When it comes to medical advice, celebrities usually do more harm than good (we’re looking at you, Gwyneth). But Angelina Jolie’s latest op-ed, published in the New York Times, may be one of the more responsible health stories to come from Hollywood. Two years after writing about her own preventive double mastectomy, Jolie offers insight into her choice to remove her ovaries and Fallopian tubes to avoid ovarian cancer, a disease that killed her mother at 59 years old.
“This is an example of celebrities at their best,” says Steven Hoffman, an international lawyer and a visiting assistant professor of global health at Harvard University. “Whenever I see celebrities providing mass medical advice to the public, I’m highly skeptical and critical of them because most of the time I find their advice is counterproductive and potentially harmful. Medicine is individualized and advice is not relevant for everyone,” says Hoffman, who called anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy a “public health menace” in a recent Chatelaine feature.
So how does Jolie get it right? She talks about herself — her unique experience, her cancer-stricken family history — and invites the public to empower themselves by doing research. Throughout the piece, she emphasizes that her decision to remove her ovaries was a personal one and is not necessarily the right choice for every woman in similar circumstances. “The most important thing is to learn about the options and choose what is right for you personally,” she writes. And also, “You can seek advice, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you.” Compare that to Gwyneth Paltrow, who offers up bonkers health advice (cleanses, vaginal steaming) as though she’s a medical expert.
According to Hoffman, Jolie’s op-ed highlights “how celebrities can play a constructive role in promoting evidence-based health decisions. It emphasizes how destructive other celebrities are by contrast.”
He also says the article was a big improvement from the one she wrote two years ago about her double mastectomy and the BRCA1 gene. “In that case, what she said might have been accurate, but it was so likely to misinterpreted as a call for women everywhere to get genetically tested, when it’s not needed for everyone,” says Hoffman.