Turns out the sexiest woman in the world and I have something in common. Two things actually.
Angelina Jolie has revealed that she recently underwent 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 partner, and her sanity, Lara Croft decided to have both breasts overhauled before they turned on her.
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 mastectomy back in March, after an ugly biopsy result. In response to a piece I wrote on the subject for The Daily Beast, 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 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 than, say, Julia Roberts’s. Whatever her acting gifts, Jolie would not have become the megastar she is if she were not damn near every man’s fantasy.
Rationally and in purely aesthetic terms, Jolie’s recent medical odyssey should not change any of that. 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—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?