said, meaning women who avoid surgery. “I hope they live a nice, long, lonely life with no companions and no friends and saggy boobs that they step on. . . . We live in a society where looks count. It’s silly to say they don’t.”

Dr. Michael Salzbauer, author of the children’s book, told the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger in 2008, “I don’t understand for the life of me why people are morally against plastic surgery. If you had braces on your teeth, nobody says, ‘Oh, she’s so vain.’ ”

Yet critics say plastic surgery can be a sign of self-esteem issues, especially in women. Taken to an extreme, some have developed what’s called body dysmorphic disorders, listed in medical dictionaries as a “condition marked by excessive preoccupation with an imaginary or minor defect in a facial feature or localized part of the body.” In severe cases, patients become “addicted” to surgery.

Magnani says she’s not out to preach or be judgmental, merely to present the flip side of the alluring promise of the “Nip and Tuck” argument.

“Of course, it’s your body and you can do whatever you want with it,” she says. “But what’s the message you’re sending?

“Think about it: Most children think their parents are beautiful.

“When you engage in aesthetic plastic surgery, what message is that sending to them? That Mommy’s not pretty enough? Everyone has to make that decision for their own families.”

Magnani’s decision was influenced greatly by her college eating disorder, in which her weight fell to 87 pounds (she’s 5-foot-3) and she had to hem her tennis skirt with a safety pin so it would stay on. Back then, she routinely ate only a pint of rice and an apple a day.

“My sister, Jen, is seven years younger, and I think about my influence on her,” Magnani says. “I was living at home and Jen saw my preoccupation with being thin. You know, I’ve already experienced the cycle of having a family member emulate my unhealthy behavior, and I’m not going to let it happen again with my daughter.”

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.

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