Angelina Jolie wrote an op ed in the New York Times today about her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy in order to greatly reduce her risk of breast cancer, which she had an almost 90% chance of getting due to a “faulty” gene (BRCA1) which greatly predisposes carriers to the disease.
Her acting career — indeed her celebrity career — has often revolved and relied on her otherworldly beauty (which includes bodily proportions more akin to Barbie than the average woman). Case in point: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was basically a vehicle for her boobs. Her body has been a fantasy and jealousy maker for both men and women (and not just respectively speaking). And as is the case with any celebrity, but especially one who’s part of an elite power couple known for their physical beauty, her body has been something we feel we own in some way with our Us Weekly ogling.
Which is why this op ed comes as such a shocker. How could she willingly remove these money-making, awe-inspiring assets? Especially without consulting us? She’s taken away the essence of her identity!
Which of course she hasn’t. Jolie could have quietly undergone the procedure, gotten the reconstruction and moved on. But by going public, she’s teaching us several valuable lessons:
– Celebrities aren’t superhuman. Even though being filthy rich can often help with medical matters, celebrities are still just people made of cells that can be prone to illness and disease. They get old (try as they might to fight it) and they die, sometimes accidentally, sometimes prematurely, sometimes naturally. We won’t find double mastectomies featured in Us Weekly’s “Celebrities, They’re Just Like Us” column, but maybe we should.
– Boobs don’t make the woman. We are not defined by our body parts, no matter how much pop culture and porn insist we are. Breasts aren’t just for show — they’re for feeding our babies, for our own pleasure, and sometimes they’re for nothing and nobody. (What woman hasn’t wished them away during a jog or on a hot day or when walking past a bunch of construction workers?) A woman’s worth is comprised of so much more: her intellect, her personality, her accomplishments, her career, her family, her values. Just as “being a man” should not be defined by penis size. (For instance, most people are familiar with Jolie’s enhanced curvature in Tomb Raider, but few know that it was her work abroad on that movie that led her to become involved in important humanitarian causes around the world — priorities, people!).
– Speaking of priorities, we as a culture would do well to take breasts off their pedestal, be a little more mature and less ravenous about the accidental nip slip, and not require their gratuitous display in every rated R movie. It might result in women not hating their own boobs so much. It might result in less plastic surgery, especially of the elephantine variety. It might result in more respect for women, which ultimately translates into better pay, more power, and less sexism and violence against women. You know, the little things.
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