Turns out the sexiest woman in the world and I have something in common. Two things, actually.
On Tuesday, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Angelina Jolie in which the actress shared her decision to undergo a bilateral mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery. In Jolie’s case, the procedure was prophylactic. Her mother, after a nearly decade-long struggle, succumbed to ovarian cancer in 2007 at age 56. Jolie herself has the BRCA1 genetic glitch, which her doctors estimated put her odds of developing ovarian cancer at 50 percent, and her odds of breast cancer at a dizzying 87 percent. And so, for the sake of her children, her husband, and her sanity, Lara Croft decided to have both breasts overhauled before they turned on her.
Jolie kept the multi-month process quiet until her final surgery on April 27th. Now, with her new, improved ta-tas firmly in place, she is hoping her story can help other women—perhaps even save a few lives. In addition to writing the Times piece, Jolie plans to have her ongoing treatment regimen, both conventional and holistic, posted on the web site of the Pink Lotus Breast Center where her surgeries were conducted.
I’m a few weeks behind Jolie in my rack replacement. (I am, in fact, typing these words while at the hospital waiting to get my pre-op workup for my second round of surgery.) I had my bilateral back in March, after an ugly biopsy result. In response to my piece on the subject, I received many emails and calls from old friends, colleagues, and even strangers, cheering me on and telling me how brave I am. While kind, this wasn’t actually true. I mean, getting appropriate medical treatment isn’t a question of bravery so much as necessity. You do what you gotta do. As for explaining the experience: Why not? Rather than making me feel vulnerable, explaining my decision gave me at least some sense of control. (And as Jolie notes, feeling as though you have a measure of control over your life can be comforting in such situations.) Besides, as a print journalist, I have the luxury of not worrying overmuch about what most people think about my attractiveness or sex appeal. I may harbor personal preferences and prejudices regarding my form, but my professional identity isn’t intimately tied to it. It is in no way my job to embody an idealized form of beauty and sensuality.
It is, by contrast, a big part of Angelina Jolie’s. To a greater degree even than your typical leading actress, Jolie’s appeal has long been tied to her jaw-dropping beauty—beauty that is more sexual in its appeal than, say, Julia Roberts. Whatever her acting gifts, Jolie would not have become the megastar/tabloid darling she is if she were not damn near every man’s fantasy.
Rationally and in purely aesthetic terms, the star’s recent medical odyssey should not change any of that. (She and husband Brad Pitt can presumably afford a kick-ass reconstructive surgeon.) Celebrity appeal is a nebulous thing, however, and you never know what will hit fans the wrong way. By discussing her mammary travails so openly, Jolie runs the risk of messing with the fantasy. And for this reason, her willingness to go public with her surgeries strikes me as a genuine act of bravery—and one that will hopefully provide comfort and even inspiration to many women out there facing similar challenges.
After all, if Jolie can boldly and publicly trade-in such prime assets, what are the rest of us so anxious about?