Think about Jennifer Aniston, and maybe you think about Rachel on Friends. Her film roles likely don’t jump to mind right away, nor her relationships with Vince Vaughn or John Mayer. What does? Her status as America’s Sweetheart — or rather, America’s Heartbroken Sweetheart.

Ever since 2005, when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie played Mr. & Mrs. Smith on set (and Mr. & Mrs. Pitt after hours), the world has collectively thrown Jennifer Aniston a pity-party because the “Other Woman” snagged her dashing hubby. And honestly, is there anyone you could cast more perfectly as the stereotypical mistress/temptress than Angelina Jolie? The bee-stung lips, her wild and vaguely dangerous lifestyle, the very real possibility that, deep down, she’s bat-poop crazy. Yeah, Angelina Jolie has had “femme fatale” written all over her for years now, and that stigma never really went away.

Until now.

If America has a real-life life embodiment of the beautiful, sweet, but conspicuously unlucky-in-love heroine we always find in romantic comedies, it’s Jennifer Aniston. We’ve all rooted for her to find “the one.” We’ve read countless magazine articles about how courageously happy she is at any given point in her life, single or otherwise. We’ve marveled that she seriously has not aged in almost two decades. (Still rocking the same haircut as the end-of-Friends era, too.)

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It’s been easy to root for Team Jennifer — she was the star of one of our favorite sitcoms, she almost always plays a variation on her bubbly self in movies, and she’s never done anything in her personal life that made us raise an eyebrow. (Such as, say, making out with her brother at an awards ceremony, or carrying a vial of anyone’s blood around her neck.) Team Jennifer was always a safe bet.

And boy, did Jennifer ride that wave as far as it would take her. Which isn't to say that it’s Jennifer’s fault that everyone felt bad for her — like, really bad for her — for years on end. We wanted to rally around her and cheer her on. We wanted her to milk it a bit. Because it was like a real-life Hollywood rom-com! Besides, when you have Brad Pitt stolen from you by someone who might be considered the most beautiful woman on the planet, you're entitled to play the underdog card for half a decade or so. (Never mind that being married to Brad Pitt in the first place should have had us all seething with jealousy.)

But Jennifer’s time in the sad, heartbroken sun is wearing off — not only because she has a new man in her life and will be getting hitched in the near future, but also because she has a ridiculously ginormous ring serving as a big honking reminder that she’s not single anymore, bitches!

And you really can’t feel too bad for a woman who wears a ring like that.

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As down-to-earth as Jennifer has always seemed, Angelina has been the opposite — elusive, mysterious, otherworldly. Yes, she has a bevy of children (six dozen or so) and has tampered down the blood-vial-wearing, brother-snogging crazy a bit. Her relationship with Brad seems stable — stable enough to co-create their own brand of wine, at least — and her film career has been respectable. She’s shied away from the “look-at-me” sexpot roles of Tomb Raider and gravitated more toward thoughtful stuff like A Mighty Heart, or the film she directed, In the Land of Blood and Honey. And she's known for donating her time and money to a variety of worthy causes around the world. Certainly she’s come a long way since the Girl, Interrupted era.

Still, it wasn’t until this week that America suddenly felt a magnetic pull toward Team Angelina.

On Tuesday, the New York Times ran an OpEd by Angelina revealing that she'd had a double mastectomy upon learning that her chances of getting breast cancer were a terrifying 87%. (That number has since been reduced to the less startling 5%.) The tone of the piece was unsentimental and matter-of-fact, but not chilly, giving us a rare glimpse at one of the world’s biggest stars in her own words.

For once, it wasn't Lara Croft or Evelyn Salt speaking to us... it was just Angelina.

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Though there were a few critics of the decision, overall response from the public was overwhelmingly positive, with the term “brave” thrown around a lot. Angelina, despite being constant fodder for the tabloids and a reputation for some very candid interviews in the past, has been rather private in recent years, so this could have remained a secret. Instead, she went forward and shared an experience that may influence other women to take similar measures if need be. (It’s worth noting that this was a tasteful piece in The New York Times, and not a splashy story in Us Weekly or People. Another point for Angelina.)

There was absolutely no “look at me" or "pity me” in Angelina’s piece. She was not seeking sympathy or attention. She was informing, and sharing a bit of herself with the world. It endeared her to us in new ways. At last, she became human.

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“Brave” is a term that has been applied to Jennifer Aniston, too — in the same way that a recently dumped single girl is “brave” for going out to a bar with her friends and chatting up a new guy. Jennifer put on a “brave” face and continued her career rather than crumpling into a pity-ball and going on some ridiculous bender of bad behavior. She became the 21st century poster girl for single ladies who move on, Gloria Gaynor/“I Will Survive”-style, and that’s admirable.

But losing your breasts due to a high risk of cancer requires arguably more courage than losing your husband to his sexy co-star. Let’s not forget that Angelina is a movie star, and those breasts have been a major selling point on multiple movies. Angelina’s OpEd piece was a risk because it changes the way people see her, and yes, could even affect her bankability as a sex symbol. It’s quite possible that Angelina is no longer interested in such roles — she may have outgrown them, even if her looks haven’t gone downhill any — but it couldn’t have been an easy choice for someone whose body has been so lusted after, whose looks have earned her millions. Still, she told us what she'd been through.

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Jennifer Aniston is doing just fine, you guys, and now it’s Angelina who needs our support. The OpEd confirmed that Brad is sticking by her in these tough times, and gave us a rare look at the “normal” side of a love story that has always seemed oh-so-Hollywood. Their relationship has been defined by globe-trotting, child collecting, movie starring, exotic charity work, joint business ventures — not the stuff most married couples undertake. But the image of them laughing together, with Brad at Angelina’s side every minute of the surgery, is one that made them accessible at last.

Of course, there’s no point to being on either Team Jennifer or Team Angelina anymore. Both women have moved on with their lives, even if their relationships with Brad Pitt remain a defining factor in how we’ve responded to them. But it’s worth taking a moment to realize that, probably for the first time, people are truly embracing Angelina Jolie. Not with pity, but with support and admiration. And perhaps the distance we’ve always sensed between her and us is gone.

If you took an informal poll last week, you’d likely have found that Angelina Jolie has never been amongst the most “likable” stars. Sexy? Yes. Intriguing? Definitely. Likable? Not especially.

But now? She’s the one we’re rooting for.

(Sorry, Jen.)

Did Angelina's piece make you like her more?

Photos Courtesy of Fameflynet