When you think of menopause what do you feel?
Sadness, fear, confusion?
Why do we feel this way?
Could we create a personal and cultural shift in perspective to celebrate menopause?
In this blog we delve deeper into the collective psyche of menopause, questioning our own beliefs and our culture's beliefs to 'Make Menopause Great Again' (or for the first time!):
- The Quest Begins – What Is the State of Menopause Now?
- How Did We Get Here? Menopause Throughout History.
- Is It Our Culture?
- Is Anyone Celebrating Menopause? Other Cultures & Species We Can Learn From?
- What Can I Do to Make Menopause Great Again
1. The Quest Begins – What Is the State of Menopause Now?
I was excited to write about this topic and set off to research on Google:
World Menopause Day, piqued my interest. A day observed every October 18th since 1999. A celebration perhaps? I clicked the link eagerly…. and learned it was nothing but a day set aside to talk about the medical aspects of menopause. No balloons or party hats. Boring!
On to the next link…. The Hot Flash Mob! Remember when flash mobs, with large groups of people, breaking out in song and perfectly choreographed dances, hit malls, office buildings and parking lots everywhere? Apparently, a group of menopausal women got together and decided to do “hot flash mobs” and I wanted in on the fun!
Sadly, there hadn’t been a hot flash mob sign-up since 2013.
So, why is it that the western world isn’t celebrating this new phase of life that we women go through? I mean we’ve contributed to society in more ways than one and we bloody well deserve it!
Further digging revealed the many reasons why ...
Maybe, it’s in the language?
In my search for other words used for the term menopause, I was greeted with….
“Climacteric”, “grand climacteric” and “midlife crisis”.
Although I am well aware of what midlife crisis means, I’ve never gotten a toupee’ or sports car and I’m sure few, if any of us ladies have.
But the words that made me scratch my head were the climacteric and grand climacteric. And thanks to The Cleveland Clinic Medical Journal, I was educated,
"Nowadays when we mention the climacteric, we mean the period of a woman’s life in which the function of childbearing ceases; the menopause…The whole process is normal and physiological and is not a disease."
Whew! It’s NOT a disease. Thank you for that beautiful insight.
More searches unveiled more synonyms: “change of life, going through the change, jejune” ….
Wait, what is “jejune”? That sounds exciting and exotic, uh wait a minute…
It means: "dry, barren, insipid." Wow. No thank you.
By the end of the search, I had chewed 2 Estroven and washed them down with coffee lightened with soy milk. Nonetheless I returned to my quest to make menopause great again.
It’s little wonder that we are not jumping for joy to enter menopause when we hear the demeaning terms that have been used to describe it historically.
But, I kept on digging, leading me to…
2. Menopause Throughout History
In the sixth century A.D. Physician, Paulus Aegineta wrote:
"Sorrow, care, watchfulness and the other passions of the mind can excite an attack of the disorder (or menopausal symptoms)"
Have you had a “menopause attack” lately? I cried over a jewelry commercial yesterday, does that count?
The first dissertation on menopause published in 1710, titled “On the End of Menstruation as the Time for the Beginning of Various Diseases,”(bet the ladies were lining up around the block to read that one!) Project Muse recounts one section:
“They linked menopause to the fits associated with uterine suffocation…the original explanation was that a woman’s uterus had migrated upward and suffocated her. European physicians in the 1700s and early 1800s reinterpreted hysterical attacks as signs of excess blood and thought they could be symptoms of menopause.”
I don’t know about you ladies, but I am choking on something here and it certainly isn’t my uterus. Let’s wrap this up before my hysterical attacks begin again.
Women were diagnosed with hysteria, prescribed opium, a pre-meal mix of carbonated soda, a large belladonna plaster placed at the pit of the stomach and vaginal injections with a solution of acetate lead. Now, this is more like it! (apart from the lead injections).
Physicians coined the word menopause. Freud weighed in on the topic and went so far as to argue that menopausal women are neurotic and that an oophorectomy (the surgical removal of the female ovaries) should be a standard procedure for a menopausal woman...Oh, Freud shut up and stick to what you know!
Marked the discovery of hormones (we weren’t being choked by our wombs after all).
1940–90s:This was a huge era of hormone therapy trials and errors with often disastrous consequences for women (we will cover this topic much more in-depth in our HT blog). But, the gist for this period is that as per usual the drug companies called the shots and put money before women’s health - surprise surprise.
No wonder many women fear even the mention of the word menopause with its dark and murky past.
3. Is It Our Culture?
This is a resounding yes!
We all know in the United States, beauty and youth is worshiped. We are bombarded daily with images of bottoms in booty shorts.
Sadly this creates a situation where we become increasingly uncomfortable with our own bodies as we age.
We’re afraid our spouses will trade us in for a younger model so we spend millions on anti-wrinkle creams, Botox injections and even surgeries. It would be a lot harder for companies to make money if we were all happy with ourselves!
Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a professor specializing in gynecological health at Yale Medical School, wrote:
“Where older is not better, many women equate menopause with old age, and symptoms can be much more devastating.”
The same study finds that in countries where aging for women wasn’t seen as negative like Sweden and Italy, that women report fewer physical symptoms:
“In societies where age is more revered and the older woman is the wiser and better woman, menopausal symptoms are significantly less bothersome.”
This is intriguing… I’m not convinced my physical symptoms would be eased by a cultural perspective shift. But, a positive societal outlook on aging would go a long way to help with the psychological aspects of feeling seen, valued and supported by our communities. Thereby reducing feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety.
But, where does our cultural perspective even come from? How the Media, TV and Movies portray a topic can have a huge influence on our collective perspective.
Menopause has mostly been depicted in a comedic way with mentions of Kitty Forman’s menopause on “That 70’s show” and Ab Fab heading to a Menopause Anonymous group.
Of course we, being women need to laugh because otherwise we would cry. But, the humorous representation is sometimes the only way younger women and especially men create their view of menopause….
With this as the only representation, the complexity of the menopause experience has been lost. Hopefully we get to see more representation of the actual hardships and victories of women venturing through menopause; as seen recently on the second season of Flea Bag and third season of Better Things. Maybe these representations will help influence younger generations and our male counterparts to become more aware and respectful of this huge change in our lives.
Luckily the shift has been gaining traction in our western culture. This could be due to a number of exciting factors:
- Women in higher and higher roles in the medical profession.
- The #metoo movement pushing female rights to the forefront of the cultural conversation again.
- Women of different ethnicities, shapes, sizes and more recently ages being represented in: catwalk shows, magazines, TV programs and in movies in bigger and bigger roles.
- Women climbing to higher roles in all industries and political rankings to shine-a-light-on and get funding for women’s health education and treatment.
- Menopause being more frequently discussed in the media:
- Then lastly everyday women like you and me creating blogs, websites, books, products and communities to cater for, support and inspire women going through menopause.
4. Is Anyone Celebrating Menopause? Other Cultures & Species We Can Learn From?
Quoted from the first chapter of ‘The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine’:
“At seven times seven a woman’s heavenly dew wanes;
the pulse of her Conception channel decreases.
The Qi that dwelt in the baby’s palace moves upward into her heart,
and her wisdom is deepened.”
It means: At about 49 years, menstruation (Heavenly Dew) ceases, and the ability to conceive fades. The vitality that was needed in the uterus (Baby Palace) now moves up to the heart, providing a deeper wisdom, a ‘Second Spring’. How beautiful is that?!
Asian countries view the end of menstruation as something to celebrate. It marks the change in a woman’s role in society, for instance, moving from the responsibilities of mid-life to being the grand matriarch. The Japanese word for this phase of life, “konenki”, when broken down, stands for “renewal years” and “energy.” Wow, what a refreshing and liberating way to look at menopause and aging.
Mayan women actually look forward to menopause as it comes with a change in status within their communities and gives them a feeling a freedom. When Mayan women cross into menopause, they are known as wise women or spiritual leaders and hold a place of power in their communities.
In Pegan, Wiccan and Celtic religion and culture, women entering menopause are known to have achieved “triple goddess status” and are called “The Crone Goddess”.
The Crone Goddess represents the elder years of wisdom. Therefore, women in these religions and cultures celebrate menopause by holding menopause ceremonies and rituals that crown Crone Goddesses. And though many of us may not be Celtic or practicing Pagans or Wiccans, there is something I like about this.
Honestly, who doesn’t want to be crowned as a Goddess? And during the ceremonies, Maidens and Mothers wait on us, bathe our feet and present us with gifts. I don’t know about you, but I am up for that! We are Crone Goddesses! Someone please hand me my headpiece crown of flowers.
Maybe we should also take note of another species. Darcey Steinke who writes a beautifully crafted piece about her own menopause journey discusses the role of post-menopause Killer Whales:
"The post-reproductive females lead their pods. "Elder females," an article in the journal Nature read, "They hold ecological knowledge and all whales, even younger males, prefer to follow the older females."
J2 and the other post-reproductive pod leaders taught me that it’s not menopause itself that is the problem but menopause as it’s experienced under patriarchy.
We are and should be leaders of our community."
5. But, What Can I Do to Make Menopause Great Again?
a) Value More
If we build our self-esteem and worth on how we look and our desirability, then of course menopause and aging are going to be very hard experiences. That is why it is so important for us to think about the other qualities we like about ourselves and nurture them.
Maybe you are: creative, adventurous, giving, cheeky, intelligent, caring, funny – reconnect with yourself and your essence. You’ll be amazed at how your real self-worth and self-esteem bloom.
If you are finding it hard to figure out what your other strengths are ask a friend to help. Also, try new activities to see what brings you joy – as in this state you will naturally be yourself and show your true attributes.
b) Challenge Your Beliefs
Ingrained beliefs are hard to shift but not impossible. The first thing to do is to question them:
- Why do I think aging is bad?
- Am I buying into what the culture has said about aging?
- Could I buck the trend and become even more of an integral part of my community?
- Could I make more friends than ever before?
- Could I join a club or start one?
- Could I set goals for the next 10, 20, 30yrs of my life?
- Could I do something now I never dreamt I could?
- Could I start a business or learn a new skill?
Sometimes to help shift a stubborn belief it is good to look for examples of others bucking the trend. There is nothing more inspiring than to see other Goddesses (I will make this catch on) making the most of their lives through menopause and beyond. Check-out the following courageous and inspirational women:
c) Find Your Inspiration
We mined the website Ageist to find some of the most seriously inspiring women; here are exerts from their Ageist interviews:
Michaela Angela Davis is busy giving the middle finger to the outdated perspective on aging.
“I identify as a grown-ass woman, not an old woman,” says 54-year-old Davis
“I have all this wisdom, all this emotional balance. I’m at my best mentally and emotionally — I feel so much fire,” she says. “And yet I’m being asked to back off, to disappear or to highlight those things that are attached to youth. I’m not having it.”
Davis especially likes the idea of having cross-generational conversations — women in their 60s connecting with women in their 20s. “There’s something very powerful about making things better for the people who come behind us,” she says. “I want to create more platforms where we can share information. I don’t want to be another generation of women who doesn’t talk about it with the next.”
Davis doesn’t want to sugar coat what it means to grow older. “Some of this shit is real,” she says. That shit includes sweating and heart palpitations and some days where you feel like you’re going nuts. “Menopause is real,” she says. “It’s a dynamic time; it’s like being an adolescent in reverse. But the answer is not to not age.”
“You’re not driven by your body or by your children,” Davis says. “If you’re in a relationship, you’re probably mature enough to know what’s bullshit. It’s a freeing place.”
When Sandra Cattaneo Adorno accepted an invitation to attend a five-day photography course with her daughter — a gift for her 60th birthday — she never thought about just how big of a present it would be. Back then, she had barely taken pictures, let alone held a proper camera.
Fast forward five years, and Cattaneo Adorno is working on her second book on street photography after exhibiting her pictures in New York, Miami and Berlin and amassing a hefty 33,000 followers on Instagram.
“I feel like the luckiest person in the world,” she tells me. “[This is] something I never knew was there, and I got it as a gift. I’m just like a child again!”
“I was always focused on administration,” she says. “That’s what I did my whole life. I was never the artsy person in the family…I was always planning a lot, doing a lot of things that now I don’t think I needed to waste so much time on,” she says. “I stopped being so perfectionist in the small things and I looked at the bigger picture.”
Age hasn’t just given Cattaneo Adorno a newfound sense of audacity and impatience. As she sees it, it has also given her a visual maturity and perspicacity that has informed her photography. Starting out at a later age also put things into perspective. Having the stakes lower made what could have been a stressful trajectory very pleasant.
Lori Carter hit her low point 15 years ago. A husband battling addiction left her with six children to raise alone while struggling through a mountain of debt he had accrued without her knowledge.
“When your credit is ruined and you’re left with no money, it’s hard to dig yourself out of a hole,” she says.
But Lori knew two things: the art of the deal, and the value of hard work.
“My best and worst quality is that I don’t give up,” she says.
It was her daughter who turned her on to AirBnB. She was falling behind on her mortgage payments on her cabin near picturesque Lookout Mountain and, with most of the children out of the house, she decided to rent out one of the rooms.
“I thought, ‘Wow, if I can just get five nights a month that’d be great,’” she recalled. “And boom, I started getting guests almost every night.”
“AirBnB made a huge—that’s not even the word. I don’t know if I even have a word to describe the difference it’s made,” she says. “ I was able to start a business without having to spend any money.”
Laura Silverman spent two years working on a project to open a restaurant before she fell out with her partner in 2016.
“I was truly depressed when I walked away from that,” she says. “And I truly felt broken down.”
It was the middle of winter, and money was low. Her husband asked her to write on a piece of paper what she envisioned herself doing. She, grudgingly, obliged.
The first item: Spend as much time out in the woods as possible. A couple of years later, she’s doing exactly that. What happened in those two years is both a testament to how honest she was with herself, and the way in which she’s lived her life.
She expanded in her blog, Glutton for Life, with foraging guides and botanical cocktail recipes. The feedback she got gave her the feeling she was on to something. Then, the restaurant idea collapsed, and the white sheet of paper came out.
The Outside Institute was born.
“Founded in 2017, The Outside Institute offers hikes and workshops on things like crafting botanical cocktails and tincturing. And it is all Silverman. The Institute recently published its first field guide... She’s also put together and hosted a couple of dinner series on foraged food and is currently working on a book on the same subject.
Keep in mind, publishing books, hosting dinner series and creating workshops are all things Silverman has never done before at this level. So how does she do it?
“One fucking foot in front of the other,” she says. “…I literally stepped into this place of discovering my passion when I was in my 50s, and I’m just raring to go.”
“I don’t feel old in any way, or older,” she continued, “If anything I feel younger, I feel I tapped into this source of energy of how much I know there is to learn...”
When I first heard of Kristine, it was about her work in textile innovation and sustainability that caught my attention. But what really got me focused, was her personal story of resilience and drive. She is a two-time stage-four ovarian-cancer survivor. In her early 50s she found herself at absolute zero with no job, marriage broken, life-threatening health issues and living in a foreign country. But what she had not lost was her drive, her curiosity and her sense of capacity. She is an overcomer.
“I’m a two-time stage-4 ovarian cancer survivor. Only 5% of women survive it. I was told that I had 6 months to 2 years to live. It wasn’t a smooth road at all at the beginning when I moved to LA. I came to this country without a working visa. I was allowed to stay here due to my ex-husband’s working visa, but not allowed to work. I left my well-paid job behind and had nothing here.
From the moment I landed in LA, my entire life fell apart. Besides cancer, my marriage fell apart, no work, no money, my mum passed. No perspective at all. And I had to take care of my 9-year-old child. Piece by piece and with the help of amazing people in my community I put the puzzle back together. Today I am a US citizen and well-respected expert in my field, a new field that I created with my survivor skills”
Debra Rapoport is a 74-year-old sustainability-focused artist and fashion icon, an intergenerational role model who puts fearless style into everything she does, including her recent nude NSFW photoshoot. Debra says,
“I give people permission. Getting dressed is an act of play. Just play. You don’t have to look at fashion magazines; you don’t have to go shopping. It is not about trends and it is not about consumption. It’s about finding yourself using whatever is available.”
This newfound later-life exposure has led to all manner of collaborations, including modeling jobs for major global brands such as H+M. She has at 74, opened up whole new creative possibilities for herself. Just before our conversation today, she had finished a 3-hour photo shoot. “As long as it’s fun, I’m willing to do it. If it’s not fun or interesting, I am now at the age when I can say “No thank you.”
But what was it like making the nude photos? Was it scary?... “I mean, what do I care at 74? At 16, I wouldn’t even wear a bathing suit I was so shy. At 74, it’s all about a sense of freedom. It just seemed really natural; it was not the least bit intimidating.”
Debra shares, “It was not about trying to look sexy – it’s just landscape, its texture. What I am curious about is our prudish culture and how people are afraid of skin. We have no problem looking at elephants with all their beautiful textured skin. What does the elephant have that we don’t have?”
How amazing are all these women! Follow these ladies or find your own role models. This will help you to smash old disempowering beliefs and catapult you into this next exciting stage of life! Get out that piece of paper like Laura (The Goddess of Vision above) and start mapping out your vision for the future.
d) Talk About It!
The more we all talk about menopause – the less isolated we all feel. The more younger generations and males will understand o.k this is actually a thing that deserves consideration. Let’s talk about it more with our friends, our spouses, our families, and our doctors. Bring menopause out of the dark closet and into the light of the kitchen or living room. If you’re finding it hard to start the conversation check out our communication blog and download the handy printable communication sheets.
The “Menopause – The Musical” could be a fun way to open up the topic with girlfriends. As they highlight on their website – this is a show by women for women:
Suggest a night out – saying I’ve entered menopause and this looks like some good light relief. I have yet to see the Broadway show but I am making it a point to buy tickets the next time it rolls through my city! I intend to take my Goddess friends with me!
e) Demand Better Treatment
Luckily advances happening in the medical, technical and psychological spaces are leading to more individualized treatment options for women on their menopause journeys. Health professionals are now realizing treatment for moderate-severe symptoms of menopause is the opposite of a one size fits all and that a woman’s treatment plan needs to be carefully assessed and personalized to her specifically.
NAMS has brought out an app called MenoPro for doctors and patients alike. It helps assess each women’s unique risk with regards to HT and therefore their relief options - obviously like any tool this will have its limitations but it is a good starting point. Then MySysters has created an app that allows women to gather data on their symptoms and create a report to hand over to their doctors. This helps a doctor to see the severity of symptoms and prioritize treatment.
f) And Finally, Celebrate It!!
The more we start to take steps to fulfill the actions listed above the more we will naturally want to celebrate this beautifully freeing stage of our lives. We hope reading this blog has given you feelings of empowerment and inspiration.
After all, we have conquered puberty, periods, thongs and childbirth. We’ve survived marriages, break-ups and treated deadly cases of the man flu. We have the combined knowledge of those maidens, mothers and then some. And we are fierce, determined, maybe a little sweaty and grumpy, some days, but we are Goddesses and we are here to…Make Menopause Great Again!