By Sally Mueller & Michelle Jacobs
We have fruitful careers as entrepreneurs, educators, artists, and vice-presidents; we create loving relationships; we build families and homes, whether partnered, married, single, living with someone—however we choose, in fact. We take our communities and friendships seriously. We travel to the places that make us happy. We give back. We really have come a long way, considering women legally needed a “daddy” or “husband” to co-sign our mortgage or credit card until—wait for it—1974 and our business loans until 1988. We know and do a lot, often on our own. So why is it that we know so little about our bodies when it comes to menopause?
The cultural stigma around this strange word (based on the Greek “men” meaning month and “pauses,” meaning stop) includes shame, mystery, and the supposed vast void of the rest of our lives. In a Harvard Business Review article, UMass associate professor of gender studies Chris Bobel said that our culture finds aging women, “kind of disposable or marginal.” The stigma really is just another acknowledgment that women were valued for, and defined by, fertility.
Well, that’s over.
If you’re reading this, you already know how productive women in our society, homes, workplace, and world really are before and after age 50.
The Brand “Menopause”
First of all, we’d like to have a few words with the original branders of the language around menopause. Terms like midlife, “the change,” anti-aging, mature skin, and hormonal moods need to go.
We need to bring menopause into today’s conversation, in today’s language. Currently, we barely mention symptoms to our mothers, girlfriends or, heaven forbid, colleagues (a hot flash in the middle of a meeting is a strange liability that goes hand-in-hand with gender ageism). Whether you are going through this phase of life around age 50, or had your ovaries removed at 20, or went through it naturally at 40, menopause happens to all women at some point. Yet a 2021 nationwide survey Womaness commissioned for World Menopause Day revealed that woman are unfortunately lacking in their overall knowledge of menopause. Our study found that women’s understanding of symptoms, decision-making ability (knowing who to ask and what to ask), and belief that they will be successful if they take action was low: a 65 average score out of 100. Even worse, only 30% of women knew about the more serious symptoms associated with menopause such as heart disease, dental changes, and vision changes. So, bring it up. Talk about it. Ask questions.
"A 2021 nationwide survey Womaness commissioned for World Menopause Day revealed that woman are unfortunately lacking in their overall knowledge of menopause."
You might think we would go to our health-care professionals for information. The truth is, many of us no longer rely on our doctors to know everything about our bodies. Whether it’s because of our complicated health-care system or health insurance industrial complex, women are proactively taking their health into their own hands. In addition to the cultural stigma, there are emotional and sexual components to menopause, so we often don’t seek guidance from, say, our gynecologists. Forty-two percent of women say they’ve never discussed menopause with a health provider. Gynecology is mostly focused on young women’s health. Other women only see their OB-GYN for giving birth. And, many doctors don’t even know how to treat us for menopause. According to one survey, only 20 percent of OB-GYN residency programs provide any kind of menopause training. Menopause is an optional class in medical school. Health-care providers often don’t have the answers we’re looking for, or any answers at all (and it’s the reasoning behind why we pledged $25K to Mayo Clinic to empower doctor education—and you—which you can read more about here).
So, for starters, we need to demand more of our medical professionals. We need to ask informed questions and bring the topic into their awareness, just like we did with infertility, miscarriage, and even mental health. We are just now at the beginning of this evolution. Like Womaness, women-led companies are some of the first to realize this—and are offering products and information to help others out there.
The Many (Many!) Symptoms of Menopause
The physical, sexual, and emotional effects of menopause are real. You may have experienced some, a few, or none of these symptoms. There could be pain with sex caused by vaginal atrophy and dryness, urinary tract infections, hot flashes, memory issues, mood swings, brain fog, low energy and low libido, anxiety, depression, anger, sleep issues, headaches, dull, dry, crepe-y skin all over the body, and breast tenderness, to name a few. These all relate to low estrogen since our ovaries stop producing estrogen after menopause. Low estrogen can also increase our risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and obesity. Estrogen is also associated with serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for that very-hard-to-come-by-but-very-coveted overall good mood. There are estrogen receptors pretty much on every organ in the body. Estrogen affects our reproductive tract, the urinary tract, the heart and blood vessels, bones, breasts, skin, hair, mucous membranes, pelvic muscles, and the brain. It helps with a healthier look for your skin and hair. (You get the picture; it’s kind of needed everywhere.)
There are some ways to raise your estrogen level, like ingesting phytoestrogens found in foods like sesame seeds (bring on the tahini sauce!), flax seeds, and soy products. Making sure your vitamin D level is OK should be high on your list. Opting for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) also gives many women amazing results; yet, everyone is different, and the way estrogen or estrogen-progesterone will work or not work on you is highly individualized. And we are not giving medical advice here, just saying try to find someone who will talk to you about this, and who does know a thing or two about taking hormone replacement therapy. We support your finding your own personalized HRT solution, and really anything that makes you feel better. This is your choice. Do your own research, talk to friends, your mom, your friends’ moms, your mom’s friends, women who are on HRT and those who aren’t, because there are pros and cons, information and misinformation, and you need to know the difference. Then make your own decision.
Taking Away the Taboo
Let’s agree to remove the weird stigma around menopause. And along with that, posting creepy “funny” sayings with pencil drawings of Victorian ladies. Or reducing women in midlife to the punchline of a hot flash joke. Our entire brand of Womaness is about rebranding menopause (and giving you great skin and a good vibes vibrator). We’re here to change the way the world thinks about “the change.” We want to take the pause out of menopause and, actually, we don’t believe in pausing at all. We (that includes you) are proof that any abyss where our sexuality, femininity, productivity, creativity, intuition, strength, attractiveness, and talent evaporate is a myth and a misconception. This is a normal phase of life, nothing to be embarrassed about, and there are a lot of very real symptoms you can manage. We’ve got this. And so do you.
"Let’s agree to remove the weird stigma around menopause. And along with that, posting creepy 'funny' sayings with pencil drawings of Victorian ladies."
The “Why” Behind Womaness
We started this brand from the most authentic place possible—our personal experiences. We’ve been friends for over 20 years. We met when Sally was at Target and Michelle was at Time Inc. working for Real Simple, and then collaborated on projects while at Giggle and HSN working with Joy Mangano (yes, of the Joy movie). Sally brought in over 75 different designers for Target and helped brands launch from the ground up. Eventually her travel schedule took a toll on her body, including body aches, joint pain, back pain, vaginal pain, you name it. Her doctor told her it was all related to menopause and gave her a bag of products to try. We had an amazingly cathartic laugh over those cheesy products that wouldn’t resonate with any smart, self-sufficient woman we knew. And this sparked our idea. At the same time Michelle was thinking about her next move, balancing too much, kind of hating corporate America, and wanting to write a book about all the fabulous things women can be at 50. We came together at the right moment.
Womaness exists to serve the healthiest, wealthiest, most active generation of women ever. You deserve a modern, clean brand that was created by someone just like you. We are all about women’s health, women’s advocacy, self-reliance, and speaking our truth about our lives, careers, partners, desires, our bodies, and our health, and yes, that includes menopause and all the messy stuff that goes with it. And we have a feeling that you’re ready to do the same.
At Womaness, we call this menopositivity. This is a movement. This is real change.
Sally Mueller & Michelle Jacobs