Angelina Jolie's Magnificent Towers & The Fear of Death

A few days ago I came across a short piece at Acculturated by Ashley E. McGuire applauding Angelina Jolie for her recent decision to cut off both her breasts in a preemptive mastectomy. Ms. McGuire praised Angelina Jolie for having the strength to embrace life, citing the celebrity's desire to live long and well with her children and grandchildren. Ms. Jolie's mother died of cancer at age 56; in interviews Ms. Jolie has said that regret that her children cannot know their own grandmother is an important factor in her decision.

I can't know enough about Angelina Jolie's family dynamics to flat-out tell her she was wrong to do away with her breasts. On the other hand, I think it's a bit wicked to praise her from the rooftops. At the least we should maintain a tactful silence about her decision.

First I want to talk about the teleology of breasts (dare I say the teleology of teats? I love a little alliteration). The purpose and place of sweet delightful breasts in life will tell us why we oughtn't to be praising her quite so loudly. Then I want to mention Ms. Jolie's own self-destructive history, which means I won't be maintaining a tactful silence. I might not have thought a lot about her breasts before this week, but now I do, and I grieve for them.

Just to be clear, I understand that she hasn't been left flat-chested. She hasn't simply hacked off her breasts. Reconstructive surgery has been done. It was a "nipple-sparing surgery" that left "small scars and implants in otherwise intact breasts" (please note that the phrasing suggests small implants, but doesn't say so). So the important news in this article is that the procedure will not reduce her sex appeal.

If I say that life is to be lived, you probably don't think of simple survival. Living as survival is a sub-human way to be; we should want better for people, and we grieve for people whose poverty debases them to that level. The image of God in us recognizes that life isn't simply to be survived or lived through, it is to be creative. Life is to be generative. That is, in fact, how we recognize life in its simplest form: by the ability to procreate. Humans live an even greater life than germs and trees and frogs because we can be creative in so many things, from speech to space rockets. All of that is life. But what is more fundamental to human creativity than human procreation, actually making new people?

We live to create. If we do not, we are only surviving.

Our society prides itself on its higher creative functions, on its arts and sciences. But if the most basic, fundamental forms of human creativity are despised, those higher arts are already dead on the vine.

We don't honor baby-making. And I mean the whole thing, the whole complex. We don't honor sex, we don't honor pregnancy, we don't honor birth, we don't honor mothering, we don't honor child-rearing. All these things, which are the most fundamental affirmations and practices of life, we despise. Sex is porn and mutual masturbation, pregnancy is stretch marks and obesity, birth is not a trial overcome but a trap avoided, mothering is a burden and a curse, and child-rearing a fearful mess. A society that thinks that way will be afraid of death, not full of life.

It is fear of death that is really the issue here. Angelina Jolie got to enjoy a life-span with her mother. So did I. My mother died of breast cancer at age 53. I was 29, a man, not very young, with two small children. My oldest daughter has one memory of my mother, and it is at the hospital where she died. That grieves me. I miss my mother constantly, and I wish she could be here with my children.

If a double mastectomy would have saved her life, we would have done it.

But to do it preemptively, before any sign of cancer, is mere survival, not life.

Sections from the Acculturated piece:

A strong current running through her Times piece was motherhood. She talks about losing her own mother and wishing her children could know their grandmother. She talks about finding strength and comfort in knowing her decision basically ensures that her children will not have to live in fear of losing their mother to the same death.

Her decision also shows us how children can challenge us to be better people. Her children give her something to live for, a source of strength in making a decision that would easily be paralyzing. Their mere existence helped her see past a vapid world that values a woman’s breasts as a part of her beauty or lust-worthiness.

So thank you Angelina, for reminding the world that breasts are disposable, but life is not.
But...breasts aren't disposable. And a woman's breasts are part of her beauty. And why did her children have to live in fear? The only way children would live in fear of losing a parent who wasn't even sick would be in a house that was already full of the fear of death.

The Acculturated piece makes the point that women who can't have children are no less women for that. That is true. But we shouldn't pretend that having children or being childless is a disinterested fact. People were made for, among other things, making new people.

The beauty of useful things is largely to be found in their utility. Although modern man seems to have forgotten it (unless we're feeling particularly Freudian), men love breasts because they're made for feeding people. Proverbs 5 urges husbands to "let her breasts fill you at all times". That sounds pretty sexy. Also sounds pretty alimentary. Breasts are beautiful because they feed our babies.

If we honored that, we would honor breasts. We would find them beautiful, instead of treating them as objects of lust. Ms. McGuire's conflation of beauty and "lust-worthiness" is unfortunate, but consistent with a world-view indifferent to children.

For three months Angelina Jolie fed two human beings from the bounty of her breasts. That, though it happens every day, is something to be honored.

If I had a tremendously high predisposition toward testicular cancer, I would certainly look at many preventative measures, but I would have to know for sure that I had cancer before I elected to be rid of them. And that would be true even after my wife was past childbearing age. That's because, good people of Earth, my balls are an important part of who I am. Am I still me without my balls? Yes. But God gave them to me and blessed them. I wouldn't want my children to see in me a spirit of ingratitude and fear by dishonoring the testes from which they sprang.


So that's the part where Angelina Jolie is part of a Hollywood and an America that despises life. The other part of the story is Angelina Jolie in a world that fears but worships death. This is a darker side.

Having been growed up since about the mid-90s, I can't help but have picked up a few things about the wife of Brad Pitt.

She has said she was "sexual in kindergarten", taking off her clothes and making out with boys. She became sexually active at a young age, quickly combining blades and cutting with sex. She became a cutter, regularly cutting her arm with a razor whenever she "felt trapped". (Cutting is a self-mutilation behavior that is reaching epidemic proportions among teenage girls.)

Might it not be that this preemptive mastectomy is a deep expression of self-hate? Of fear, of pain, of the worship of death? I am afraid of Death, so I will offer him my living breasts. I will kill them and give them to him. And I will no longer be a woman, a life-giver. I will be simply a being, hoping to keep being for as long as possible.

Angelina Jolie is a woman who seems to have been abused, has an inability to honor herself, appears to hate her body, and is worshiped by many because she is "lust-worthy", not beautiful.

I think her act of self-mutilation is to be pitied and mourned. One could perhaps elect simply to leave it as her and her family's business, and nobody else's. It certainly should not be celebrated.

By the way, she's having her ovaries removed next.


The idea that our bodies are not ourselves is a bizarre but an ancient one. There seems to be a feminist twist in this story, thanks to Angelina Jolie entitling her op-ed in the New York Times "My Medical Choice". Ms. McGuire says she is "the kind of feminist I can respect". Jolie is overcoming nature itself, something all Paglian feminists find admirable. So wonderfully pagan and stoic.

The weird flippy-flip here is that Jolie, while removing her breasts and her ovaries, is preserving her outward appearance. It seems that she is not concerned with the light and passing things of this world, like making kids or affirming the importance of the body. The apparent spiritual depth of being able to forsake the body loops all the way around into a vanity of the body. But death stalks the big top.

Happily, we need not fear death, nor be enslaved by Creation. We can live in it, create in it, and die in it with grace. The promise of the Resurrection, with Christ the first fruits, means that we can look forward to new life and new creation. But it also means that we can honor our bodies to their fullest now, since they will be made whole again, and forever.

We mustn't fear death. Help us, O God.

On a closing note, and to be saved for another post, this: believing in the Resurrection makes for a deeper eroticism than life-haters are capable of. Just thinking of my own buxom broad's big bountiful breasts makes me want to make more beautiful bouncing babies with that winsome wife of my youth. And even when we're past the time of having "useful" equipment, I'll still delight in her breasts. They've got history. They've fed five babies. And if God forbid we ever have to cut them off, I'll mourn with her.

I will never tell her they were "disposable".