So, I could talk about menopause all day! In fact, as a woman in peri-menopause myself, I’d argue it is my duty to. As one of the last taboos surround the female body, the conversation isn’t had openly enough. And the stories we hear are far too narrow.
Unlike our periods, unlike pregnancy, we are not taught about menopause at school. Doctors feel ill equipped to spot the signs and diagnose it. Only 20% of gynaecological post-grad courses cover it. In fact, the medical community is still unsure of ‘why’ the female human goes through menopause. Yet, 51% of the population will experience it. It is something that unites us as women. And it can have a big impact on our bodies and our minds.
As is often the case when taboos are busted, the narratives we do hear are the most extreme of menopause journeys. I’m sure this is why 75% of women are nervous about entering this entirely natural life-stage. For some, menopause is associated with loss; of fertility, of value, of purpose. If you haven’t been able to have a child, it marks the closing of opportunity. And, if you have chosen not to have a child, it marks the end of that choice. In a culture obsessed with youth, with a beauty industry obsessed by stopping ageing, the menopause is the point you become ‘old’.
Google the word ‘menopause’ and you’re presented with a host of images of women leaning into fans, backing into fridges - or sitting on lilac sofas, head in their hands. But research last year by the advertising industry revealed that 74% of women going through the menopause believe the life-stage is poorly represented. And, by ‘poorly’, read ‘inaccurately’. The accepted cultural narrative is at odds with the way we see ourselves and, critically, the hopes we have for the future.
Because, this generation of women entering midlife is different. Firstly, we are the first generation who could potentially live 40-50% of our lives post-menopausal. Our media feed has JLo pole-dancing at fifty, not frail ladies in comfy shoes and cardigans (not that I don’t LOVE both those things). 80% of us will be working when our menopause journey begins. Plus, we live in a more equal world than our mothers - there are just 95 years until we reach pay parity accordingly the latest records - whoop! More of us are in senior positions where our voices can influence corporate structure, policy and business focus. This is no longer a ‘winding down’ stage; it is often a time of stepping up.
We expect more too. We are using our voices, and our collective impact to make change happen. Last year, grassroots campaigning led to legislative change; menopause will, from September 2020, be taught in secondary school biology lessons in the UK. The next goal is to make menopause a mandatory part of all doctors’ training and to secure proper support for menopause in the workplace. The menopause ‘space’ is being enriched with new platforms and new technologies, specialists who can support body and mind - and products that offer greater choice.
But, perhaps most critically of all, irrefutable data is emerging to force a fundamental reevaluation of what midlife and beyond means.
The Chinese have a great phase for the menopause. They call it the ‘second spring’.
From all the research I’ve read, from the thousands of women I’ve spoken to in our community, this is a much better reflection of what really happens.
Did you know, for example, the entrepreneurs over the age of 45 are more likely to succeed in their business venture than the stereotype of the young kid in flip flops, working from a garage in San Fran? That how you view ageing determines how you age to such an extent that it can decrease your risk of developing dementia? That having a sense of humour can add 8 years to life? That women emerge from menopause happier, more comfortable in their own skin and more comfortable of their own views?
I believe it is our responsibility to reframe menopause - for our own health, and for those that follow. With the right support, this is a time of liberation - of new possibilities. Look to the cultures that recognise the value of wisdom and experience - and what increased empathy can bring to the world. Find the inspirational women doing phenomenal things in midlife - and make it your goal to follow. Make the next 50% of your life about identifying your purpose. Reconcile the discomfort you may feel around ‘self-care’, as an earned necessity to support you in supporting those around you. Push yourself up that internal priority list, you’ve earned it. And most importantly of all, arm yourself with knowledge rather than myths - and share what you learn. Women, everywhere, will thank you for it.
Rebekah Brown is founder and chief guinea pig of MPowder, a product range and community focused on co-creating plant based, nutrient-rich products to nourish you through the menopause, naturally.
Written by Rebekah Brown.