If there is one thing that we all have in common, it’s that we are all aging. For women, aging may be accompanied by grief or a loss of identity because women’s value in our culture has for too long been tied to youth and fertility. Other natural life phases that may coincide with aging for women (but not always) is the still taboo topic of menopause, whose symptoms may be either ignored or doubted, contributing to shame and stigma. (Menopause can also be triggered by a variety of other factors separate from age, from chemotherapy to gender transitions). Additionally, communities of color are not only faced with a racial disparity in access to health coverage and health outcomes, but may also reach menopause earlier and may experience more intense symptoms compared to white women.
So how can we address the societal systemic issues concerning aging and menopause for all women, not just white women?
In this episode of Breaking the Bias, Kiran Rai, co-founder and creative director for Consciously Unbiased, (virtually) sits down with Stacy London, the former TV co-host of “What Not To Wear” and now the CEO of State of Menopause, for an unplugged conversation about why we, as a society, need to change the narrative around placing so much of women’s value on youth and fertility. Stacy also offers insights about how women in middle age and beyond can step into their wisdom and power, and reframe this life stage as an opportunity for a rebirth.
Read below for some key takeaways.
KIRAN: Your career has spanned being a magazine editor, stylist, TV co-host of “What Not To Wear,” and a celebrity spokesperson for brands such as Pantene, Woolite, and Dr. Scholl’s. What made you decide to take on the role of CEO of State of Menopause?
STACY: “In 2018 I went out to LA to pitch a different transformation show. I was dovetailing with an existential crisis about being middle aged and wanted to find a way to turn that crisis into a Renaissance. Throughout my entire career, I’ve always been concerned with self-acceptance, self-awareness, and self- esteem. I knew that I wanted to help other people while also finding my own path and sense of peace around aging and going through menopause. But, I also wanted to focus on what it means to look at a lifespan into eternity. I recognized that it is now much longer than it used to be and that we are going to be old much longer than we are going to be young. We not only deal with the personal crisis of change—physical, mental, and psychological—but we value the price of youth so much and we devalue the price of wisdom. So, I knew that I wanted to be the symbol. I want to be the embodiment of a woman who is middle-aged, who takes control, and who changes that narrative into something that can be an example for other people to look at.”
KIRAN: What do you think are some of the biggest myths or most misunderstood aspects about menopause, such as menopause not always coinciding with “being a certain age?”
STACY: “We have to talk about the difference between menopause and aging. It’s not just our job to reach out to people who are experiencing menopausal symptoms because of chronological age. We need to be talking to younger people who may come to menopause for all sorts of different reasons, and they should not feel excluded from this conversation. I realized that it’s not just 40 to 60 year olds who should be in this conversation. We need to include the 28 year old who has radical hysterectomy or breast cancer or endometriosis or premature ovarian failure, or it could be an issue of gender while you’re transitioning for a trans woman. These things are not being talked about enough and the language is not inclusive.”
KIRAN: How can we, as a society, learn to better recognize and value women for all that we are?
STACY: “Our society puts a value on youth, wealth, and thinness. These are things that make us, at this age (45-59), feel culturally irrelevant. People should not be reduced to their reproductive health. It is quite patriarchal in the way that we look at women’s health. We as women and as people don’t know enough about it, because we have been relegated to thinking about the male gendered view of what our health looks like. In the healthcare system, it’s not just women’s health that is overlooked, but trans health is also overlooked. It is the idea that people of color are completely eradicated from the health lens. It is so unjust. We are finally starting to at least have that conversation out in the open and talk about inequity, not just in a way that benefits white women, but benefits people of all colors and all genders.”
KIRAN: Why do you think menopause is still a taboo topic tied to shame for many?
STACY: “The idea of a man having a midlife crisis is getting a Porsche and a younger girlfriend. The idea of a woman getting older is she is an old hag and a crone. Nobody wants to deal with her. But, if you think of matrilineal societies or anywhere where women, and those who are gender nonbinary; are revered for who they are as they age. We have to take back what that lens is going to be, we have to redefine that narrative. A patriarchal society is never going to want us to do that ourselves. It’s part of where we’re headed and it’s part of our sociobiological evolution. This is the final frontier in the arc of women’s identified health. Being able to talk about menopause and aging more frankly will help to take the shame and the stigma out of it. Anything you shine a light on is going to help to not only normalize the experience, but also optimize the conversation.”
KIRAN: Do you think that a woman’s value is still largely tied to fertility and youth?
STACY: “Part of the reason we are so attracted to youth is because it is a symbol of fertility, it is sociobiology. I think societally, we have outgrown our biology and it’s going to take a second for us to catch up. The more we are able to understand that women will be able to have children longer and that trans women will eventually be able to have children, it is going to change the way we view menopause. I have a friend who had a baby at 50. There are going to be people who have children and are up against menopause at the same time. We are going to have to look at this stage of hormonal health very differently the longer our fertility spans last.
KIRAN: You’ve said that menopause is physical, but also psychological, a grieving process as you’re letting go of your former self. Can you expand on this? What was the process like for you?
STACY: “If you think of menopause chronologically, people in their forties, fifties, and sixties, talk about being part of the sandwich generation. Not only are we possibly dealing with empty nest syndrome, but we are also dealing with eldercare or the loss of a parent, and experiencing this physiological change that makes us feel crazy. I found it very hard to separate grief from the physicality of it. I didn’t realize there was a physicality degree aside from perimenopause. I didn’t recognize how my relationships would change, how little I was willing to put up with, or how many friends I lost after my dad passed away; because I just thought, there’s not enough time for this and I don’t want to waste my time with this. The secondary grief for me was looking in the mirror and not recognizing myself anymore, and both seeing and feeling the changes in my face and body.
I think in middle age and the common age of menopause, there is a lot of saying goodbye. But, for people at this stage of life, we don’t tell them what the alternative is to dwelling in goodbye. We don’t give them the option of positive messaging around what their future can look like at this stage. It is something that I’m also trying to change. A certain aspect of our lives might be done or a certain aspect of our bodies’ functionality may be done; but until you’re in the ground, every day is a new one that you can do something. I think this idea is really what we have lost culturally.”
InStyle: The New Old Stacy London
Everyday Health: “What Experts Want BIPOC Women to Know About Menopause”
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