Angelina Jolie is a controversial figure.
Some people think she’s a talented, tattooed actress; some think she stole Brad Pitt from Jennifer Aniston and tops the weird chart for wearing (second husband) Billy Bob Thornton’s blood in a vial around her neck.
Some people admire her work as an ambassador to third world countries; some think she adopted too many kids, birthed too many and should marry Mr. Pitt. (She has since married him.)
Some have sympathy for her because her mother died fairly young from cancer; some criticize her for being estranged from her father, Jon Voight.
She’s certainly led a colorful life, and this week, she made headlines again when she announced she had a double mastectomy (and reconstructive surgery) because her BRCAI genetic testing revealed she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer.
Whatever your view of Jolie, this recent decision probably has you thinking about cancer and motherhood and femininity and breasts.
I assume Jolie is a multi-faceted woman, just like all women are. She made some provocative professional choices, and we would not be political allies, but I have felt a kinship with her since she made the announcement she is choosing life over natural flesh. Given the same circumstances, I believe I would strongly consider doing the same thing.
Jolie’s mom died of ovarian cancer at 56. Ovarian cancer is not breast cancer, but both are estrogen-fed. Jolie, who is known for her sensuality and having a hunky life partner, decided her breasts were not worth dying for. Her womanhood, femininity, and value are not reliant on her breasts. She still views herself as beautiful and productive and whole without them.
Life is more important than breasts. If only women everywhere, young and old, could understand and embrace this.
In this country, breasts have been idolized and glamorized and exploited to the point where twelve-year olds who are late to sprout them begin to hate their bodies. This is completely misguided and so damaging. Our breasts are not who we are.
What we think, how we care for others, what we create, what we contribute – that’s who we are. Our bodies are aging “earth suits” that propel us around the planet thinking and caring and creating and contributing. These are the things by which we will be remembered. Breasts are nature’s method of feeding our babies (but not the only method) and we need to stop viewing/offering them as playthings and marketing tools for a greedy world.
I applaud Jolie for making a loving, sacrificial choice for her six children and their future. She wants to be in their lives for as long as possible, to guide, protect, nurture, and love. This trumps all else, as it should. I’m sure there was a grieving process for Jolie when she decided to remove (at the moment) healthy tissue, but her wisdom in looking long-term at her life is admirable.
Breasts, diseased or healthy, should not define any woman. Even women who have survived breast cancer eventually report they are tired of talking about it. They want to go back to work, run a marathon, move to the country, write a book. They want to take back their lives, which they still have because they chose it over a body part that has sadly and erroneously become the epitome of a woman’s sexual value.
Jolie has shown us that womanhood is about courage, strength, sacrifice, love, and wisdom. It has nothing to do with breasts.