Women all over the world are reacting to actress Angelina Jolie's revelation today (May 14) that she has undergone a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.
The emotions, as seen in the comments section of Jolie's op-ed in the New York Times, range from gratitude to Jolie for telling her story, to feeling "braver" about approaching a breast cancer diagnosis or treatment, to those who lament that the care that Jolie received may not be available to all women.
In Jolie's piece, she revealed that she has a "faulty" BRCA1 gene that put her at high risk for breast cancer, a disease that claimed her mother's life at age 56. She detailed the reasons for her decision to undergo a double mastectomy several months ago, as well as her feelings now that it's over.
Some commenters on the piece said they were thankful. "Thanks for your story. As a public figure, you may be able to influence someone to take preventative action," despite their fears, one commenter wrote. "Thank you, Angelina, for going public on this most private subject. I applaud your bravery," another said.
The gratitude that some women are expressing to Jolie likely stems from the level of intimacy with her that they now feel, said Dr. Tina Walch, a psychiatrist specializing in women's issues at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.
"She's one of the sexiest women in the world, and now she's approachable, she's normalized. You can see her in your living room," Walch said.
While many women wouldn’t even share such details with acquaintances or co-workers, Jolie has shared her decision with the world. This makes some women feel thankful for her story because they feel they have gained a relationship with her, Walch said.
Some commenters talked about feeling safer. "Thank you for your bravery and strength, Angelina Jolie. You've made me feel less vulnerable as a woman," one wrote. Another said, "I am having a prophylactic bilateral double mastectomy with reconstruction on Wednesday morning … I've been terrified for weeks … After reading Ms. Jolie's story told with such grace, a little of the terror has diminished."
One reason such feelings arise is because Jolie's op-ed powerfully demonstrates that a woman's sex appeal and her femininity don't hinge on her breasts, Walch said.
"Her breasts are a big part of how she looks, and how men react to her. But this surgery doesn't change our opinion of her — she's still very sexy," Walch said. "Women think, 'Now, I can foresee myself going thru this, and not be viewed in a less desirable way.'"
Other commenters on the op-ed sounded chagrined by the fact that the health care Jolie received is not available to everyone. "I am truly glad that things worked out so well for you … But not every woman has options," one wrote. Another said, "I just hope there comes a day when everyone can afford the level of care I'm sure she had. The elephant in the room is always the cost."
Walch said Jolie certainly had help and options that others don't have. "She has resources, and some may feel slightly resentful, or just not feel wonderful about this piece," Walch said. "They may think, 'it's easy for you to say that this helped you, but I have to still take care of my children, and I can't have reconstructive surgery," she added.
For people who feel that way, the piece may be hard to read or discuss, Walch said.
However, the piece may help to improve the situation for those women, Walch said. "With more people talking about this, awareness goes up, funding can go up. It can't help but improve things for women who don't have resources," she said.