It’s something that you might start hearing whispers about at a young age. Maybe it was mentioned in your health class, or there was a lecture in your biology course, or your mom started dropping subtle hints that she just wasn’t feeling like herself when she reached a certain age.
But just whispering about usually doesn’t do anyone any favors.
Most of us had a general understanding that menopause was coming at some point, and that it signaled the end of one era and the beginning of another. And yet, just knowing that “the change” would be coming doesn’t mean that many of us had any real idea of how it would affect us, neither when it was expected to hit us.
So why are we still so afraid to discuss menopause, when it’s so natural?
If we want to start preparing the younger women in our lives for what’s to come, it’s up to us to start talking about it.
Why Talking About Menopause Matters
There’s no way around it: women’s bodies are stigmatized.
We’re taught, subconsciously or not, that we need to stay quiet and not bring it up in conversation. Our reproductive systems and sex lives are an off-limit topic of conversation, and heaven forbid you bring hormones into the conversation. So, many women have resigned themselves to living with the burdens of menopause all by themselves.
But it’s important to remember that we’ve made big strides here already that can be translated to discussions around menopause.
Think back to your first big physical change: starting your period. Most women today learn about their menstrual cycles from their moms and other female role models, they take a health class that explains the science behind it, and we even see it being mentioned on television and in advertising.
But it wasn’t always like that.
Historically, periods were a taboo subject that wasn’t discussed freely. And that meant that, for many young women, there was a lot of under education and misunderstandings about what was going on in their own bodies … which often led to shame, embarrassment, and in the worst cases, dangerous health practices from a lack of understanding.
It’s only by normalizing menstruation and educating young women that we’ve begun to move forward, and that means progress on both a widespread and personal level. Women who were educated by the older generation about the changes happening in their bodies have a better understanding of why it was happening. And not only does this help women cope with menstruation, but today we are learning how to own it, work with it, and even feel empowered by it!
Now we need to take the same energy and apply it to the next “big change”: menopause.
Preparing The Next Generation
Even though we know that most women will reach menopause at a certain age, we’re still left in the dark about so many things.
According to the Invisibility Report, a survey conducted by Gen M, 66% of the women surveyed felt unprepared or blindsided by perimenopause, and 48% didn’t know what was happening to their bodies when perimenopause came around. Even worse, 1 in 5 women reported having to visit their doctors six times before they were able to receive the right help or advice!
That is far too many women who still cite the frustrations and uncertainty they felt when they reached perimenopause. They knew that it was going to happen eventually, and they might have had a basic understanding that it would come with some symptoms like hot flashes and weight gain, but were unprepared to deal with how it can affect your health, comfort, and mental state around the clock.
When menopause is still shrouded in mystery, and we use euphemisms like “the big change” because we have a hard time calling it what it is, we’re not empowering women to deal with the challenges when they come.
At its best, it can leave women feeling confused and caught off-guard when they’re not equipped to deal with the changes. At its worst, and especially with the women who experience the most severe symptoms of menopause, they’re left feeling alone, isolated, invisible and ashamed, without a community to turn to.
This is why we need to get talking. Wouldn’t you have like to know how “the big change” would change so many things for you besides the end of your period?
How To Talk About Menopause With Younger Women
If you have a daughter, niece, friends, or coworkers who look up to you, they would probably benefit from you being open and honest about your own menopause experience. Not everyone is going to feel the effects of menopause the same way, but when some women report that they feel like they’re losing themselves and starting to question their own sanity, it’s a worthwhile topic to bring up!
The first step is to simply be more open to the conversation. Rather than hiding it, or waving it away, letting younger women know what you’re going through goes a long way in normalizing the process and gives them an idea of what might lie ahead for them.
- Don’t sugarcoat it. If your menopausal experience comes with dramatic, life-altering symptoms, it’s not doing anyone any favors to pretend that it’s not happening. Talking about the ugly side of menopause can be good for both you and them.
- Call it by what it is: menopause. We’re often so reluctant to talk about aging and sexuality that we can’t even refer to menopause directly, but that means that women grow up thinking it’s something to be feared and swept under the rug.
- Knowledge is power, and education can go a long way to helping women deal with the more extreme symptoms that can come with menopause. Answer questions honestly and empower yourself by understanding why menopause causes so many changes.
Letting younger women know what to expect when menopause comes around supports and empower them to feel more in control of their own bodies, even when their hormones say differently.
How To Talk About Menopause With Young Men
While it’s important to talk about menopause with the ones who will be directly affected by it, don’t forget that they aren’t the only ones who should know. Men should learn about menopause as well. Knowing how and why it happens, rather than being blissfully ignorant, can set them on the right path to be supportive coworkers, friends, and partners, as well as just better, more understanding members of society.
Talking normally about menopause with your son and/or other younger men in your life can help normalize women’s bodies (and all the changes that can come along with it) so that the taboo doesn’t continue to hurt and undermine women both current and future.
It can also help to break stereotypes, because we’re all tired of hearing men downplay women’s concerns as just “the hormones talking.”
The more we talk about these changes with the men in our lives, the more they’ll understand, and the less menopause will be relegated to a “women’s only” issue that is rarely discussed but often misunderstood.
And the more we talk about it with both the younger men and women in our lives, perhaps the better understanding will lead to fewer doctors brushing off the severe symptoms we report and help us open up the conversation to really get to the bottom of what’s going on.
If we want to help women, both current and future, deal with the ramifications of menopause, we need to keep progressing. Letting the younger generation know about what’s to come can help minimize all the stigma, the embarrassment, and the loneliness that menopause can bring.