Angelina Jolie's New York Times op-ed about getting a preventive double mastectomy is worthy of celebration for many reasons. When the world's most famous actress advocates for preventive women's medicine, the message goes far. There is also the pleasure of marveling, yet again, at Angelina's transformation from enfant terrible to responsible mommy. (Her rationale for seeking the procedure: "I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.") But the feat I most appreciate is that the former Lara Croft, Tomb Raider refuses to equate breasts with femininity. After undergoing reconstructive surgery with implants, she wrote:
It is reassuring that [my children] 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.
Angelina walks the reader through her procedure step by step, describing the breasts once considered so flawless that an entire movie franchise hinged on their resemblance to an idealized virtual reality. But Angelina's breasts were not flawless; there was an 87 percent chance that the cells in them, afflicted with a mutation to the BRCA1 gene, would eventually turn cancerous. So she hired doctors to take her breasts apart, replacing mammary tissue with implants.
"I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy," Jolie says. But the article itself does not hesitate; other than that one sentence, there is no angst. If anything, the removal, filling, and draining of Angelina Jolie's breasts is banal. She expresses wonder at the marvels of modern technology, but her own life remains "normal."
My own process began on Feb. 2 with a procedure known as a “nipple delay,” which rules out disease in the breast ducts behind the nipple and draws extra blood flow to the area. This causes some pain and a lot of bruising, but it increases the chance of saving the nipple.
Two weeks later I had the major surgery, where the breast tissue is removed and temporary fillers are put in place. The operation can take eight hours. You wake up with drain tubes and expanders in your breasts. It does feel like a scene out of a science-fiction film. But days after surgery you can be back to a normal life.
The implied message: You can be a normal woman without natural breasts. You can be a normal woman with no breasts at all.
For Angelina Jolie, "normal life" includes being a sex symbol. She does other stuff, too; she mothers, she reads, she works on projects that have nothing to do with Hollywood. But she also wears couture gowns, poses for magazines, and makes male hearts race when she flashes her legs, hips, and yes, breasts. The Internet's most shameless objectifiers of women are in open lament: "Let's all weep for Angelina Jolie's breasts," reads a thread on a sports message board. "Angelina Jolie's Breasts (1995-2013)," a site called The Superficial memorializes. (For those who still haven't gotten it through their thick skulls: Angelina did not "get rid of" her breasts. Her mammary tissue has been replaced with a synthetic substance, but the resulting anatomical features are still breasts. They aren't natural, but neither are the breasts on plenty of women in Hollywood.)
We know that breasts do not define femininity, but the schematic and pragmatic associations persist. In addition to concern about breast-feeding and reconstruction, women sometimes cite feelings of diminished femininity when considering mastectomies. Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute estimates that 12 percent of women born in the U.S. today will at some point develop breast cancer. America is simultaneously breast-obsessed and among the more breast-cancer-afflicted nations in the world. Not every woman keeps her breasts, not even when her breasts are famous. "I miss my exquisite breasts sometimes," Christina Applegate noted after her preventive mastectomy. ("Exquisite breasts" refers to an Anchorman joke.) The sentiment is powerful in its honesty. But some women don't miss their breasts, and there is power in hearing from them, too. Jolie expresses no sorrow whatsoever. Her only nod to missing one's natural breasts comes in a brief, optimistic note about reconstruction: "There have been many advances in this procedure in the last few years, and the results can be beautiful."
Most Viewed Stories
Bernie Sanders Wore the Only Appropriate Outfit to Trump’s Inauguration
Josh Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s Brother-in-Law, Was Spotted at the Women’s March
Kellyanne Conway Goes With a Subtle Look for the Inauguration
Here’s the Official List of Speakers for the Women’s March on Washington
15 Protest Sign Ideas for the Women’s March on Washington
A Scene from the D.C. Women’s March
Tiffany & Co. Unveils New Collaboration With NYPD: Branded Barricades by Trump Tower
The Ultimate Guide to Preparing for the Women’s March
The Complicated, Controversial, Historic, Inspiring Women’s March
Everyone Is Handling This Week Differently
From Our Partners
Who What Wear
powered by PubExchange
Latest News from The CutHere’s What Gloria Steinem Thinks You Should Know About Donald Trump
“We think he holds all the power…but that’s not true.”16 of the Cutest Kids at the Women’s March
Kids of all ages marched all over the globe to protest Donald Trump on Saturday.A Scene from the D.C. Women’s March
“I witnessed something that gives me hope.”See Photos of the Women’s Marches Around the World
More than 3 million people turned out globally.Josh Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s Brother-in-Law, Was Spotted at the Women’s March
Karlie Kloss’s boyfriend protests in D.C.The Greatest Signs From the Women’s March
See the Cut’s favorites from around the country.Janelle Monáe Reminds Us to Choose ‘Freedom Over Fear’ at Women’s March
Monáe stood alongside the Mothers of the Movement in D.C.The Women’s March Was So Big It Almost Couldn’t March
Attendees far outnumbered the 200,000 organizers planned for.Madonna to Women’s March Detractors: ‘F*ck You’
She expressed herself.Read Janet Mock’s Empowering Speech on Trans Women of Color and Sex Workers
From the Women’s March: “I stand here today most of all because I am my sister’s keeper.”
A roundup of the worldwide rallies.People Came Out in Droves for the NYC Women’s March
About 100,000 people came out.Here’s Why a Women’s March Organizer Brought Her Baby Onstage
The baby appeared to sleep peacefully throughout.6 Compelling Things Gloria Steinem Said at the Women’s March
“We are united here for bodily integrity.”Over 1 Million New York Women Will Have Access to Free Contraception and Abortions
Andrew Cuomo’s announcement comes alongside the Women’s March.U.S. Border Agents Rejected Some Canadians Headed to the Women’s March
People in at least three groups were reportedly sent home.Here’s How to Livestream the Women’s March on Washington
It’s happening right now.Melania Trump Wears Hervé Pierre to the Inaugural Balls
The former model collaborated with the designer.‘Smells Like Boys’: A Night at the DeploraBall
Partying in Trump’s America.Inauguration Day in Washington Is Like a Nightmare Twitter Thread
People have come from around America to shout at each other.