September is Menopause Awareness Month. If you do a web search on “Menopause Awareness Month,” the first things that pop up are about hormone therapies, pain, cramps, eye floaters, and other terrible symptoms that should probably be commemorated this month….or maybe not. Other websites that pop up are the websites for the American Menopause Association (and a press release about hormone therapies to use) and the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), which defines this month more appropriately as a month within which we need to “increase awareness about the importance of having accurate information to enhance women’s health at menopause and beyond” and “draw attention to the large public health challenge that menopause brings—and to reinforce that women and their healthcare providers must have accurate, unbiased menopause-related information to make informed decisions that will lead to improved health and quality of life both around menopause and beyond.” I was happy to see these press releases from NAMS with these slightly more positive statements about what Menopause Awareness Month might mean or bring.
However, it is clear that anti-aging companies are also trying to co-opt/maximize their profit during Menopause Awareness Month (of course, not surprisingly at all). For instance, a September 1st press release indicates that “Vichy Laboratories, a division of L’Oreal Active Cosmetics, the vast majority of women over 50 reported experiencing notable changes in the condition of their skin during menopause. In fact, 53 percent reported that the most common issue they faced after entering menopause was dry skin, followed closely by an increase in wrinkles and a sagging neck.”
I find myself nothing but sad when I see things like this. First, studies like this make it seem like menopause is akin to dry skin, wrinkles, and sagging skin – things that are defined as problematic for the female physical appearance and that need fixing – and, thus, menopause itself becomes problematic. This is medicalization at its best. Second, there is no mention of the fact that these things might not be solely the result of menopause, but that perhaps middle-aged men and non-menopausal women might have them too. Thus, there is no problematizing of the equation of menopause, dry skin, wrinkles, and sagging skin. If anyone has ever read Anne Fausto-Sterling or people like her, she makes it clear that most of the “symptoms” we attribute to menopause are actually not exclusive to menopause and might just assigned to it arbitrarily. (How many conditions and life stages and every day activities produce dry skin and wrinkles, for instance?)
Third is the fear factor that is present in all of these studies and reports. Reports like this encourage women to go seek out expensive face creams to deal with their menopause and middle-aged status, rather than relish the fact that they’ve earned that dry skin or those wrinkles or that those dry skin patches and wrinkles are not that problematic after all. Finally, press releases like this narrow the scope of Menopause Awareness Month. While NAMS actually defines it much more broadly, we end up only thinking about the (seemingly always negative) “symptoms” of menopause rather than all of the other things that menopausal women might actually want to think about during this reproductive transition and midlife.
I, for one, would like to honor Menopause this month in a much broader, more positive way than this report about skin conditions does. Hurray for Menopause Awareness Month and menopausal women!