I’d like to dismiss these commenters as trolls, but their attitudes are unfortunately pervasive in our culture, and they don’t just represent a personal affront to Angelina Jolie, a veteran of such inappropriate body commentary. These comments affect every woman who has undergone a similar procedure—every woman who has overcome the pain, the fear, and the constant and casual reminders that her breasts are more valuable than her life. Really, these comments affect all women who have seen their bodies reduced to mere objects for others to consume. As scholar of the stars Anne Helen Petersen says, “Remember: What we talk about when we talk about celebrities is, as ever, ourselves.” Some of us are not speaking very highly of the women in our lives today.
Jolie, for her part, addressed aesthetic concerns straightforwardly in her op-ed. (She also made a worrisome reference to “wonderful holistic doctors working on alternatives to surgery,” which I can only hope won’t steer readers away from the valid medical treatment they may need). “There have been many advances in this procedure in the last few years, and the results can be beautiful,” Jolie wrote. “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.” It’s powerful to hear Jolie own this choice as beautiful. But I’d go further to say that, regardless of the aesthetic aftermath of breast cancer surgeries—and the individual choices every woman makes in how to deal with them—the results of these procedures are necessarily and breathtakingly beautiful. Not only does this procedure not diminish a woman’s femininity in any way—it highlights her humanity. As Jolie put it, “Brad was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, where I was treated, for every minute of the surgeries. We managed to find moments to laugh together. We knew this was the right thing to do for our family and that it would bring us closer. And it has.”
And yet, perversely, some fans feel as if a part of Jolie has been stolen from them. One well-meaning but misguided commenter told me on Twitter yesterday: “Happy to hear she’s giving herself much better odds. As a guy, I will miss her lovely curves though.” (The reconstructive surgery she described presumably restored her curves.) I can tell you from experience that when a person you love makes it through that surgery, they have never looked more lovely. I don’t mean that in a strictly emotional sense—it registers physically, too. The way that they look at you when they wake up. The breaths they take. Their smile. The way they move through space. You don’t miss anything: You are reminded of all of the wonderful things that you are not missing. It’s gorgeous.