Angelina Again (and Again and Again)

Angelina Again (and Again and Again)

Celebrities are confounding. We follow their every move as though they all matter. We care about where they shop, what they eat and how they work out. We obsess about their clothes, their boyfriends and their children. It’s part of American culture, and I’m just as guilty as the rest. Besides, many—maybe even most—of them are pretty. They are our gateway to daydreams. They live the lives we only dare to imagine. Even so, I often struggle to figure out why I care about people I have never met and will never encounter. It makes no sense, yet I, too, pause at the Woodman’s checkout counter to see how Reese is handling her arrest fallout and who looks good (or bad) in a bikini.

So Angelina. This is a woman who spawns Twitter hashtags just by posing for the paparazzi at the Oscars. Only this time the big deal really is a big deal: breast cancer.

Angelina lost her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, to breast cancer in 2007. Bertrand was 56. Angelina apparently inherited a gene that makes it highly likely that she would get breast cancer at some point in her life. So the 37-year-old actress and activist took a bold step: Despite the fact that she does not have cancer, Angelina had a double mastectomy to dramatically improve the odds that she would never contract the disease.

Many have pointed out that countless other women have endured the procedure after diagnosis and debilitating treatment. Some of them also had hysterectomies along with the breast removal—surgeries that are life altering and, when you think about it, barbaric—to reduce the risk of other reproductive cancers. Many women do it without round-the-clock nurses to tend to drainage ports or nannies to tend to children. Angelina also gets some attention and praise for all this, and that is a more than a little bit self-serving. It feeds her ego if nothing else.

I am the first to recognize and acknowledge that Angelina Jolie is not an every-woman. Not by a stretch. Yet I have to give her some credit. Her experience might have been easier due to her circumstances, her wealth, her power, her celebrity—really because of any of the trappings of her vast privilege. But surgery is surgery, and I can’t imagine it was painless. Even for Angelina. And she didn’t have to turn it into a public health issue, but she did. I don’t know if it will amount to anything. Will cancer rates go down or survival rates go up just because Angelina Jolie had a prophylactic double mastectomy and talked about it publicly? Probably not. But it won’t hurt, either.

Sure, I’d love to hate the woman. She’s rich. She’s gorgeous. She’s in a long-term relationship with Brad Pitt (!!!). She’s got everything in the world. And she gave up her breasts to keep it. Just like many women just like me would do. Maybe she is human after all?