The women featured in this series are icons of film, TV, business and politics, with very public lives played out in front of the cameras. Aging in the spotlight is never easy for high profile women but behind the glitz and glam lie shared menopausal experiences we can all relate to. Fortunately they’re speaking out to make us all feel a bit more normal!
It is, of course, every woman’s choice to either speak out or stay private about their menopause experience. But any and all public conversations undoubtedly help both normalize and destigmatize this most natural of processes we go through.
Luckily, some of the world’s most high-profile women are speaking up to help break down the barriers of secrecy and shame, by revealing their own menopause stories.
And while we hugely appreciate their honesty, seriously, isn’t it just nice to know that they get sweaty, grumpy and exhausted like the rest of us?!
Top honors go to the fabulous Salma Hayek (above) for her no-holds barred description of her doctor’s line of menopause questioning, as recounted on Red Table Talk in 2021. Revealing she had to take a test after experiencing perimenopause symptoms since her mid forties, Salma says the doctor’s questions were ‘terrifying’.
‘They were asking me things like, “Are your ears growing and there’s hair growing out of them? Are you growing a mustache and a beard? Are you easily irritable? Are you crying for no reason? Are you gaining a lot of weight really fast that doesn’t go away no matter what you do? Are you shrinking?” And then they ask you, “Is your vagina dry?”
‘I have gone through [mood swings and hot flashes], I still kind of am, but you got to notice those moments and take a deep breath and kind of say, “Okay, it’ll pass. You got to hold it together.” And the hot flashes aren’t fun.
‘There’s no expiration dates for women. That has to go. Because you can kick ass at any age. You can hold your own at any age, you can dream at any age, you can be romantic at age. We have the right to be loved for who we are at the place that we are. We’re not just here to make babies, we’re not just here to baby the man. We’re not just here to service everything and everyone around us and then when the kids go away … it’s almost like expiration date for you as a woman. It’s a misunderstanding that has been going around for centuries.’
Spot on. And don’t you just want to have a cocktail with her? She’s brilliant!
She may be one of the most famous women in the world, but even the former FLOTUS gets the hot flashes. One time, in the unfortunate location of the presidential helicopter, Marine One, no less.
‘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,’ she recalled on Spotify’s The Michelle Obama Podcast in 2020. ‘And I thought, “Well, this is crazy. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t do this”‘.
Fortunately, husband President Barack Obama was pretty understanding about the changes women experience due to much of his cabinet being made up of women, ‘many going through menopause,’ Michelle says. ‘He could see it in somebody, ’cause sweat would start pouring. And he’s like, “Well, what’s going on?” And it’s like, “No, this is just how we live, you know,”‘ she added. ‘He didn’t fall apart… It was just sort of like, “Oh, well, turn the air conditioner on.'”
Michelle, now 58, reveals her perimenopause symptoms actually started early due to fertility treatment: ‘I was experiencing hormone shifts because of infertility, having to take shots and all that. I experienced the night sweats, even in my 30s.’
She also spoke about taking hormone therapy in the podcast and voiced what many women feel about the public hush around menopause: ‘Half of us are going through this but we’re living like it’s not happening.’
Leave it to Oprah to help destigmatize topics society would rather women keep quiet about, including menopause. The media mogul described on her website how her own change started at age 48, when unexplained heart palpitations and difficulty sleeping became a nightly occurrence.
Her doctor, she said, had initially focused on the most serious possible cause of the heart palpitations: heart disease, which is still the number one cause of death of women in America. And it was only when Oprah came across Dr. Christiane Northrup’s book The Wisdom of Menopause, that it all made sense.
‘The pages fell open to the heading “Palpitations: Your Heart’s Wake-Up Call.” I took it as a sign,’ she remembers. ‘Contained in that book was the answer I’d been going doctor to doctor trying to figure out.’
When she eventually hit menopause at age 53, Oprah revealed that even her renowned passion for reading became a chore. ‘Suddenly my attitude toward most things was “Whatever.” I wasn’t vibrant. My whole world dulled down a couple of notches.’
After a friend recommended an estrogen supplement, she tried a cream form and found her solution. ‘I just rub it on my arm,’ she explained. ‘All it took was one application, and the world returned to technicolor. I could feel my countenance shifting. For the first time in years, I was sleeping the whole night through.’
And it will all be worth the wait, according to Oprah: ‘So many women I’ve talked to see menopause as a blessing. I’ve discovered that this is your moment to reinvent yourself after years of focusing on the needs of everyone else.’ Amen to that.
It’s no huge surprise that Gwyneth Paltrow is open about her menopause transition. The touter of all things vagina has never been shy about discussing the more taboo women’s health subjects. From recommending vagina jade eggs or the controversial vaginal steaming method, or creating the ‘This Smells Like My Vagina’ candle (yes, really), Gwyneth has used her hugely popular Goop platform to spark conversations that most women wouldn’t dare to.
Her business savvy even led her to create a line of supplements specifically to help with symptoms of menopause called… Madame Ovary.
Of her own perimenopause experience, she said this back in 2018 on Instagram: ‘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… 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.’ She was 46 at the time.
Fast forward to 2021 and Gwyneth revealed in a podcast episode, ‘I’m solidly in peri. Everything is totally irregular and a surprise all the time, my emotions are all over the place… Sometimes I get in bed at night and my heart races. The hormones are really no joke and sometimes I feel like I’m a tetherball at the end of a cord, and it’s just like thrashing me around.’
I totally get it, but I’m still not buying that candle.
Actress and director Angelina Jolie’s premature route into menopause was as a result of her decision to have elective surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes back in 2015. She was 39 years old at the time.
She first revealed the preventative operation in a New York Times op-ed and told how she underwent the procedure after testing positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, which increases a woman’s risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Angelina’s mother died from ovarian cancer after being diagnosed at age 49.
Research has shown that going into early menopause can increase the risk of getting osteoporosis or heart disease, but Angelina, now 46, clearly felt the risks were worth the benefit.
‘I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes,’ she explained about coming to terms with her decision. ‘But I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. It is nothing to be feared.’ Brave words, indeed. She still may be the only woman I’ve ever heard say the words, ‘I actually love being in menopause,’ though.