The menopause makeover


The night sweats kicked in at 43 for actress Naomi Watts. The star of films Mulholland Drive and King Kong, as well as the recent Netflix series The Watcher, spoke out about her menopausal symptoms because she was tired of the secrecy.

“It’s the taboo subject nobody talked about,” she told InStyle magazine in October. “Which is ridiculous because it’s just the bookend of puberty . . . now let’s share the wisdom and let’s share the conversation and throw the ladders down to the younger generation so they can be better equipped.”

Taboo? Not if celebrity chat is a measure. Watts is just one of a growing number of public figures speaking out about their dwindling progesterone and oestrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause (which begins 12 months after periods have stopped), with a range of symptoms such as hot flushes (Michelle Obama), palpitations (Oprah Winfrey), sleep problems, dry skin and sexual discomfort (Davina McCall).

Such frankness is not always wholly altruistic. Watts, who started perimenopause in her thirties, is the founder and chief creative officer of Stripes, a brand and community forum that features advice on sleep, weight loss and sex. It also sells skin, hair and vaginal care products to menopausal women. These are not cheap. The Power Move facial serum sells for $85, The Dew As I Do moisturiser is $80, while a vitamin supplements pack called The Inside Addition costs $40 for 60 pills.

Watts is hardly the only “meno-preneur” (apologies) cashing in on a burgeoning category of products targeted to menopausal women, prompting descriptions of a “menopause gold rush”. Fast-fashion retailer Primark has a menopause nightwear and lingerie range designed to cool the internal furnace. Beauty brands No7 and Vichy, to name just two, have new skincare treatments designed to hydrate, plump and cool menopausal skin. While legions of travel companies offer holistic retreats for body and mind. Stacy London, a US magazine editor turned TV personality, convened a conference on the topic last year, The Menopause CEO Summit, with speakers from beauty and wellness brands.

Deborah Jermyn, a reader in film studies at the University of Roehampton, is researching the topic and identifies a recent “menopausal turn” in culture, underpinned by celebrities sharing personal stories. This is partly driven by a desire by women not wanting “to fade out of the public eye as many of their ageing predecessors would have done and having a platform to agitate for change”. But it also reflects growing candour about previously private issues, such as mental health.

There are other reasons these women are getting more attention too. Older women are an increasing and affluent demographic. According to the World Health Organization, in 2021 the number of women over 50 equalled 26 per cent of all women and girls globally, up from 22 per cent a decade before. Looking ahead, the global market for menopausal products is forecast to increase from $15.4bn in 2021 to $24.4bn by 2030, according to Grand View Research, led by growth in dietary supplements.

Women are expected to work longer as pension ages across the world rise. Last year, the Fawcett Society, a charity campaign for women’s equality, said that one in 10 menopausal women have left a job because of their symptoms. Jermyn says there is an the incentive for businesses to ensure the wellness of and provide support for female staff.

Mridula Pore, co-founder and co-chief executive of Peppy, a digital healthcare provider for menopause and fertility, says when the company launched in 2018, menopause was treated as a “healthcare niche” when “it’s been hidden in plain view for ages”. The company, whose clients include Accenture and the Financial Times, recently raised $45mn in Series B funding from investors including the Sony Innovation Fund.

Eileen Burbidge, investor and director at Fertifa, a digital reproductive health service, is optimistic about the sector’s growth. “When you have more attention and competition, you get more meaningful products,” she says. “The void was so big that there is room for a lot of [new businesses].”

While it’s great that older women are more visible on our screens and in our workplaces, there is something rather exhausting about the menopausal makeover. As I’ve got older, the passage of time has become marked not just by rites of passage — adolescence, career, relationships, children — but the creation of new consumer categories: teenage bra, girl boss outfits, maternity wear, post-pregnancy diets. Even feminism became something else to purchase with Dior’s £690 T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “We Should All Be Feminists”. Now, mid-life women are expected to not just weather bodily changes but rebrand them. Hot flushes are now power surges.

The risk is that this menopausal movement becomes just another way to encourage women to buy services and products. Women need to cast a critical eye on such businesses, says Rina Raphael, author of The Gospel of Wellness, who adds that the problem with the empowerment message is that any criticism can be perceived as anti-women: “It’s not feminism if you’re selling them bunk.”

TV personality Stacy London organised ‘The Menopause CEO Summit’ in 2022 © Getty Images

Millie Kendall, chief executive of the British Beauty Council, says beauty products can address some of the changes to skin, hair and body during menopause, but “we shouldn’t abuse this and turn it into marketing hype [or to shame women] into buying a product”. This blurred line between consumerism and activism was recently acknowledged by Stacy London, who wrote in Fast Company magazine: “I felt more and more uncomfortable just promoting a product — it felt like I was saying, ‘I need you to buy something’ rather than ‘I want you to learn something.’”

Some argue that encouraging women to work on themselves misses wider issues. A 2020 report by Standard Chartered bank found it was not only the physical and mental symptoms of menopause that were hampering the careers of women over 50, but also ageism.

Shani Orgad, professor of media and communications at the London School of Economics, sees parallels between the marketing of these new products and the 1950s and 1960s advertising for oestrogen products such as Premarin “that promised both women and their husbands that by taking these hormone pills the woman would become ‘pleasant to live with once again’ and ‘help keep her this way’”.

“The empowerment messages we see today seem miles away from these notoriously sexist and ageist messages,” Orgad says. “But if you think about it, the messages and campaigns that target menopausal women today are also not that different, in that they exhort women to ‘fix’ themselves [to] keep women pleasant, calm and content, both in the workplace and as ‘homemakers’.”

Perhaps that red mist serves a purpose?


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