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In an Age When It's Trendy to Be Ill, Angelina Jolie's Mastectomy Revelation Is Far From Rebellious

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ANGELINA JOLIE
AP

Following her decision to write about her preventive double mastectomy in the New York Times, the actress Angelina Jolie has been praised for taking a stand against shallow celebrity culture.

Where our beauty-obsessed, image-driven celebrity industry apparently requires that women be little more than pretty smiles perched on long legs, Ms Jolie has dared not only to have radical surgery on her body but also to speak publicly about it.

Observers gush that it is "incredible to think that she had made this choice", given that she works in an industry "where so much emphasis is placed on women's looks". Others describe Ms Jolie as incredibly brave for taking a stand against the "bizarre values" of celebrity culture.

In this culture that is all fake and surface-driven, Ms Jolie has dared to state something bald and truthful.

But how daring, really, is Ms Jolie's decision to write about her recent operation? Is she really rebelling against celebrity culture or conforming to it? I think it's the latter.

The praise being heaped on Ms Jolie, not for having surgery but for talking about it, overlooks the fact that it is now de rigueur for celebrities to talk openly about their ailments and hospitalisations. Flick through Hello! magazine and you'll see five-page spreads about a celeb's recovery from a cancer scare or addiction hell or bipolar diagnosis; browse the 'Painful Lives' sections in bookshops and you'll see memoirs by celebrity survivors of terrible diseases.

From Jade Goody having her cancer diagnosed on Indian TV to Kerry Katona doing interviews about her bipolar disorder to Stephen Fry writing about his depression... in both the tabloid and high-brow sections of the celebrity world, talking about being sick is not only increasingly acceptable - it's expected.

Journalism and the literary world are also increasingly packed with cancer memoirs and depression columns and various other ostentatiously public declarations of sickness and survival.

In an era in which being a victim counts for more than being a go-getter, and when having suffered something counts for more than having achieved something, even very successful and wealthy people feel the need to advertise their wounds and woes in an attempt to show that they, too, are damaged goods, or 'in recovery', or survivors.

In such a world, where the taboo against publicly talking about disease and death has been replaced by an equally problematic promiscuous desire to spill details about such things into the public realm, can Ms Jolie really be said to have done something brave and incredible? She says she is keen to "raise awareness" about the cancer gene that she was found to be carrying; but very often today, "raising awareness" is simply the PC-sounding phrase celebrities use to do something that isn't actually all that honourable - make a public spectacle of their private sufferings.

You know what would have been truly brave, properly rebellious, delivering a little personal blow to today's conformist celebrity culture of talking about sickness and scrubbing away the line between private life and public life? If Ms Jolie had never told anyone except her family about her decision to have surgery.

Around the Web

Angelina Jolie - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Angelina Jolie - IMDb

Angelina Jolie : People.com

Angelina Jolie undergoes double mastectomy - CNN.com

Angelina Jolie Breaking News and Photos | Just Jared

Angelina Jolie's brave message

Angelina Jolie undergoes double mastectomy

Angelina Jolie reveals she had preventive double mastectomy after discovering ...

Angelina Jolie reveals she had double mastectomy - USA Today

Angelina Jolie reveals she has had preventive double mastectomy