Are We Really Supposed To Believe Angelina Jolie Is A Heroine Or Something?

Yesterday Angelina Jolie announced to the world that she underwent an elective, preventative double mastectomy after learning that she was positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation that greatly increases her risk of breast and ovarian cancer. For being aware and doing what she felt was the right decision for her and her family in the face of heightened risk, I applaud her.

But all over Twitter, Facebook, and the Google News aggregate, people are harrowing her as a 21st century heroine; a pioneer in women’s health and preventative medicine. She is so brave and an inspiration to us all – blah blah blah.

Huh? Are we really supposed to believe Angelina Jolie is a heroine or something?

Jolie decided to undergo a genetic test after careful consideration that she might be at heightened risk because of her mother’s own cancer death. She had the money to spend on a test that many, many women cannot afford, and that very few insurance companies even cover. Why does the fact that Jolie had the money to have this test, and therefore went ahead with it, make her brave? A national heroine? Wealthy women around the country do this test every day. Do they all get to write op-ed pieces about their harrowing experience? Does Twitter make them national legends and pioneers in modern medicine?

Or what about all the women that very likely carry the gene, know they probably carry the gene because of their strong family history of disease, and yet cannot afford to ever know? Do they get hashtag trends like #bravewomenthatwillneverknow or #alwayslivinginfear?

When Jolie found out she was positive for the gene mutation, she decided to have an elective, preventative, double mastectomy, with nipple preservation and complete reconstructive surgery. In other words: another pile of procedures that are expensive and usually not covered by the vast majority of American health insurance policies. So basically, up to this point, all Jolie has done is opt to have a number of medical tests and procedures done that are reserved for the wealthiest and most elite members of society. She has opted for luxuries when it comes to her medical care, which many women in this country have absolutely no access or ability to afford.

How is Angelina Jolie a heroine and pioneer in women’s health again?

Many doctors do not even recommend prophylactic mastectomy in the event that a woman has a heightened risk with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. There are a number of preventative hormone treatment options available, increased preventative testing, and lumpectomy options that are much less invasive and expensive. Why this is worth mentioning is in the discussion over our country’s current trend towards going to extreme lengths to eliminate risk (which can never truly be eliminated entirely). And in understanding the drastic difference between risk factor and cause – as Americans, we tend to misunderstand that risk does not equal certainty or causality.

But as a culture obsessed with trying to cheat death, we tend to heighten risk into the most extreme measures possible to the point that we do more damage than good. People are so afraid of the extremely rare risks of vaccines, so they avoid them altogether and then die of polio. Families are fearful of GMOs and processed foods, so eat only whole foods and fats then die of heart disease from ingesting high fat foods for years on end. And we look to national figures, such as Jolie, for guidance on what we should do. How we should think. Even when we don’t have the same resources that they do.

Each woman’s health is a different matter entirely, though. As is her financial status, and the risks and health issues that she will face. I am not suggesting that Jolie or anyone should or shouldn’t do any particular thing relative to her own health. That is not what I’m saying here. What I am saying is that none is more special of a circumstance than the next. We are all the same in the playing field of life. We just have different stories.

I have always believed that the only real preventative medicine we should be engaging in is accepting the imminence of our own deaths and enjoying every minute of our lives, rather than spending them all cowering in fear of what may come. Or at the very least, let’s worry about things that are really important right now. Not saying breast cancer risk is unimportant or should be forgotten, but much worse by the dozen is heart disease risk, obesity, diabetes, war, famine, the threat of nuclear holocaust, global warming.

Congratulations to Angelina Jolie on her new, risk-free boobs. Now can we all shut up and move on already?


  1. But…but…but…the woman is an angel–an archangel even! Look at all the kids she adopts from other countries–hey, how come she never adopts one from her own country? But still and all, look at her lips! Look at her hair! Look at her husband! Look at her ti–oh yeah, she doesn’t have any anymore. Maybe she could just have a couple tattoed on her chest. A lot cheaper. Like her. Thanks for your post.

  2. While I agree a million times that this doesn’t make her a hero to womankind and it bothers me what a fame game it’s turned into… I have to disagree that the procedure is only for the wealthy. Many insurance policies do cover the procedure and test, especially for women who are more likely to have the gene. It runs in my family. I intend to have the test eventually. My sister has the gene and not only had addouble mastectomy, she also had the double ovectomy last summer. Does that make her a hero? Not to the world, but definitely to her 5 year old daughter who won’t lose her mother to breast cancer the way my (adopted, but still blood related) sister did.

    • We might disagree on just who has access to adequate and good health insurance. I believe that truly affordable *and* quality health insurance – the type that does in fact cover the test and a limited extent of the procedures in the event that there is a strong family history, a series of doctor’s referrals, and/or a personal history with the disease – is getting to a point that only elite, wealthy, or well-employed people can obtain such medical coverage. Many people have only basic health coverage in this country or Medicaid, where such benefits are not covered. Anyone over the age of 65 – older women being those who are most affected by the disease to begin with – will not get coverage for these preventative tests at all because Medicare and senior supplemental insurances do not cover it. I just read an article this afternoon that had a statement issued today by the national BRCA support group even admitting that very few women have access to the DNA test, which they cite as costing close to $4000, because of the insurance and patent limitations this country currently faces. They said something like most insurance companies want proof of two first-degree family members being diagnosed before the age of 50. I think that there needs to be a call to action on this so that more women – who truly have a strong family history and reason to worry about that risk – have access to these services. And I believe that the company holding a patent on the BRCA1 and 2 genes should not be allowed to have a monopoly on the genetic testing, thereby driving the price up to an unattainable point to begin with.

      I am sorry to hear about your sister’s ordeal. I think that all people – men and women – that make conscious decisions for their health, whether it’s to have a mastectomy and ovectomy, or to even just walk 30 minutes more every day to cut down on heart disease risk – are heroes in their own personal way.

    • I agree with fact that angilena is no hero she is doing what she is doing because she is in fear and has the money to do so, are health care sucks in America period. All it does is instill fear if you are not covered and if u are doc. Don’t balieve in old holistic methods of healing they go straight to the surgery and drugs.(because it makes money) I balieve that this country is a product of our dally consumption of horrible foods/hormone injected food. You need to re educate yourself if you believe that wholefoods want do your body good. Why is it that our country is one of the most unhealthy country in the the world, are health is as bad as the country’s that angelina trys to go”help” people that have ate nothing but clean non GMO foods and still died from a high fat diet is because they consumed too much meet and dairy, your diet should be 80percent fruits and veggies and 20percent meat and dairy and if your pron to cancer… Then little to no meet and dairy. if you look at Japan they do not have the issue we have and thier diet is a reflection, if you put them on our diet they will have our problems and it just goes to show you that those things do not get passed down to you just habits that form the same result. Not to mention cancer and other desieses cannot form in a airline body…

  3. I don’t give a shit about her and I don’t applaud anything she does. I only care because what she ought to have done would be to have used her “fame” to point out the inequities in this American health system that allows her to have a longer life because she can afford to have an elective surgery. Maybe if she used some of her money to pay for other women to have the same surgery that her money could buy–then I’d care about her. Other than that, I wish she’d shut up.

    • This surgery will shorten her life along with other women if they follow in her foot steps, just because she has all that money doesn’t mean that she is in a advantage doc. Use celebs as Ginny pigs because they have the money… And can pay for thier experiments. Her diet and life style put her in this mess along with her family making the same mistakes. America’s diets is our number one killer.

  4. I have been thinking these same things since her announcement. That and I can’t help but feel that everything that woman does is for the publicity. My mom died young too from breast cancer. I’d love to have that genetic testing done, but lucky for me, my insurance won’t cover it unless someone else on my mom’s side drops dead from breast cancer. #alwayslivinginfear

  5. THANK YOU!! Jeez, I am SO tired (already) of hearing about it. So a rich bitch got tests/surgeries us normal folk cannot even FATHOM, Who cares?! (Certainly not me, someone who will live and die without even making in my ENTIRE LIFE the amount of money that woman makes off her investments alone, daily I’m sure.) If she was a REAL hero, she would be paying for women’s cancer treatments, their testing, their reconstructive surgeries. Since she is not, I can only assume that she thinks she is so important that she has to share her amazing story of how she won the genetic lottery, and it wasn’t all husband-stealing and roses, because she just can’t stand NOT being the center of attention. Blah. Next story please!!

  6. Personally, I think she was just trying to one-up the series finale of 90210 on the CW. Unfortunately for her, the news aired her segment *after* the finale. Hmmm.

  7. Well she’s really famous, so if she speaks out about what she had done, a lot of people will hear about it, and clearly have. She’s going to educate a lot of people who didn’t know about those genes or that there are options. She could easily have kept quiet about it all. The awareness she’s creating is the big deal here.

    • As a woman, I can tell you that the genes are common knowledge and extremely rare. And awareness is irrelevant anyway, hardly any insurance companies cover the test and you typically have to have a personal history of the disease in one breast to qualify even if your insurance does cover it.

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