Angelina Jolie has been a controversial figure throughout her life. As a young woman, she took drugs and wore blood around her neck. She married and divorced an older man. She had a strange relationship with her brother and is estranged from her father. Not only do people gawk at the amount of children she has and criticize her motives for adopting, there are still some who whisper about her relationship with Brad Pitt, which began before he was divorced from Jennifer Aniston.
But there’s another side to Jolie, too, one that has shone in more recent years. Not only is she an Oscar-winning actress, she’s also currently the Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres. And today marks a new chapter in the fascinating story of Angelina Jolie. Today she becomes a spokesperson for breast cancer awareness by announcing – via a column in The New York Times – that she had a preventative double mastectomy, decreasing her breast cancer risk by over 80%.
Jolie says her decision to remove her breasts and replace them with implants was largely influenced by her role as a mother, as well as the loss of her own mother to cancer. She writes:
I wanted … to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.
It is reassuring that they see nothing that makes them uncomfortable. They can see my small scars and that’s it. Everything else is just Mommy, the same as she always was. And they know that I love them and will do anything to be with them as long as I can. On a personal note, 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.
That last sentence is probably more essential to encouraging high-risk women to have a preventative mastectomy than many of us would like to admit. Breasts are such a central part of womanhood, and motherhood, and losing them for the sake of long-term health must be a frightening and emotional prospect for those faced with it. But Jolie isn’t the only performer to undergo double mastectomy of late. Comedian and television writer Tig Notaro had both of her breasts removed after being diagnosed with cancer in October 2012. She talked about her diagnosis a day after she received it in what has been hailed as a brilliant stand-up performance, available on the recording Tig Notaro: Live. (That’s ‘short i’ live as in living, not ‘long i’ live as in happening in real time, but of course the word play is part of the fun.)
Unlike Jolie, Notaro did not choose to get implants after her double mastectomy, and as much as it would be incredibly badass for Jolie to have declined implants, I certainly understand why she opted to use them. Not only do implants allow her to look “normal” for her children, they allow her to continue her acting career. (After all, Hollywood without boobs would just be New York.) I can also imagine that even though implants probably don’t feel the same to the wearer as natural breasts, they may provide some comfort. (If I didn’t have boobs, I’d have a phantom ache for them, and my stomach would look even bigger. No thanks.)
Even though Jolie’s figure will appear untouched to the rest of us, her body has changed forever, and her public candor surrounding such a private procedure is truly admirable. Jolie is even going so far as to share her recovery regimen with the public. She writes, “I acknowledge that there are many wonderful holistic doctors working on alternatives to surgery. My own regimen will be posted in due course on the Web site of the Pink Lotus Breast Center. I hope that this will be helpful to other women.” It’s clear that Jolie is, above all, a true humanitarian.
Photo credit: Wikipedia