A few weeks ago, actress Angelina Jolie shared news that she had recently undergone a preventive double mastectomy due to a rare genetic mutation putting her at risk for cancer. Having lost her mother to cancer, Jolie explained that her choice was rooted in a desire to survive for her children.
The media blitz that promptly ensued was surely the biggest boob discussion our country has seen since the Janet Jackson nip-slip at the Super Bowl. But instead of Jolie accidentally ripping her own shirt off, she elected to have a well-planned surgery behind closed doors. Why, then, is the media so obsessed with shaming her choice?
Within days of the NY Times article (viewable here), even major news outlets like the Huffington Post played into the breast-induced fervor. Instead of actually explaining the likelihood of other women possessing this gene (for the record, it is fortunately less than 1%), the media eagerly discussed her first red carpet appearance, with E! News claiming she has “stolen the spotlight” once again. You’re right, E, I’m sure this invasive medical procedure will detract some of the attention away from Brad Pitt’s smoldering gaze. The woman who once wore a vial of her love’s blood around her neck clearly needed more press. Read through the comments of any article covering the mastectomy and you will see a tirade against a “money grabbing tramp”, that “cancer is too good for her”. Twitter blew up with offensive cracks aimed at Jolie, with users spewing idiotic drivel like “Rest in Peace Angelina Jolie’s boobs” and “Can you buy Angelina Jolie’s boobs on eBay?”
This is like lamenting the loss of Lance Armstrong’s left testicle, because his bike shorts might look saggy. We’re taking a possibly serious medical situation and diminishing it to a cosmetic alteration. Sure, Jolie wrote a brave article in a public forum about her choice, incurring questions and critique. Does this give us a right to subordinate her character, career, and personal life to a pair of boobs? The media has effectively deemed Angelina’s rack a defining feature. Ignore those awards, blockbuster movies, Tomb Raider stunts- she “decided” to lose her boobs. Jolie is a perfect example of how female celebrities are defined: by their body parts, or alterations thereof. While we admire Brad Pitt’s chiseled jawline and “300” abs, he is more so known for his films and cinema successes. If a male celebrity were to have a possibly lifesaving surgery, he would be lauded as a hero, using his money wisely. However, critics of Jolie have claimed that she is instilling fear into women who can’t afford a mastectomy or even to be tested for the gene mutation. She apparently should have simply sat on her hands following the death of her mother, using her money on more important things, like more leg-revealing ball gowns.
Days after Jolie revealed her surgery, her aunt died of cancer from the same BCRA gene. The Jolie family vowed to raise money for families who cannot afford the testing. I truly hope that prevention can be more widespread, and that women choosing to undergo the same procedure don’t endure the same criticism.