Menopause can be a jarring experience, that’s for sure. But it’s a universal (and inevitable) part of getting older that millions of Autralians experience everyday.
And yet, there’s still shockingly little discussion going on about it. Even worse, it’s hidden away as if it’s something shameful and not to be spoken about, only further contributing to the stigma.
The reality of it is, despite it being different for everyone, menopause is a natural part of life. And, with so many people unwilling to bring the topic into the public arena, it can leave people going through it feeling isolated and removed from their own bodies.
Slowly but surely, we’re seeing a different narrative around menopause unfold. One where it is represented in popular TV shows and celebrities openly discuss their own experiences.
British actress Kristin Scott Thomas revealed that the menopause storyline she acted in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag was easy, as it reflected her own feelings on the matter.
The scene, where she credits menopause as “the most wonderful fucking thing in the world” for freeing women from a “cycle of pain” resonated with many viewers. “We have pain on a cycle for years and years and then, just when you feel you are making peace with it all, what happens? The menopause comes,” she says, adding that the pain and physical symptoms are certainly not to be underestimated, “Yes, your entire pelvic floor crumbles and you get fucking hot, and no one cares, but then—you’re free.”
“No longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts. You’re just a person, in business,” she says. “It is horrendous but then it’s magnificent.”
And while it’s different for every woman, and can occur at very different ages, it’s refreshing when a celebrity opens up about this universal topic.
From insights into how stars have managed hot flashes while working, to how they’ve navigated the more emotional side of things, these are the bad-ass women who are normalising menopause discourse.
Academy Award winner Naomi Watts was young when she first had to come to terms with menopause. At 36, she was told she was close to it.
Luckily, the starlet went on to have two children naturally. “As soon as I had my second child, I basically went into hardcore symptoms,” Watts said on a a panel held at South by Southwest Sydney (SXSW).
“I went into, ‘Oh my God, I’m finished’,” she said. “‘I’m no longer sexy. I work in Hollywood.”
Adding, “And if you’re not fertile, you’re unf***able.”
Now 55, Watts also spoke openly about how menopause has impacted her dating life (she recently married Morning Wars actor Billy Crudup). “I will say, it was a very awkward time,” she explained. “I didn’t know how squeamish he would be. And the idea of exposing such personal things that I knew I felt ashamed of, how would he feel?”
Despite her initial hesitation, she decided to be open about her menopause. “It’s hard to hide the moods. It’s hard to just show up in the ways that you may have in your 20s and 30s,” Watts explained. She said it ended up being a really good way to test our their relationship, and that he was pleased when her honesty was met with empathy, kindness and “a few jokes”.
Of course, it kept going well for her, with the two eventually tying the knot in an extremely chic courthouse wedding.
“And obviously he passed the litmus test, and now we’re married,” she said.
On the panel, she recalled her reluctance to tell a recent date that she was currently in perimenopause.
“There’s something in that stigma that I don’t want you to think I’m some dusty, old, dry thing. That’s not the image I want,” she shared.
“I feel very confident, normally, and I want to be who I am and present myself,” she continued, adding, “But in that one moment, I was like, ‘I don’t want to say what it is, because I’m engaging in someone who I want to see me a certain way.'”
Drew went on to discuss the stigma surrounding perimenopause: “You’re just that dry old bag when you talk about menopause. And that is the conversation, the stigma that has to change.”
“If Mark Zuckerberg could rebrand Facebook to Meta, maybe we can do this for menopause,” she continued.
“Because, we’ve got the word men-o-pause. Pause is a natural stop… to a lover that there might be something repellent about that subject. Whereas with no one else do I find this subject taboo. We have to make it funnier, more sexy and more safe.”
We love Drew’s forward-thinking attitude.
Recently in her podcast, former First Lady Michelle Obama shared her experiences with the hormonal changes that come with menopause.
“I have a very healthy baseline, and also, well, I was experiencing hormone shifts because of infertility, having to take shots and all that,” she said.
“I experienced the night sweats, even in my 30s, and when you think of the other symptoms that come along, just hot flashes, I mean, I had a few before I started taking hormones.”
She even discussed an experience having hot flashes on Marine One during her husband’s presidency. “I remember having one on Marine One. I’m dressed, I need to get out, walk into an event, and literally, it was like somebody put a furnace in my core and turned it on high, and then everything started melting. And I thought, Well, this is crazy—I can’t, I can’t, I can’t do this,” she said.
Apparently her husband Barack Obama was seemingly unfazed. “He didn’t fall apart because he found out there were several women in his staff that were going through menopause. It was just sort of like, ‘Oh, well, turn the air conditioner on.’”
The Goop entrepreneur is known for being an open book when it comes to her health and wellness, but she got very real about menopause back in 2018 for her Goop blog.
“I think when you get into perimenopause, you notice a lot of changes. I can feel the hormonal shifts happening, the sweating, the moods—you’re all of a sudden furious for no reason,” she wrote, adding that she believes the experience needs a rebrand and that it’s not all that bad.
“Menopause gets a really bad rap and needs a bit of rebranding. I remember when my mother went through menopause and it was such a big deal, and I think there was grief around it for her and all these emotions. I don’t think we have in our society a great example of an aspirational menopausal woman.” And she might just be changing that.
With her trademark quick wit, Emma Thompson showed the world that there’s no reason to not bring some light-heartedness to menopause during her speech at the National Board of Review back in 2014—where she was accepting an award for her performance in Saving Mr. Banks.
“It’s such a cold night. You know, it’s the first time I’ve been actively grateful for the menopause,” she said.
“So many women I’ve talked to see menopause as a blessing,” she wrote in O Magazine last year. “I’ve discovered that this is your moment to reinvent yourself after years of focusing on the needs of everyone else.”
She also wrote about how a general lack of understand of menopause caused her to miss the symptoms for years before she finally figured out what was happening to her body.
“For two years I didn’t sleep well. Never a full night. No peace. Restlessness and heart palpitations were my steady companions at nightfall. This was back when I was 48 to 50,” she said. “I went to see a cardiologist. Took medication. Wore a heart monitor for weeks. And then one day, walking through the offices of The Oprah Winfrey Show, I picked up a copy of The Wisdom of Menopause, Dr. Christiane Northrup’s book, and the pages fell open to the heading ‘Palpitations: Your Heart’s Wake-Up Call.’ I took it as a sign,” she explained.
“Contained in that book was the answer I’d been going doctor to doctor trying to figure out,” she continued, identifying a deep need for women to be more open about the experience.
“Until that point in my adult life, I don’t recall one serious conversation with another woman about what to expect.”
Gillian Anderson shared her thoughts on the stigmatisation and silence around menopause as a conversation topic.
“How wonderful would it be if we could get to a place where we are able to have these conversations openly and without shame,” she told People in 2017. “Admit, freely, that this is what’s going on. So we don’t feel like we’re going mad or insane or alone in any of the symptoms we are having.”
She wants to push for a rebrand too, saying “perimenopause and menopause should be treated as the rites of passage that they are. If not celebrated, then at least accepted and acknowledged and honoured.”
In classic Whoopi-style, the comedian brought up menopausal symptoms in her standup routine to point out the very real sexism of pharmaceutical research and what areas they put their resources behind.
“How can you keep a man [erect] for 19 hours and not be able to cool down a hot flash? How is that possible?” she asked, and we have to second that thought.
She’s known for playing the very open Samantha on Sex and the City, but Cattrall has also credited the character for inspiring her to be more vulnerable about personal experiences in real life too.
In an interview with Cosmopolitan, she discussed her enduring symptoms and how she wants to use her platform to normalise conversations about menopause. “I feel empowered talking about menopause because I’m going through it and have been going through it for six years,” she told the outlet.
“I’m very fortunate to have a platform to speak to women about it because of SATC—it was such a dream job. And [Samantha was] also a dream character to play who went through all kinds of changes and challenges related to getting older and being single and being upfront and honest about it. Playing that character really inspired me to be very open in accessing my feelings about what’s going on…. Millions of women are going through it; it’s part of nature. But it can be very confusing and isolating.”
She furthered that it was not something “shameful” but very natural. “It’s as natural as having a child—it really is; it’s part of life,” she said. “Physically, it’s part of how we’re made; hormonally, it’s how we’re constructed; chemically, it’s how we work. Like anything in nature: The seed is planted, it grows, it comes to fruition, after a period of time it starts to change and age, and it’s scary. You wonder, Will I be attractive, desirable, feminine? What is next chapter of life? I think it’s one of the reasons why it’s so taboo is because we don’t talk about it—it’s too frightening even to talk to a doctor about it. I want to reach out to women to encourage them to educate themselves about this time in their lives.”
British actress Julie Walters spoke to SAGA Magazine in 2015, laughing about how she managed to deal with her symptoms while working. “Oh, God! It was like a chimney and came from the base of my spine. I was doing this TV show called Murder, and every take there’d be, ‘Stop! She’s having a flush!’” she revealed.
“At the National, I’d come offstage for a quick change and have to shout, ‘Garth, the tray!’ And this guy would come with this big tin tray and fan me. For Harry Potter, I was in a wig and padding, and they had to put this big tube of air conditioning right in my face!”
In 2017, the actress-turned-politician shared that she was actually going through menopause at the same time as her wife, Christine Marinoni. “There has been no sadness for me because once you hit 50, you’re done,” she told Stella Magazine, adding that she felt liberated from the experience, “the freedom that comes from no longer being fertile is huge.”
Comedian Dawn French got a little more serious when voicing her feelings on the matter and how she learnt to eventually accept what was happening to her.
“You have to surrender to it, to the experience of it,” she said, before admitting that it left her feeling “robbed.”
“I found it was a thief of my memory, so I had to write lists to remember stuff—I still do. Physically I found it a challenge—my womb was a mess, so it had to go. But the main thing is you can’t pretend it’s not happening; accept it and, if you need help go and get it.”