GloForward Feature: Menopause Shame
Owning Our Beauty at Midlife
by Lisa J. Gotto
July 31, 2020
Welcome to our series on Menopause Shame. Our goal is to not only define the concept but to identify the ways it seeps into our collective consciousness and, in so doing, creates a narrative that is no longer useful in the lives of contemporary women. In this series we will explore society’s fear-based perspectives on menopause in order to shift to more productive ones.
We’ll also delve into our evolving roles at work and in our relationships, and address themes related to our enduring sexuality and inner beauty. Finally, we’ll find productive ways to defuse the role that menopausal shame plays in our culture. Through this series we hope to create and include you in this important discussion — one that is long overdue.
If you’re not familiar with this concept perhaps the best way to begin is to provide an example of menopause shame in action. Recently, during a streaming drought, I caught up with some popular reality TV shows that focus on groups of women and their everyday lives at work, at home and in a social context.
In one particular scene the group of women is dining at one of the woman’s homes. Most of the guests in this group are aged 50 and older. As these shows tend to amp up the drama with alcohol, the women are participating in a non-productive, somewhat combative conversation in the scene which leads to one of the women shouting louder than the rest to say, “I’m the only one here who still has her period!” in a gleeful, vindictive tone. Her intent most likely was to point out that she was in some way better than them because she is not menopausal. Really?
At this point I changed the channel.
Clearly, this is not supportive dialogue and feeds into the already existing shame-based narratives that our society imposes around women at midlife. Case in point, how many times have we heard other women speak negatively about themselves when referring to midlife issues.
“My life’s over. This is the beginning of the end of being young, attractive and sexy.”
Indeed, this discussion is not intended to gloss over the reality of an essential life passage. It is however, a call to consciousness of how the stigma of menopause affects women equating, at times, to feelings of shame about making the passage.
An academic think tank published the work of a research fellow from the University of Bristol (UK) that defined an all too well-established perspective on menopause:
“The stigma of menopause, with its associations of hysteria and incompetence, the shame of ageing, and the taboo about revealing menopausal symptoms, compounds the distress and struggle. Stigma can become internalised so that beliefs about other people’s reactions to menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes can be unduly negative.”
All “The Struggle is Real” memes aside, it is clear that the aspect of shame poses genuine and palpable anxiety about midlife’s transition for women. It need not define the process for us, however, as we can choose to see this as an empowering experience.
Our Western culture only need look to other global examples for context. In a cross-cultural study published by the National Institutes of Health, (NIH) menopausal symptoms and attitudes about the process varies depending on the culture. For example, Japanese women reported experiencing more episodes of chilliness, during menopause, not hot flashes. The study also concluded that women who reported negative attitudes toward menopause also reported more symptoms associated with the process.
As with so much in life, attitude and outlook plays a vital role in the menopausal experience. Not all discussion around menopause has a negative spin, fortunately. Some Western women do see it as a truly enriching time of transition, an empowering time that enables them to create a narrative of their choosing, not one that society attaches to them. With women living longer and with a better quality of life in their later years, it makes sense that we re-evaluate the status quo and further examine who we wish to be and how we wish to feel as menopausal women.
Perhaps, it is time for all of us to change the channel, too?
In our next series feature, we’ll address the concept of self-acceptance and the role it plays in our view of menopause.