Suddenly, everyone’s talking about menopause. In the space of a few weeks, we’ve had Davina McCall’s Sex, Myths and the Menopause documentary on TV, Dr Louise Newson launching The Menopause Charity and the Countess of Wessex coming out about her symptoms on a Zoom with Wellbeing of Women’s Professor Dame Lesley Regan. Well done, all of you – but frankly, what took you so long?
We know menopause isn’t the sexiest of subjects, but here at Studio10 it’s right up there on our list of talking points, and we’re delighted that others are finally joining the conversation.
McCall has long been a champion of the unsayable – Davina, we salute you – and in Sex, Myths and the Menopause on Channel 4 she discusses her battle with symptoms of perimenopause, the long road to diagnosis and the frankly sexist attitudes that underlie many women’s experiences with the medical profession around this time in our life.
Last year, she spoke on ITV’s Loose Women about going into perimenopause at 44. “It was the thing nobody talked about,” she said. “There was so much shame about it. It was a sign you’d dried up, you were past your sell-by date.”
A reformed addict, McCall added: “It really reminded me of when I was using – mood swings, shouting at the kids. I’m not a shouty mother at all and then I’d end up crying in the car, apologising to the children. My keys were in the fridge, my phone was in the bin, my libido was through the floor.”
McCall is all about smashing taboos – and she’s joined in this by Dr Louise Newson, a leader in her field who has just launched The Menopause Charity, an organisation that aims to bust myths, overcome ignorance and make menopause symptoms history. This is an endeavour that deserves all our support – after all, most of us are going to need menopause advice at some point.
When you see the charity’s goals set down in black and white – to support women with fact-based menopause research and ensure access to the safest hormone replacement therapy; to educate healthcare professionals and employers; and to campaign for inclusive menopause care worldwide – it’s shocking to realise how far we still have to go. Most GPs, for example, receive no specific training on menopause – a life stage that half their patients will go through. How can that still be the case in 2021?
Perhaps the most surprising entrant of all into the field, though, is Sophie, Countess of Wessex, the first royal publicly to discuss her experience of menopause. She began her patronage of the Wellbeing of Women charity with a Zoom conversation with its chairwoman, Professor Dame Lesley Regan.
Sophie talked about experiencing brain fog during official engagements and called for frank conversations about menopause and the constant pressure on women to “look 25 years old”.
“You know in the middle of a presentation when you suddenly can’t remember what you were talking about? Try being on an engagement when that happens – your words just go,” she said.
“And you’re standing there and going, ‘Hang on, I thought I was a reasonably intelligent person, what has just happened to me?’ It’s like somebody’s just gone and taken your brain.”
But what chimed the loudest with us here at Studio10 was her discussion of the “superficial” pressures women face to appear youthful as they enter midlife.
“We’ve got to be fit, we’ve got to be clever, we’ve got to be looking skinny, we’ve got to be looking beautiful, we’ve got to look 25 years old for the rest of our lives,” she said.
Finally, a member of the establishment who’s not prepared to just put up and shut up, and who sees the value of turning up the volume – not just in the conversation with other women, but with the whole of society.
“It’s not only about dialogue with women and young girls, it’s men as well,” Sophie said. “This is a conversation that has to be opened up to everybody. Even if they don’t want to listen – we just have to get louder.”
It’s great that everyone’s finally talking about menopause. We urge you to join in the discussion and to keep talking – because this mustn’t just be a zeitgeist moment. The issues around menopause aren’t going away. If we can bust the taboos around what we once coyly referred to as “the change”, we can open up so many other conversations around ageing, too.
#OwnYourMenopause – and be the change you want to see in the world.