Angelina Jolie is the kind of celebrity I like. She’s a talented actor who has done more charity work that almost anyone I can think of. Jolie has visited war-torn parts of the world (where rich people seldom go) to personally deliver aid to the needy, and she’s made it her life’s work to bring the plight of refugees to our attention. (Also, it’s cool that someone named a spider after her.)
Recently, some decisions she made about her body made huge waves – even though it wasn’t really any of our business – and the fallout has been very revealing.
After being told that she was at a high risk for a certain type of cancer, Jolie decided to have her breasts surgically removed. This was the biggest news story of that week, for some reason. I’m sure that at the end of the year everyone will remember what happened to her breasts, but most people will have forgotten that another actress mailed ricin to the president and the mayor of New York. I digress.
A wave of immature responses came next. Fans of Angelina Jolie’s body, who were not interested in being decent, made it clear that they weren’t interested in her without her breasts. She was no longer going to be as attractive to them, and they were not ashamed to broadcast their disappointment as if they were personally being deprived of something. To these people, her value as a human being was found entirely in her sex appeal.
Next came the defenders. In support of Angelina, responses were written to counter these sorry attitudes. Their message was clear: Angelina Jolie does not exist to be your own personal aphrodisiac.
And that’s what I find odd.
I agree that it’s detestable to criticize Jolie for this. Her surgery was necessary and she is not required to get the approval of her most childish fans before taking care of her health. But the entertainment industry has asked us to view her as a sexual figure every time she’s been presented to us. (Remember when ‘Beowulf’ was released and all we saw in the trailers was her naked body?) It’s the same with every other famous woman, too. Hollywood makes its living exploiting female sexuality, and now they’re telling us not to think of an actress as a piece of meat.
It’s the entertainment industry that has trained us to see celebrity women for their sex appeal. How can we value Angelina Jolie as a person if she’s only presented to us as a sexual icon? It’s no surprise that people reacted so selfishly to her decision – that’s exactly how Hollywood expects us to value women.
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