According to the popular ideal, a “feminine” woman controls her emotions, body size, shape and reproductive system. And this control is particularly threatened, or at least in question, during menopause (Most women reach menopause between the ages of 45 and 55, but menopause may occur as early as the 30s or 40s or may not occur until a woman reaches her 60s). Not surprisingly, one of the most common feelings reported by the women I worked with was that of feeling out of control.”
Counselor, Lafern Page, in her book, “Menopause and Emotions: Making Sense of Your Feelings When Your Feelings Make No Sense,” indicates that body image distortion has become a huge problem for women, and also for men, due to the way advertising bombards us with made up images of perfect people - perfectly slim, symmetrical and beautifully made up! We are supposed to be models of perfect control. People of all ages are affected by this constant exposure.
Lafern’s research suggests that for many women, self-image and physical appearance are pretty much interchangeable. This leads to a disconnect between the outward physical presentation and the actual body. Both the idea of appearance being self-image and the resulting separation between our bodies and our selves could certainly explain in large part the constant striving for thinness, and the extreme end of that continuum, anorexia. And when peri-menopause begins, with its often surprising changes, the loss of control is pretty shocking to a lot of women.
Lafern Page’s book was written over 10 years ago, and the media manipulation of body image has grown significantly since then. Even if we haven’t bought into the young and perfect look, when a size 10 model is considered a “large size”, (even though the average woman over 25 is size 12), we can’t help but look at ourselves and find something lacking. All that perfection makes us feel rotten!
Women are ‘supposed to be’ - and stay - slim and fit at all ages, so as to fit the stereotype of perfection, (as well as for health reasons). And we as women are definitely not supposed to talk about our biological functions, especially the transition through menopause. Puberty is honored as a biological and developmental transition and it is understood that young women (and men) need some time and some space to grow into adults. Yet, the same respect is denied us as women in one of the most significant changes we will ever go through.
“I’d given up, humiliated by my belly fat” -reads an ad on a menopause blog. Why should this be humiliating? Susun Weed, whose well-known book on natural treatment, Menopausal Years, Wise Woman Ways, has been reprinted many times, and says that the years leading up to menopause are the time to actually gain a little weight.
Why is weight gain good now?
Yes, gain weight! Most women I speak to aren’t aware of this, because doctors don’t tell us, and the ‘how-to’ articles certainly wouldn’t.
If we gain about 10 pounds in the years leading up to menopause, we retain more estrogen because it stores in the fat tissue of our hips, thighs and buttocks. The estrogen helps control some of the symptoms of menopause, and even more importantly, helps our bone health. Visit http://www.susunweed.com to check out Weed’s article: Healthy Bones the Wise Woman Way.
The media generally gives a very distorted view of aging. However, Ad campaigns like Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” showing women with all size bodies is a great beginning. For more information, visit their website at http://www.dove.us. Let’s keep looking for all kinds of ‘alternative’ representations of health.
By Ellen Besso