I never liked Angelina Jolie.
She’s too wide in the mouth, too thin in the waist, too in-your-face with her three adopted-from-around-the-world kids plus three more for whom she likely has a nanny and a chef. I have questioned her humanitarian work, her Jolie-Pitt Foundation, her title as U.N. goodwill ambassador, as so much public relations for her high-octane action movies, which, by the way, I don’t like.
That was a week or so ago – before one of the world’s most beautiful women went public on the op-ed pages of the New York Times with a decision to undergo a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer.
Jolie, who lost her mother six years ago to ovarian cancer when she was 31 and her mother was 56, wrote that she decided to check her blood for the BRCA1 gene, which can determine breast- and ovarian-cancer risk. When she tested positive, which put her at 87 percent risk for breast cancer and 50 percent chance for ovarian, she decided to have both breasts surgically removed. The surgeries reduced her breast-cancer risk to 5 percent.
Jolie said she chose to undergo the test and the surgeries because she wanted to live a long life for her children. She made her decisions public because she wanted other women to know the options available to them.
Her announcement, meanwhile, sent Google into 100-million-hit overdrive.
News commentators began to chew, chop and dissect this private story gone viral before we had time to put the coffee on, while Facebookers and bloggers took the $34-million-a-movie film star to task for making gene testing and preventative mastectomy sound like accessible options for all.
“She lowered her risk, and for that, I’m glad,” a breast-feeding counselor and mother of five wrote on Facebook. “I just can’t stand Hollywood standards when the rest of us watch people die because we cannot afford these measures. I want to see my children grow up. So I might do the same thing IF I had all the money in the world. But I don’t and never will. I think she’s arrogant.”
“For poor women dying of breast cancer in dirty huts with no running water,” wrote columnist Jennifer Graham for the Boston Globe, “there are no $3,000 tests for genetic mutations, no surgery, no reconstruction, no one to care for their families during procedures that consume most of three months, no monitoring for life-threatening complications, no ongoing therapy for those who feel un-beautiful or disfigured, or who will be punished by unsympathetic partners.”
As for my critique of this untouchable, millionaire super-celeb who, at various times in her life has been named sexiest or most beautiful woman alive by Esquire, People, the men’s magazine FHM and the Swedish magazine Cafe – if I had to cast my vote on Rotten Tomatoes, I’d give her mastectomy editorial and the person herself 100 percent.
Because of Jolie, we all know more today than we did yesterday about preventing the No. 3 killer of women (second only to heart disease and lung cancer). Anybody who’s read the spin-off stories also now knows preventative mastectomies are often insured for high-risk women, as is the gene test. We know from a follow-up New York Times editorial that even Medicare and Medicaid cover the $3,000 test for high-risk women in some states.
We also know if these procedures are not covered or offered to high-risk women, they should be.
Thanks to Jolie, we know more now about what we can and should be demanding and fighting for.
As much as all that, there is also this:
Nobody chops off their breasts for marketing purposes.
Angelina Jolie is an icon of feminine beauty in a world that is very confused about what feminine beauty is and who it’s for. That she was willing to erase from her body those most visible symbols of femininity and sexuality so that she might live – so that she might live for her children – and that she was willing to go public with it, this is what makes her more than the superheroines she plays on the movie screen.
It makes her human.