In addition to the (admittedly small, yet still entirely worth mentioning) segment of people who reacted to Angelina Jolie‘s mastectomy with sexist comments, there’s another faction: People who are decrying her decision to remove her breasts because they feel it’s medically irresponsible.
Quite a few people who commented on our Facebook page, as well as commenters on my post from yesterday and many other people on Twitter, voiced concerns that Angelina’s mastectomy was “unnecessary” and that her actions could influence other women to do the same thing. Some doctors also feel that Angelina’s public decision will encourage women to have unnecessary surgery, even if they aren’t BRCA1 gene carriers.
There’s more than a few things to consider here: Angelina’s own personal history, her role as a public figure, and, of course, the way breast cancer is currently treated and portrayed in our culture. Let’s not forget that Angelina’s own mother died of cancer as a result of being a carrier of the BRCA1 gene. Her identity, her own likely very fraught emotional history as a daughter of a mother with cancer, in conjunction with her own identity as a mother, was a big influencer in her decision, as she herself said. I certainly don’t presume to judge anyone, not even a celebrity, on the mental and emotional factors that go into decision-making about their own health. She is, after all, a person, not just a famous person. I wonder if people would be so quick to criticize a neighbor who watched her mother die and then chose a mastectomy?
But of course, Angelina Jolie is not our neighbor. Angelina Jolie is Angelina Jolie, one of the most famous and beautiful women in the world. Lauren Brown at Quartz says breast cancer awareness is at an all-time high; Will Jolie’s decision be too far-reaching, will it create a hysteria that’s even larger than the pinkwashing we’ve been experiencing since the Susan G. Komen Foundation got its start?
While I understand the concerns about the impact of a public figure making a radical decision (And don’t get me wrong, I often have a healthy distrust of the medical establishment, and I’m sympathetic to alternative treatments for anything, including cancer), I’m also a forever advocate of women making their own educated decisions about their own bodies and their own health care. That’s exactly what Angelina Jolie did. She made the best decision for herself and her life: not your life, not my life, and not anyone else’s. Hers.
Does it matter that her decision will likely influence other women? Of course it does. That’s why she made her mastectomy public! She was hoping that, by speaking out about this, she could raise awareness about preventative mastectomy. And boy has she, right?
But that doesn’t mean you or I or anyone else has to do what she did. My hope is that her decision will encourage women to become active participants in their own healthcare and make their own decisions about their own bodies, whether that be what kind of birth control to use, what doctor to go to, or yes, what kind of breast cancer prevention or treatment to consider.
It really doesn’t matter what you or I think of her decision, whether you or I would get a preventative double mastectomy or have our ovaries removed. It doesn’t matter whether other women who carry the BRCA1 gene have had success with detoxing, with a vegan diet, with vitamins, or with waiting until a diagnosis. Neither you nor I nor anyone else (not even Brad Pitt), has a say regarding Angelina’s health or body.
Angelina’s body, Angelina’s choice. Period.
Photo: Nikki Nelson/WENN.com