Gwyneth Paltrow is right: We need a menopause role model

Recently I found myself in a very strange situation – I agreed with Gwyneth Paltrow.

Sort of.

In her Goop website, Gwyneth opened up about being peri-menopausal and how it made her feel.

“I can feel the hormonal shifts happening – the sweating, the moods,” she said in a video. “You’re just like all of a sudden furious for no reason.”

Oh God, yes. I hear ya.

But it was what she said next that really hit home: “I think menopause gets a really bad rap and needs a bit of a rebranding. I don’t think we have in our society a great example of an aspirational menopausal woman.”

Now, I think we can guess who Gwyneth thinks should be our “aspirational menopausal women”, but she is right.

Kinda.

I spoke to Huffington Post about this and said: “We need to get a role model out there, but not so much the ‘aspirational’.

“I don’t want a role model who’s gonna be like the sanitary towels skydiving ads. Just someone who says: ‘This is how it is, it happens, and it’s perfectly natural.’”

And I’ve been thinking about this ever since. What do women in the menopause – and peri-menopause – need?

The menopause can hit people in different ways. Bar a few hot flushes, my mam sailed through it. Others, and I am among them, have a tough time, as I said in this post about choosing to go on HRT. But I have no idea how tough – or even if what I feel is normal or not – because no one talks about it.

In a discussion on Facebook, a friend said she didn’t want to know about the menopause because it was frightening. She only heard bad things and people moaning and it made her scared so she’d rather not know about it.

I can understand. I remember the horror tales at junior school, being asked what I would do when torrents of blood were running down my legs because my first period had started.

But it was being sat down and told properly what was happening to me that took away the fear. 

It’s also very similar to the old attitudes towards breast cancer. Yet look at what’s happened since we started talking. According to Cancer Research, mortality rates are expected to fall 26% by 2035 because women are more aware of what to look for and can get treatment quicker. That’s what breaking through the fear did.

Of course, we can’t cut menopause numbers in this way, it’s something every woman will go through, but we can cut through the fear and make sure future generations know what is happening to them and how to deal with it.

Nor is it just talking about the symptoms. It’s getting away from the stigma of women growing old (I love that if I type that too quickly, it comes out as “growin gold”. There is so much in that…)

A few years ago, I was in a writers’ forum when there was one of those almighty tiffs that only occur between strangers on social media. Totally typewriters out the pram time.

How and why it began I can’t remember. What I do remember, though, was the man at the centre of it attacking the woman he disliked as a “menopausal dried-out old hag”.

Sadly, I think that’s still an insult that would be hurled at women today. That women ARE their bodies and because they’re no longer fertile, they’re dried-up, past it.

It’s like that optical illusion: are you the young beauty or the old witch? (I’ve just discovered the correct title for this: My Wife and my Mother-in-Law. Nice, eh?) Women are either young and beautiful or “dried-out hags”.

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My answer to that? Dame Judi Dench, Dame Helen Mirren, Catherine Deneuve, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie… Shall I go on?

I told HuffPo we needed an Elizabeth Hurley for the menopause. Someone who speaks honestly and openly about what is happening in the way she talks about breast cancer.

And it’s not just women who need to talk – men need to know what is happening to their mums, or their wives, sisters, friends or the woman in the shop who has jumped into the freezer because she’s having a hot flush.

In the meantime, since speaking to HuffPo I’ve realised I have my menopausal role models. All the women my age or above that I meet every day.

Every woman who has gone through this and got through the other side.

Because when I look at them – the women I know in their late 50s, 60s and even in their 90s who are getting on and enjoying life – they are amazing.

And it makes me know that I can get through this. 

If you’re worried about the menopause or want more information, check out Menopause Matters – and get talking on the forum.


Main photo: Andrea Raffin, CC BY-SA 3.0. Link here