Bristol's Badass Burlesque Show
In the last few years I have known, and in two out of three cases lost, friends with cancer. It is horrific as a friend, devastating for their family – quite frankly it leaves a hole in everyone’s world that will never be filled.
Cancer can affect anyone, at any time of their life, in pretty much any and all parts of their body. Many cancers can’t be seen, or felt or suspected until you start to feel under the weather, which can sometimes be too late. Although women are taught to be especially vigilant for the signs of breast cancer, which can be sometimes be detected and identified by a lump in the breast, change in appearance of nipples, change in sizes of breasts and so on, it can still be taboo.
Why am I going into such detail here? I want to really establish a context for what I am saying. Because when I discovered earlier this week, along with the rest of you I should imagine, that Angelina Jolie had undergone a double mastectomy as a preventative measure, I wanted to say something. This post was originally going to be a short thank you, but the crazy number of online, social media and other comments I have seen since this news have made me want to expand on that. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on my usual feminist rant (though some of the comments sadly deserve it). I just realised that a simple thank you wasn’t enough. A context was needed.
Whether you personally like her or not, Angelina Jolie is a modern Hollywood icon, and not just one who has made blockbuster hits, but also someone who is, let’s face it, kinda weird. She’s kooky, theatrical, she’s tattooed and has been known to wear vials of blood around her neck, but this hasn’t stopped her getting the job offers.
Through her humanitarian efforts, she’s brought light to refugee issues in a way that only a celebrity can. And why? Because when she didn’t like what she saw, instead of thinking it doesn’t concern her, and heading back to ignorance – she did something about it.
She is the mother of three biological and three adopted children, a wife, a daughter, a sister. She’s a role model, especially for women.
Why am I telling you this? Because it is important to realise that despite all of this, sadly to too many people, Angelina Jolie is and will always be, just a pair of boobs. Sad but true, in this world that still has a chewy misogynist core, she is basically Boobs Jolie. On the other hand, to others, she has been an icon of feminine beauty. Both these make her decision to make this surgery public, all the more impacting.
Her revelation can, and hopefully will, have a positive impact on women who face horrifying and potentially inevitable decisions to have mastectomies as a result of cancer (preventative or otherwise).
Unfortunately, the BRCA1 (“faulty gene”) test is not always widely available, and where available is prohibitively expensive – in the US this is often the case, though in the UK it can be offered to women with a family history of cancer or with relatives who are known to have the gene. So, for those who are worried about being at risk and are able to get this test, then her actions may have publicised it to them and perhaps encouraged them to have it done when they had previously not known or considered the option. We can only hope that her actions also make clear that the wider availability of this testing could save lives if women were able to access it, and perhaps this lack of availability could change for future generations.
We burlesquers know as well as any woman, the emotional importance that we put on our breasts. They are not just tools of our trade, but big, small, melon shaped or spaniel’s ears, they are part of who we are – our body image and our psyche. They have been intrinsically linked to our womanhood and the loss of them can take that away. Angelina Jolie didn’t have to let the world know she’d had a very personal and often emotionally and mentally difficult operation, that because of the fame of her boobs could leave her open to the online gawping and infantile comments of misogynistic idiots. But she did, and in doing so she has taken another step in reassuring women that have to go through this that they are not less of a woman, they are not less feminine – they are still beautiful.
A comment on Angelia’s article made by Liz from New York says it better than I can –
“The option is to believe that a woman is more than specific body parts. For years, the word “mastectomy” implied the loss of not only a woman’s breasts but her femininity. For a woman who has defined feminine beauty for the past decade to have the courage to write honestly and openly about her choice to have a mastectomy is to empower all women to realize that a woman is most beautiful when she is empowered to choose.”