I’ve just been asked to do an interview about Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy in the context of working in an industry where appearance is everything. As Hadley Freeman wrote today in the Guardian, she has done something extraordinary and brave. That doesn’t make the experience of ordinary women any less important and difficult and there’s a part of me which hates all the attention she is getting for doing something countless other women have and will do but whose bravery has not been recognised. However, I can’t help but think that being in the public eye makes it so much worse.
Thank goodness I’ve never had to deal with the kind of surgery AJ has had to undergo so I can only imagine some of the emotional and physical issues she must be confronting and which she will continue to deal with for years to come.
Never mind the lingering fear that she may still get cancer or that she may have passed the gene on to her children. How do you deal with curious paparazzi who, when the sun comes out in California, Cannes or wherever – and it does that a lot in those places – only want to focus their cameras on your chest albeit you have one of the most beautiful faces in the world?
I understand that Angelina has kept her nipples and had full breast reconstruction – I’m sure her new boobs are the best you can buy. But she knows and now we know they are not real, and although many women have implants these days, these are more than just implants and she must still be going through a huge sense of loss as well as some concern about what the future will hold.
When I had breast cancer in 2005 all I had to worry about was losing my hair but I found that to be absolutely traumatic – far more so than I ever expected. My hair had never been great but it was an essential part of who I was, as were my eyelashes and eyebrows. When I lost them all I was bereft and although I knew they would grow back I still wondered occasionally whether they would. I had a wig made but even then social outings were fraught with anxiety about whether people would realise I was wearing a wig, and if it was very windy I didn’t want to go out at all. Going back to work was a major ordeal; appearances really matter in the City especially doing a high profile role in a largely male organisation – so how much worse to be a film star where it’s your looks that get you work in the first place
But for all that there are advantages and opportunities. For some years, Angelina has been redefining herself in terms of the films she has made and the charitable work she is doing. This announcement will help her continue this journey, to be so much more than a film actress, and win her much greater respect.