The celebrity culture cliché “raising awareness” doesn’t usually amount to much. It’s an excuse for a glitzy party or a throwaway line in a glossy magazine interview. Angelina Jolie’s piece for The New York Times, in which she explains her decision to have a preventative double mastectomy, is different. It will have a real impact.
Jolie established her stardom in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which is, not to put too finer point on it, a film about breasts. Over the course of a career that includes an Academy Award and two directing credits she became Hollywood’s highest paid actress in 2011. Yet she is the “Sexiest Woman in The World” (FHM, 2005), “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” (Vanity Fair, 2009) and the “Most Stylish Celebrity Mom” (Glamour, 2013). She still exemplifies what all women sometimes feel – that whatever you do your value in this world will be largely defined by your body – either as a maternal vessel or a sexual object.
Now we know that Angelina Jolie is as beautiful, glamorous, admirable and strong after the surgery as she was before. In fact, more so. In her words: “I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.” She has become the living, breathing proof of her own argument; women needn’t be afraid to put their health first. It’s a simple, but powerful message and this is that rare occurrence of a celebrity being truly best-placed to deliver it. So, good for her.
And good for her too for acknowledging that not all breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation which can be tested, and that the majority of the people who die from breast cancer live in poorer parts of the world where such testing is still prohibitively expensive. These women need help and support too.
A preventative double mastectomy will remain a difficult and very personal choice for the women in these circumstances, but Jolie’s openness about her own (much-discussed) body underlines that it is, at least, a choice.