Don’t say the M word
It’s time for us all to help change negative attitudes towards the menopause
Medically speaking, there's no such thing as the ‘male menopause’. The lucky devils!
It happens to every single woman on the planet, whether supermodel or supermarket worker. But no-one wants to discuss it.
For most women, the word itself is enough to bring on a hot flush of shame.
Night sweats, stray chin hairs, vaginal dryness… Is it any wonder the menopause isn’t a favourite topic?
But before you know it, you’re the woman in the office reaching for the desk fan, and there’s nowhere left to hide.
So why do women feel so ashamed of something that’s entirely natural and, let’s face it, unavoidable?
Diane Danzebrink, a psychotherapist who specialises in supporting women through the menopause, told
Pick Me Up!, ‘Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, women were put in asylums because of menopause symptoms.
‘So historically, it has been something that women have dealt with behind closed doors. Even now, it’s still seen as something we don’t talk about in polite society.’
Diane, who runs The Menopause
Network group on Facebook, says women even find it difficult to discuss the menopause with their friends. ‘No-one wants to be the first to talk,’ she says. When discussing their fears around menopause, Diane’s clients often come back to the same themes.
‘There’s a fear of being judged, not wanting to feel old, and feeling a loss of femininity,’ explains Diane. A major part of the problem is that a woman’s fertility has long been seen to be symbolic of her youth and her sexual attractiveness.
As the menopause signals the end of a woman’s reproductive years, the implicit message therefore, is that a woman’s youth and her attractiveness are also over.
Combine this with the pressure of living in a society obsessed with youth and beauty, it’s perhaps inevitable that the menopause brings with it stigma, shame and a crisis of confidence.
And that has real-life implications.
A 2016 survey by the British Menopause Society found 50 per cent of women avoid talking to their GP about it, because of the stigma surrounding it.
And 42 per cent of women admitted that their symptoms were worse or much worse than they’d expected.
As a result, many women are suffering in silence, without receiving any treatment at all.
And while symptoms such as hot flushes and weight gain are relatively well known, less recognised are memory problems and ‘ brain fog’, sleep disturbance and fatigue, as well as depression and mood swings.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are around 35 different recognised symptoms of the menopause. In the workplace, this can have serious ramifications.
A 2017 study by ITV’S Tonight programme found that one in four menopausal women consider quitting their jobs due to lack of support and understanding at work. Equally, a report by the Government’s Equalities Office in 2017 found that some workers were so afraid of facing ridicule and ageism due to embarrassing symptoms, such as bladder weakness and hot flushes, that they’d rather phone in sick than go to work. The average age of the menopause in the UK is 51, but figures show one in 100 women experience it before the age of 40 and, in some rare cases, women in their teens and 20s can go through premature menopause. With symptoms that last an average of eight years, that’s a very long time for women to be feeling ashamed, unhappy and unsupported. But it’s not all gloom. A 2018 survey of 2,000
You are officially in the menopause when you have gone 12 months without having a period.
women for health supplement Menopace found women were gradually finding it easier to discuss the menopause openly, with 81 per cent saying they felt attitudes were changing.
And 31 per cent felt that celebrities such as Zoe Ball, 48, and Davina Mccall, 51, discussing it was helping to remove the stigma and make them feel more comfortable talking about it, too.
It’s not just home-grown stars who’ve spoken out, either – Hollywood A-list celebrities are adding their voices, as well.
Actress and campaigner Angelina Jolie, 46, recently said, ‘I actually love being in menopause’, after surgery to remove her ovaries, due to carrying the defective gene linked to cancer.
So the message is changing. Now, instead of horror stories, we’re hearing that even the most glamorous of women go through the change and, while no-one’s pretending it’s always a bed of roses, the message that you can still be confident, happy and sexy is starting to shine through.
Hollywood actress and health guru Gwyneth Paltrow recently made headlines, when she spoke of having menopausal symptoms at the age of 46. ‘I think menopause gets a really bad rap and needs a bit of a rebranding,’ she was reported as saying. ‘I don’t think that we have in our society a great example of an aspirational, menopausal woman.’ Britpop icon, movie costume designer, and now interior designer Meg Matthews is certainly one such woman. Formerly married to Oasis singer Noel Gallagher, she noticed the first symptoms of the menopause at 50 and was shocked by the lack of support and understanding shown about the subject.
As a result of this, Meg was determined to do something to break the stigma surrounding the menopause and launched her website – megsmenopause. com – as a source for advice and empowerment.
But, while having strong, glamorous celebs speak openly about the issue is a great start, real change must begin with us.
If we can talk openly and honestly to our friends, lovers, colleagues and children about the menopause, then hopefully, when our daughters are facing their change of life, they will be able to do so with confidence and pride, not shame.
Inspirational: Meg Matthews