Why do we pause when speaking about menopause?
In a world of euphemisms for menstruation and menopause alike, it’s refreshing to know that some of us aren’t afraid of the M words
From menstruation through to menopause: why is there so much embarrassment, awkwardness, and shame surround two natural bodily functions experienced by half the population at some point in their lives?
There's a long history of menstrual taboos across nearly all cultures. There's also the impact of religious views and teachings. Many of the world's major religions — such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism — refer to menstruating woman as unclean and suggest they be segregated during their period. Even today, in some communities, women are banished to separate dwellings during their period because of so-called 'impurity' during menstruation, despite the ancient practice being outlawed.
Given that menstruation is still overwhelming considered secret women's business, young girls are taught from a young age they have to manage it privately and discreetly. From ‘Mother Nature’s Gift’ to ‘Surfing the Crimson Waves’, you’ve probably heard tonnes of alternative identities to periods. In fact, according to a recent study, there are more than 5,000 ways to say period without making people feel uncomfortable.
Perhaps that wishful thinking is why the menopause is known as “the change”, a wishy-washy word that holds none of the distress and despair of endless hot flushes, depression, brain fog and eradication of libido.
Just like our periods years earlier, we’re forced to feel secretive and embarrassed of this part of our life. We know there's nothing shameful about the menopause, so that fact that it has such a stigma attached to it, can feel confusing and frustrating.
But in recent years, we have gradually seen more and more people speak up about menopause and how it has affected them. There’s a long way to go, but we’re certainly getting there.
Here are 8 famous women who spoke out about the menopause and what it was like for them:
1) Jane Fonda
Back in 2010, Hollywood actress Jane Fonda revealed that she quit acting for more than a decade when she started her menopause.
The movie icon admitted that she couldn't act feeling as low as she did, so she decided to step out of the spotlight for 15 years.
In a candid TV chat with pal and media tycoon, Oprah Winfrey, Fonda explained, "I felt so awful as a woman and I can't be creative if I feel bad, so I just said, 'I'm gonna leave Hollywood and be an environmental activist full time.’”
She continued: “It's a really, really hard time; you have the hormonal shifts and you're not quite sure who you are anymore or what you're supposed to become and I basically was having a nervous breakdown.
"I couldn't speak above a whisper, I couldn't eat, I had to walk very slowly, I had to listen to very soft, soothing music... I was very very vulnerable."
2) Angelina Jolie
"I am now in menopause," wrote Angelina Jolie in an open letter to the New York Times, in which the star announced she had undergone an operation to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes in an attempt to reduce the chance of her getting cancer, a procedure which puts a woman into forced menopause.
"I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes. But I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. It is nothing to be feared."
3) Kim Cattrall
"Literally one moment you’re fine, and then another, you feel like you’re in a vat of boiling water, and you feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath you — especially the first experience," said actress Kim Cattrall, who also went through the menopause as her Sex and the City alter ego Samantha Jones.
"What I would say, which I’ve said to myself and to girlfriends who’ve also experienced hot flashes, in particular, is that change is part of being human. We evolve and should not fear that change. You're not alone. I feel that part of living this long is experiencing this, so I’m trying to turn it into a very positive thing for myself, which it has been, in the sense of acceptance and tolerance and education about this time of life."
4) Whoopie Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg has been very candid about her experience with menopause and how it has affected her life. “My sex drive has totally changed. One minute I'm like, 'Yeah! I can't wait for it.' The next I'm saying, 'Oh God, go away.'” She also developed the ability to not care what people thought. She removed people from her life who she felt were negative.
"It's wonderful and liberating. All of a sudden I don't mind saying to people, 'You know what? Get out of my life. You're not right for me.’”
"The menopause can be hard to deal with because it really is a shock when it hits you. There's no countdown. It's just boom. All those years b****ing about my period and when it stopped, I was stunned to realise how much my womanhood was tied into it. It hits you hard."
5) Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin spoke about her experience of the menopause in 2012. "People don't talk about it, but the menopause, for me, makes you feel slightly dead, so you have to start using the other things – using your mind more, reading more, you have to be more enlightened, you have to take on new things, think of new ideas, discover new things, start looking at the stars, understand astronomy… just wake yourself up, otherwise it's a gentle decline. For women, it is the beginning of dying. It is a sign. I've got to start using my brain more – I've got to be more ethereal and more enlightened."
6) Jane Seymour
Actress Jane Seymour, who was voted one of the world’s sexiest women in her 50s by entertainment news outlet Zimbio, found a formidable foe in menopause. The yoga-practicing, disciplined dieter, familiar with grueling hours on set, decided she needed “a back-up plan.” For the Wedding Crashers star, that was the controversial hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which is associated with increased risk of breast cancer, stroke, and blood clots. “I concluded that because I was not at high risk of any of the diseases associated with HRT, I decided to take it—but on my terms,” she explained.
7) Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton's menopause experience almost killed her as she said at one point it made her feel suicidal. She experienced severe depression which she blamed on the fact that she had no children and felt it was now too late to do so. She got through it however through sheer will. “Then one day, I said to myself, 'Right, get off your fat butt.”
8) Linda Barker
“The menopause hit me like a freight train,” said the celebrity interior designer. “Brain fog descended as I became forgetful and emotional – at the age of 48 I just wasn’t feeling in control of my life, which wasn’t like me at all.
“I would wake up in a sweat during the night and have to go for a walk around the house to cool down, which would make me tired the next day.
“My periods became so heavy that I was tested for anaemia, then they stopped altogether. But the worst thing was the anxiety. The trigger was always a hot flush – several times a day, I would feel it building from deep within until I’d have to remove layers of clothing as the sweat ran down my back. I came to expect the sense of panic that would then overtake me for absolutely no reason, worrying about Jess or work. Small problems took on monumental proportions.”
- Live Better With Menopause Team