The Breast Thing She Could Have Done

This article was first published on Media Musings in May 2013.

Summary: Media reaction to Angelina Jolie’s announcement of her double mastectomy.


Angelina Jolie: The Breast Thing She Could Have Done

‘Breasts’ is the word of the week it seems.

A few days ago it was the “pert and perky” breasts of female TV reporters, kindly brought to our attention by senior journalist Geoffrey Barker in his article in The Age.

Today, it’s the decision of another woman in the public eye to have hers removed for medical reasons.

I am, of course, talking of Angelina Jolie.

In an op-ed published in the New York Times this week, Jolie spoke of her decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy.

A “faulty” gene meant she had an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer.

After watching her mother’s ten-year battle with cancer, Jolie wanted to be proactive and ensure that she would always be there for her children.

The surgery has reduced her risk of breast cancer to below five percent.

The family managed to keep the surgery a secret for its three-month duration – even Jolie’s father didn’t know until he opened the NY Times and read the article.

Cue media reaction.

Many have praised Jolie’s decision, including her husband Brad Pitt who called her a “hero”.

Others are questioning why its even news.

USA Today reporter Olivia Barker, who is currently battling breast cancer, argued that while Jolie’s confession may be helpful, calling her brave was going too far.

As someone who was aware of their risk before it was too late, had access to the finest surgeons and could afford the surgery, Barker is “boggled” that Jolie is being heralded as heroic for simply doing the responsible thing.

While I understand Jolie is not the first to have faced this problem –there are thousands of brave woman who deal with the risk of cancer everyday and don’t make the headlines – I believe she’s done the right thing.

Let’s not forget that she works in Hollywood, where looks can often play a larger factor in success than talent.

She’s a sex symbol, yet she has made the decision to remove the things that arguably most define us as a woman.

Rather than selling her story to a tabloid magazine, Jolie has revealed a very personal issue to the public herself, in the hope that other women can benefit from her experience.

Even Julia Gillard has said she hopes it will encourage Aussie women to get checked.

And I agree.

Cancer is responsible for taking the lives of far too many people. If Jolie using her celebrity status to speak out causes even one woman to make the decision to get checked out, then I think she’s done us all a favour.