In mid-May, social media platforms erupted with news of Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy. Everyone applauded her bravery and fawned over the actress; everyone called her an inspiration. She was so daring – after discovering that she possessed the breast cancer gene, she removed both breasts. Of course people would consider her choice inspiring.
I, however, was not impressed. I was instantly turned off by the ensuing celebrity worship; everywhere I looked, people were praising the actress as if she had made a great sacrifice in their honor. Facebook statuses went on and on about Angelina Jolie, simply wanting to join in on the fun – it didn’t matter what Angelina Jolie had done, only that she had done something and everyone wanted to contribute. I found this almost insulting; Jolie’s choice was a preventative medical decision, and none of my business.
Of course, I mentally congratulated her for taking steps to remain healthy, and I respected her choice to come forward about the surgery. As a public figure, it’s smart of her to use her social standing to bring awareness to something that is not usually discussed and yet is fairly prevalent. Furthermore, I applauded her bold choice not to hide behind her reconstructive chest, even with a career that relies heavily on physical features.
But my respect didn’t last long. I just couldn’t understand why everyone felt the need to endlessly praise Jolie as if she had done something earth shattering. In my mind, her decision was not a daring one – it wasn’t even controversial. No one would question Jolie’s choice to protect herself and her family from the heartache of cancer, especially when she had the resources to do so. I couldn’t see a woman in Jolie’s situation being pressured one way or another, feeling lost until ultimately finding solace in Jolie’s example. Who would give a woman grief for making a decision regarding health, especially when it came to cancer?
I couldn’t help but think back to the months leading up to my breast reduction surgery. While the situations and procedures are vastly different, the similarities between Jolie’s surgery and mine are undeniable. And I know how bloody difficult my decision was to make. I spent hours coming to terms with the idea of changing my body – I couldn’t tell if I was making this choice because of societal pressures or my own desires. While my choice was admittedly influenced by aesthetic reasons, my final decision came down to health and quality of life. Today, I am so happy that I had the surgery, but the journey getting to this point has been tough.
As I think back to that time of fear and doubt, I remember what helped me keep going: the women who came forward about their own choices regarding surgery. When I found out Queen Latifah also had a breast reduction, I wept for joy; I no longer felt so alone. Even before the surgery, she was sexy and attractive, and she looked like me! Well, at least in the cleavage area. And Queen Latifah decided to have surgery because of medical reasons.
In fact, she was upset that the surgery had left her too small. Not only did she choose to have the surgery even though she looked fantastic, she was proud to be busty! Having Queen Latifah as a role model was a godsend. Hell, I must have watched the clip of “When You’re Good to Mama” from Chicago at least a dozen times, proud to be connected in some way to a woman who felt good enough in her body to do what she needed to take care of it.
So, is Angelina Jolie providing the same necessary support as Queen Latifah did? Is Jolie going public a saving grace for women facing a tough decision? This questioning led me to do a little bit of research on Jolie’s surgery, and discovered this piece from US Weekly. Melissa Etheridge, a singer-songwriter and breast cancer survivor, called Angelina Jolie “fearful.” Even though Etheridge possessed the same gene as Jolie, she made the clear decision not to have the surgery. In fact, Etheridge still encourages women to avoid mastectomies and pursue other methods of prevention, convinced that the surgery should be considered more of a last resort.
This article shocked me. Here I thought Jolie was making an obvious, even easy, choice. In actuality, her conclusion was controversial; every big decision has multiple perspectives, especially when it comes to surgery. And here I was, judging the media for making such a big deal. No – I was judging Jolie herself. Even after I knew how important it was to have a role model when making tough decisions. On the surface, I recognized the importance of Jolie sharing her story, but I didn’t fully understand the impact Jolie could actually have.
Yes, I made the tough decision to get a breast reduction. Like Jolie, I chose surgery. Like many other women, I faced potential ridicule and judgement for my choice. But who am I to judge whether or not Angelina Jolie’s story should be told? Who am I to determine whether or not mastectomies are controversial enough to warrant a role model? While I might consider breast reductions more controversial and therefore more daring, I have thankfully never been in the situation where I needed a mastectomy. I don’t know how much women in that situation need a role model. I will never deny someone a person to look up to, and I will certainly never deny someone who wants to be that person. Even if the media morphs her pure intent into a self-promoting Facebook status.