At 24 years old, Angelina Jolie was picking up an Oscar for her role as disturbed psychiatric patient Lisa Rowe in ‘Girl, Interrupted’. Rumours of self-harm and unhinged decision making followed her like loyal, if irritating, acolytes and these rumours only served to accelerate her journey to the pedestal of iconic female imagery. Back then, young women were starting to feel nauseous from the buckets of sticky sweet Girl Power feminism we were being force fed and were looking for a different kind of empowerment.
One that made room for attempted suicide where appropriate, as long as the harassed protagonist looked absolutely scorching in a pair of lycra shorts seemed like the ideal alternative.
I struggled womanfully to keep up, but although I proved to be adept at cutting holes in my body, I never really bought into the whole nudity thing and I’m eternally grateful that my adventures in Lycra remained outside the remit of titillating tabloid journalism.
That was thirteen years ago. Since then (thankfully), I’ve changed in ways I could never imagine but until yesterday I’d never seen fit to revise my opinion of Jolie. An increasing interest in feminist theory taught me that she represented an unrealistic, sexualised ideal of a woman that we humans could never live up to. As far as I was concerned, she was a fairly pedestrian actress whose pneumatic, non-pixellated bosom and an edgy demeanour contributed to a view of women I was becoming increasingly detached from. In short, she was as likely to be admitted into my ‘Influential Females Hall of Fame’ as Bernard Manning in a frock.
As I read her op-ed piece describing her decision to have a preventative double mastectomy in yesterday’s New York Times, I realised that despite these closely held, morally superior convictions, I was just as susceptible, perhaps more susceptible, to the lazy, condemnatory stereotyping the media thrive on. As far as I was concerned, because Angelina Jolie had been in TombRaider and become an object of desire, that was all she was. It’s shameful really. For one thing, if anyone should have known that unbalanced self-destructive behaviour patterns were neither empowering, nor sexy, it should have been me. But I bought into the myth as much as the next person.
But objects of desire don’t decide to have preventative double mastectomies to protect their children from the agony of losing their mother prematurely, as she did. They don’t keep news of the procedure to themselves, then write about it in the hope that the story might inspire other women to be proactive in seeking out information about their own bodies and help them through difficult times. They certainly don’t travel to London in the middle of treatment to speak at a G8 summit about the issue of rape in wartime.
I was wrong about Angelina Jolie. I dismissed her because I didn’t like a the one dimensional representation of her the media gave me, which was essentially based on decisions she made in her early twenties. The thought of people judging my validity as a human being on what I did when I was twenty-four is quite frankly, f**king petrifying.
We live and learn, no?