Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

September is Menopause Awareness Month, and Menopause Brings Dry Skin and Wrinkles?

September 13th, 2010 by Heather Dillaway
"My Blue Guard" by Flickr user Coffeelatte, CC 2.0

"My Blue Guard" by Flickr user Coffeelatte, CC 2.0

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!

7 responses to “September is Menopause Awareness Month, and Menopause Brings Dry Skin and Wrinkles?”

  1. Make It May

    I think they should drop the word ‘awareness,’ just make it Menopause Month (Menomonth?), and then move it to May – not just becuase Menstrual Monday is in May, but also – what does September have to do with menopause, metaphorically speaking?

    Oh fall, autumn, harvest, the beginning of the “golden years” – the problem I have with that is, don’t know the whole background of how the term “golden years” originated, but certainly not in today’s economy – the headline in Sunday paper was – “Will I Ever Retire?” or something like that – actually I believe the Detroit Free Press is running a series of articles on that topic.

    Also, we already have a group dedicated to redefining the menopausal experience (obliquely) – the Red Hat Society – I believe you have to be 50 to become a member – hmmm, isn’t that the average age of menopause, or thereabouts? If you are younger than 50, I think you can become a Pink Hatter, then when you turn 50, you’re a Red Hatter.

    Of course, making all my Menstrual Monday party favors and so on through the years, I am fascinated by all the accruements that go along with being a Red Hatter – the hats, the feather boas, trinkets, scarfs, etc, all in the colors of The Red Hat Society – Red and Purple.

    The whole thing seems a bit commercialistic to me; the whole menopause angle is kind of buried, out-of-sight, out-of-mind (looking in from the outside); but still, it is empiric (or anecdotal?) evidence of how a great many women are thinking about their “golden years” – rather, they are the “red and purple years.”

    Spring the season of menopause? Red tulips, purple tulips, crocuses, rhododendron, etc…also Yoko Ono (I think I mentioned this already, somewhere): “I think of the last 50 years as the prelude to my life.”

  2. Here’s Yoko Ono’s “Sun is Down,” one of the comments is:

    “this woman is older than both my grandmothers and she is my favourite artist!”

    Done in collaboration with son’s band. Song ends with “the sun is down in the secret garden.”
    I like that as metaphor for end of ovulation/menstruation.

  3. Heather D says:

    You’re completely right to critique the fact that it is in September! I didn’t even think about that initially!

  4. Heather D says:

    I’ve read some great analytic pieces on the Red Hat Society that explores why women join and what they get out of it. I’ll see if I can find the links, because it’s such an interesting phenomenon. I wonder how often menopause comes up in conversation at Red Hat get-togethers, I bet quite a bit informally at least.

  5. I’m going to be 50 soon – maybe I should go to some Red Hat meetings (they seem to get together for lunch a lot), and see what they’re talking about. Sort of like Steinem going undercover at Playboy Club.

    No one will know I’m wearing Menstrual Monday red and purple, rather than Red Hat Society red and purple. Until I tell them :)

  6. Heather D. says:

    Here’s a link to a fun article about the Red Hat Society, focusing on the idea that all Red Hatters are doing is “playing” and having “fun” (of course it doesn’t mention menopause at all!):
    In case the link doesn’t work, here is the citation for the article:
    Yarnal, Careen Mackay. (2006). The Red Hat Society®: Exploring the Role of Play, Liminality, and
    Communitas in Older Women’s Lives. Journal of Women & Aging 18 (3): 51 — 73.
    Interesting to think about whether this group really is all “play” and “fun” or not. I wonder if they think they’re in the “September” of their lives….their indian summer of sorts, I guess a good time to “play”…?

  7. Heather D says:

    I do like that language too, in part, but I also cringe a little bit in thinking about menopause as the “final” time that the “sun goes down”….that’s one of the biggest problems I think, because if it wasn’t cast in such a final, ending way, then there would be less concentration on the “bad” parts of menopause……but with that said, still very cool song and lyrics…. :)

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