Angelina Jolie’s story of a mastectomy has been permeating through media. With a high genetic risk for breast cancer (>85%), Jolie made the conscious decision that she would not let herself fall victim to cancer. She chose to have a double mastectomy, ridding her body of potentially cancerous cells and replacing them with breast implantations.
Her Op-Ed piece in the New York Times is an interesting and well-written piece, and her decision to undertake a preventive mastectomy all the more admirable. But there was one thing that I wish she had explored more: why the need for the breast implantations following the mastectomy?
I ask this because in reading her piece, I was reminded of Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals (as I always am when I hear about breast cancer now). Lorde vehemently critiques the prosthetic breast, suggesting that it is a materialization of societal expectations for women rather than a functional physiological necessity.
Although I realize that Lorde’s strong sense of identity set apart her somewhat controversial critique of the prosthetic breast, it has made me question them more. I imagine that Jolie’s identity as an actress demands for her prosthetic breasts, but I wish she had spoken more about this second, equally important decision in her story. This decision becomes buried beneath the mastectomy, almost as though it was not a decision at all but rather an expected follow-up course of action.
In reading her story, I also think it’s interesting to consider the effects of illness on celebrities. As I opened the article, I was taken aback to realize that I actually recognized the name of the author. I wonder how an illness narrative is altered by a person’s identity as a celebrity and how this impacts its resonance with readers.
It seems like it was Jolie’s awareness of this difference that encouraged her to write this piece, to share her battle, to tell her story.