• Cascading confessions
    May 16,2013
     

    Two of the hot topics trending on Twitter Tuesday were Angelina Jolie and the IRS.

    Beauty and the Beast.

    Jolie stunned the world with a New York Times op-ed article explaining why she had decided to have a preventive double mastectomy once she learned that she has the BRCA1 gene, which spikes the risk for breast and ovarian cancers.

    The actress was close to her mother, who died at 56 after battling cancer for nearly a decade, and she wrote that she “will do anything” to be with her own children as long as she can.

    “I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex,” she wrote, adding that “I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”

    I had to keep checking the byline to make sure the piece was really by Angelina Jolie. She has been the embodiment of physical perfection for so long — a fierce, tattooed warrior and seductress with a genuine wildness who made female action roles from Lara Croft to Mrs. Smith to Evelyn Salt absolutely believable.

    So it was hard to read about the pain caused by the genetic imperfections lurking beneath that lush perfection, a curveball from one celebrated for her curves.

    Jolie, 37, is a famous crusader for refugees. She has also had other, more noirish shades to her image, from wearing Billy Bob Thornton’s blood in a vial around her neck to drugs, cutting, knife-collecting and depression to shoplifting Brad Pitt from America’s sweetheart to the “Saturday Night Live” parody that presents the serial adopter and mother of six as a stalker of babies.

    She knows that she will face criticism for elitism, given that she has the money to get the more than $3,000 BRCA testing and the best surgeons, while other women don’t.

    Yet her courage in going public with the graphic details of her mutilation and reconstruction, even though she’s part of an industry that considers a 10-pound weight gain a career catastrophe, makes her a real-life action heroine.

    Ever since Rock Hudson gave a face to AIDS and softened the position of Ronald Reagan, we have known it is possible for Hollywood stars to ameliorate the stigma of disease and spark recognition, conversation and inspiration. Jolie’s health revelation overshadowed another one in the same newspaper by the woman who would be the first female mayor of New York City.

    Christine Quinn, the council speaker and early leader to succeed Michael Bloomberg, told The Times’ Kate Taylor about her descent — as a teenager trying to manage her mother’s fatal breast cancer — into bulimia and alcoholism.

    In a classic Irish Catholic quid pro quo with the heavens, Quinn said she believed that if she could be the perfect daughter, thin and pretty, somehow her mother might be saved.

    “For a brief moment,” she said of the early sensation of throwing up, “you’ve kind of expelled from your being the things that are making you feel bad.”

    The shame was harder to expel. “Asking for help, going to the rehab, dealing with bulimia, cutting back on drinking, getting drinking out of my life altogether — all of that helped me put the pieces back together,” she said, adding that the final piece was her marriage to her wife, Kim Catullo, a corporate lawyer from New Jersey.

    Unlike Jolie, Quinn faced a lot of skepticism about her motives for spilling her secrets, which will be chronicled in an upcoming campaign-season memoir.

    Clearly, she wanted to control the way the news got out rather than having it spread by her opponents in the mayor’s race — one of whom may be Anthony Weiner, who has been on a revelatory and redemption odyssey of his own in The Times. And then there’s her other rival, Bill de Blasio, whose wife has frankly shared her former life as a lesbian.

    She also wanted to sprinkle some humanity on an image that took hits when she appeared as “Mayor Dracula” on a winter cover of New York magazine and when she was skewered in an article in The Times in March about her screaming fits and volatile bursts of wrath and retaliation. Mayor Dracula has a bloody penchant for threatening to cut off the privates of those who get on her bad side.

    Perhaps realizing that her confession seemed more self-serving than public service, Quinn had a Q&A on Tuesday at Barnard with the college’s president, Debora Spar, that ruled out any political questions.

    “I hope that what I share in this book is helpful, particularly to young women and girls who feel stuck,” Quinn said.

    She certainly hopes the book is helpful to one 46-year-old woman who feels stuck, castigated as an arrogant bully who moves this way and that, going as far to the left as she can without losing Mike Bloomberg, and fundamentally not believing in anything.

    With Chris Christie, his admission that he had lap-band surgery under an assumed name to curb his obesity is a second-tier story. The first-tier story is that he’s a guy who takes no guff.

    Christine Quinn needs a first-tier story.



    Maureen Dowd is a columnist for

    The New York Times.

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