Here’s an undeniable fact. Over recent years I have aged.
I have more obvious grey hairs, need to drag an inconvenient array of different spectacles around and have definitely gathered an unfortunate softness around the jowls. Oh… and I went through the menopause.
Now bear with me on that last item because I wouldn’t normally mention the M-word.
I don’t feel it’s in any way interesting (not that the other signs of ageing are particularly riveting), but recently I have begun to realise I am out on my own on this one.
Judging by the amount of times the subject is now raised – Emma Freud was the latest last week – it seems many women think the menopause is absolutely fascinating. So that’s why I’ve brought it up.
I don’t feel it’s in any way interesting (not that the other signs of ageing are particularly riveting), but recently I have begun to realise I am out on my own on this one writes Alexandra Shulman (pictured)
This is a big change in attitude and one I’m confused by.
Among most of the women I know and have shared the changes in our life with, menopause has simply been something we have experienced, just like periods. We accepted these as part of our existence, as women have throughout history.
I don’t really know how they felt about it as it wasn’t something we spent much time discussing.
Our partners, our homes, our kids, our work we talked about endlessly – but the menopause? No.
Not because we were embarrassed but because it wasn’t a topic we found entertaining or particularly helpful.
I imagine that for them, like me, it wasn’t the most fun thing to go through. Every now and then someone might fan themselves at work during a meeting, with a wry grin.
Feeling low one week, we might mumble something about ‘hormones’. We all had changed sleep patterns.
If anyone felt really rotten, they would bring it up in the same way they would a migraine or painful joints.
I (and I tell you this in an effort to keep in touch with the sharing times) went through a few years of frequently waking at 2am feeling as if someone had lit a fire around the small of my back.
Meg Mathews (pictured), once a raucous Brit Pop wife married to Noel Gallagher, has published The New Hot: Taking On The Menopause With Attitude And Style
I knew it was a side effect of the menopause, but as someone who prefers to avoid medication at first, I didn’t turn to HRT immediately.
And when I did that helped, if not totally solved, the issue.
Occasionally someone would mention they were considering bioidentical HRT, or another would say they were concerned about the link to cancer, but in general that conversation was less common than whether butter was better than olive oil for roasting potatoes.
We rode this period of our life; many of us are still riding it.
Yet at no point did I feel these physical changes defined me or caused some kind of seismic change in my being.
Have I been missing a trick? In the past few months alone, ex-Red magazine editor Sam Baker’s rollicking read The Shift – now also a podcast – sells life post-menopause as freedom to be a new you.
Meg Mathews, once a raucous Brit Pop wife married to Noel Gallagher, has published The New Hot: Taking On The Menopause With Attitude And Style.
Baroness Warsi and Nadine Dorries share their experiences of temporary forgetfulness and ill-humour in Kaye Adams and Vicky Allan’s Still Hot! 42 Brilliantly Honest Menopause Stories.
Menopause is the life stage when women’s oestrogen and progesterone production decreases, causing all those effects on our bodies. Along with other factors, it marks the stage where we are no longer able to conceive.
I asked my gynaecologist the other day how long menopause lasts and she said: ‘How long is a piece of string? Only you will know when it ends, judging by how you feel.’
I have no doubt been fortunate not to suffer debilitating symptoms, and certainly there are women who have a really terrible time, especially those who are jolted into it prematurely through illness or another factor.
It’s not shameful, and thank God it’s no longer referred to as The Change, indicating some terrible and unspecific witchy thing that happens to women.
But it’s just not that fascinating either.
So why an increasing number of women want to define themselves by this experience is something, frankly, I find baffling. How many men define themselves by the fact that by their mid-50s, their erections probably ain’t what they used to be?
In the past few months alone, ex-Red magazine editor Sam Baker’s rollicking read The Shift – now also a podcast – sells life post-menopause as freedom to be a new you
How often do we read articles where men are prepared to sink into a mire of self-pity over starting to lose their hair?
Some women, though, appear not only curiously eager to let a gynaecological fact dominate their feelings about themselves but, mistakenly to my mind, encourage it to be the prism through which others regard them too.
If I get vague and forgetful in public, the last thing I want the reaction to be is: ‘Oh cut her some slack– she’s menopausal.’
Actually I just put it down to being vague and forgetful, which I have often been, no matter my age.
Why make the menopause such a central part of our perception of ourselves and other’s perception of us?
I know Michelle Obama mentioned in a podcast that she had a hot flush on Marine One, the White House helicopter, and that’s fine.
Actually more than fine. It’s funny – the juxtaposition of something so very ordinary that happens to all of us in a situation that is so very extraordinary.
She’s correct to believe that the menopause should not be the state that dares not speak its name.
It doesn’t need to be central to every conversation involving a woman over 50.
There is currently quite rightly an outcry about women being eased out of big roles once they are into their 50s.
However, I’m not sure that as older women, we are doing ourselves our best service by painting a picture of a demographic continually swamped in brain fog and irrational bad temper.
Or by banging on about our invisibility– just another little elderly lady sitting in the corner of the restaurant rather than some luscious babe that every waiter is rushing to attend.
No doubt if your whole sense of self is wrapped up in your appearance – if you were one of those magically beautiful women who could silence a room on entry (and how many of those are there?) – you might feel the reaction to your presence as you age is not of quite the same calibre.
But for most of us, if we feel relatively comfortable about ageing, we see little difference.
Baroness Warsi and Nadine Dorries share their experiences of temporary forgetfulness and ill-humour in Kaye Adams and Vicky Allan’s Still Hot! 42 Brilliantly Honest Menopause Stories
Perhaps instead of focusing on the problems of getting older, we should focus more on the success of our contemporaries in so many fields.
Menopausal probably, and leading rich and varied lives at top of their careers.
Fashion designers such as the Duchess of Cambridge’s favourite, Sarah Burton, and Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri; business leaders like Dame Sharon White of John Lewis; creative institution leaders such as the Tate’s Maria Balshaw and Southbank’s Jude Kelly; and artists like Tracey Emin and Rachel Whiteread.
We should be shouting out about their achievements and dialling down on the notion of older women as victims of society.
We should celebrate the advantages of our age – grown-up children, grandchildren, freedom to travel, time to read and learn, and for those of us who have given up a relentless day job, the joy of being able to create a life more around our own timetable.
These pluses are unrelated to hormonal change.
Of course I’m not saying that the playing field between the sexes is level. There are still more grey-topped men running the place than women.
And I’m not denying that menopause is inconvenient, sometimes messy and on occasions unpleasant.
But at the end of the day, as a woman of 62 I feel as vibrant and interested as ever I did, with the same wobbly days and moments of self-doubt as at any age.
Menopause, though, has had nothing at all to do with it.