The Moment Stacy London Decided to Change Everything
5 minute read
Stacy London is my Brooklyn neighbor and a fellow traveler on the menopause war path. She’s also a renowned television personality, style expert, author, and the CEO of State of Menopause. This month (International Menopause Awareness Month, people!), she is hosting a summit of about 20 CEOs of different menopause companies to rally around the need to educate women, policy makers, and decision makers around the world about this universal phase of women’s lives. Her rallying power and strong belief that we can come together to help women has been a huge benefit to what is really becoming a movement. Lately we’ve been meeting up to walk our dogs around our Brooklyn neighborhood and talk everything menopause, media, health, and the craziness of starting a business. As our conversation intensifies, our walking speed increases, and I always come home feeling exhausted but a little smarter.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Anne: I am so grateful to you for all the talking, speaking and voicing you've been doing about menopause. How did you decide to start talking about menopause in the first place?
Stacy: I had a difficult experience with menopause and I didn’t see a whole lot of people discussing it at the time. I love to talk about things that people don't like to talk about. I like to have conversations. I think it comes from my career in magazines and television, when the point was to ask, Hey, are you doing the best for yourself? It’s hard to take care of yourself whether it’s your style or your health if you aren’t educated on the subject.
I would rather somebody come to me and say, educate me on how to dress for this event because that has been the one throughline in my career, even into menopause, has been not so much about the clothes, but what they could do to change your perspective. How do we take that shift in perspective to see yourself in a new way to believe in yourself differently? Certainly, the great thing about a visual transformation is that it's so tangible. You can see that it's happening.
As I reached middle age, I saw my physical self and my emotional self changing and I got stuck trying to change my own perspective.
Anne: I'm not alone, but What Not to Wear was such an emotional show. I cried every single episode. Does everyone tell you that?
Stacy: Yes, they do. I’m very grateful. The funny thing is, nobody thought that would be the outcome when we launched. We thought it was going to be entertaining. That's why maybe we were a little too snarky for some people. What we didn't really count on was that we were going to become a primer on how to shop for your own body. If you saw a body type that was like yours, great. You could really follow the rules. Or if you saw a body type that wasn't like yours, you'd know what to avoid. The same rules don’t apply in menopause, when it comes to style or anything else because we haven’t really explored the challenges and opportunities in mid-life due to our own internal biases against it.
That's what we were always trying to do on the show: Hey, a little shift in perspective, a little twist in the way you wear your clothing, is going to make you see yourself differently — and hopefully, present you with new opportunities.
I always want you to be able to control the narrative, but during menopause I lost control of my own narrative. One of the things that I realized at age 47, I felt lost because I wasn't being hired for television anymore. But I wasn't really prepared for the heavy lift of social media to become a branded fashion personality and I had started to experience peri-menopause with absolutely no idea that I was in it or what was happening. It felt like a true mid-life crisis. How cliché is that?
To be honest with you, I had no interest in doing a fashion-minute every day, with some new tip. I felt very much that there were younger generations who are doing that in a new, much more personable way, in a much more revealing way that was much more emotional than we did on What Not to Wear. And they weren't saying it in a way that said, “you should do this.” Everybody is like, “this is what I like and if you do too, then cool and we've found our tribe.” I felt ill-equipped for the new world of digital personal branding and in 2019, I went out to LA to pitch a show about what I felt was happening to me and feeling culturally irrelevant.
I wanted to talk about middle age because all of a sudden here I was a middle-aged woman and I didn't have a handle on it. I didn't really understand the sense of impending doom or my depression. A lot of my friends were getting divorced. We’re seeing the highest rate of burnout. I was right in the crosshairs. There was a lot of pressure and a lot of unknowns in the age where we start to worry a little bit more about security and feeling stable, than we did when we were younger.
And then everything started to change physically. I started to be very anxious. I started to have hot flashes. I started to have headaches. I started to have food allergies, insomnia and brain fog. I was clumsy and bumping into things. And I had itchy ears and skin rashes. I had the bloating and the weight gain and the body weight redistribution, you name it. I had it, but I wasn't looking at it in terms of menopause. I just thought, Oh my God, this is what aging is like.
I had had pretty severe spine surgery, so I thought that might have been the cause. That was in 2016 and then in 2018, my dad passed away and I started to get heart palpitations. I started to mimic a lot of his symptoms, thinking that it was the physical manifestation of grief and fear and loss. When you look back, I pretty much fell into the perfect window of perimenopausal symptoms and yet I had no idea.
One doctor kind of dismissed me and said, “oh, it's menopause. You'll get over it.” So I tried. But this kind of hormonal chaos? I don't think people necessarily realize it is connected to a true crisis of self-confidence. And I thought, I cannot be the only one experiencing this. If I am the only one experiencing this, then there really is something wrong. But I would talk to my friends and we were all feeling these kind of very weird things — and none of us were educated enough to understand that menopause was at least in part responsible for some of these feelings.
My initial reaction when I started to learn more about menopause, was that if we just had more education surrounding this experience, we would be prepared for it. We would be ready. We would understand it. And all of those things impact the way you experience anything, right? It's like going in knowing what it will be about. Especially when it's about our health, if we know what to expect, it makes it that much easier for us to be proactive around it.
Anne: Even just knowing if it’s actually a thing in the first place. It’s freeing and validating. I thought I was going crazy. I was seeing a therapist, a woman who had clearly gone through menopause at some point. I said, I feel so anxious. I feel so depressed. And perimenopause never came up.
Stacy: I remember saying to my therapist, I think I have early Alzheimer's and she was like, “Well, you probably have brain fog.” The thing that upset me so much was that I'm very much a people pleaser by nature, especially with my doctors, because I trust them. And for them to be so dismissive really made me feel like I was the one who was overreacting. It wasn't until I started to go down this rabbit hole of researching menopause and female health, trying to understand more about what the menopause experience truly, that I realized that What the shit, why did nobody talk to us?
Anne: It’s just crazy.
Stacy: And it’s not just understanding what's going on with your hormones so that you can take care of yourself, physically. There is a huge mental health component here, which for me was essential to understand. Not understanding it really led to a crisis of confidence.
The fact is, now, even in the last 20 years, we've learned so much about taking care of our health, that we're going to live well into our 80s, 90s, and 100. How can we look at menopause as any kind of ending? It has to be a transition, a transformation, and really a reclamation of this time. We’ve got to drag middle age into modern times.
We’ve got to give middle age and menopause a makeover because they both need it. Menopause happens to you as you age, if you're lucky, otherwise you may experience it surgically or medically. As Gen X has come into this stage in our lives, we’re the last generation willing to put up with the kind of generational shame or ignorance our ancestors experienced.
Anne: Millennials are about to go into menopause. They don't know anything about it. And until now, they've been served by all these new digital health companies, the millions of wonderful fertility companies out there, digital health companies supporting them through every single stage and even the period companies too. Their journey’s have been so well-served and all of a sudden they're going to hit 50 and get nothing? Except we're all going to be there as elders to tell them about it. But the expectation that this is like, just something you go through, and you just suffer and that no one talks about, is just going to go out the window.
Stacy: Thank God. I do think we are the generation to start it. I look at the companies and still get frustrated. Why aren't we catering to their hormonal profile rather than making them suffer? Because it's not a male hormonal profile. I think it's important for people to understand the range of companies that are being created, particularly by women who are Gen X, from menopausal beauty at one end of the spectrum, like topicals and absorbables for some of the issues that you experience in menopause. I care about your dry skin. I care about the fact that you probably have cystic acne or experiencing things like that, but that's just the beginning. A great company is also going to have to think about all the other things that happen — like products for vaginal dryness and painful sex. These are things that are real, that have huge ripple implications in a person's life. Not being able to talk about intimacy, being embarrassed about sex, not wanting to have it. These are much bigger conversations. As a company, I want to do things that are over the counter that you don't necessarily need a prescription for as a first line of defense. And at the other end of that spectrum are companies like yours which can prescribe hormones.
Anne: What’s your take on hormone therapy for menopause?
Stacy: The first thing that I always say to people about when they ask me about menopause is: are you eligible for menopause hormonal therapy? We have really villainized hormones in the past. We made women so afraid of breast cancer and heart attack and stroke without really proving that this was the case for every single person and unless you have a particular health history like I do and can't take hormones, this should absolutely be your first choice. If you can’t or don't want to take hormones, you should have options that are over the counter.
Anne: I'm curious about your physical experience with menopause. Why can’t you take hormones?
Stacy: We have heart disease and stroke in my family and I have autoimmune diseases and the medication I take for them could be contraindicated with hormone therapy. So for me, I needed to find hormone-free products. But even if you are on hormones, you could easily take them and still carry a cooling spray in your bag. I just want women to know what their options are.
Anne: That’s still harder than it should be.
Stacy: We're still a fractured industry. Menopause doesn't get the footprint that it deserves in retail. It is really up to us digitally, both through telehealth and dynamic websites, to find the information we need. There is so much psychological baggage attached to this issue that it's going to take a second for our consumer to be okay with this. My feeling is, Let's meet you where you're at. What is the thing that's going to be most helpful to you? Do you want to read something? Talk to someone? Meet with a care practitioner?
Anne: Why do you think no one talked to us about it? I mean, my mother died six years ago but I don't think we ever spoke once about menopause.
Stacy: I don't think that our mothers were given any kind of education — so how could they impart that to us? I think if anything, they white- knuckled through it. They have a lot to be proud of in terms of what they were able to handle and what they accomplished. But I think part of it is simply that if you don't know what's happening to you, menopause can feel very scary — and sometimes when we're most scared, we're least able to communicate.
Anne: For that generation, it was also a sign of weakness and for us too growing up. And certainly when I think back to the 50s and 60s, it was definitely a time where, you know, women were only allowed to act and be a certain way.
Stacy: I think about the fact that we didn't have credit cards of our own until 1972 or ‘73. I think about how much has been denied to us, not just in terms of freedom, but in terms of information that allows us to make choices. We are truly the first generation to be empowered, emboldened and given permission by both older and younger generations than us to talk about something that future generations really need a handle on.
Anne: What do you think about women's health not being researched — bodies with ovaries, uterines and breasts— and the outrage about that. Has the public conversation about that helped the menopause conversation? Because it certainly has helped the conversation around our periods.
Stacy: The National Institute of Health didn't start mandatory tests on women until what, 1993? So you have cases like Ambien. When it was first released, it was a male dose and not healthy for women at all. But we didn’t know this because women weren’t in the study. It is outrageous how gender inequity is still so prevalent in health and wellness.
But I don't want to just talk about the Debbie Downer shit. I want to talk about how we are really changing this age to be such a significant transformative time in our lives. You can struggle with aging. You can struggle with menopausal symptoms that scare you or discombobulate you. But that doesn't mean that you don't think highly of yourself or recognize ways to empower yourself. There are all of these different emotions and feelings that we can hold at the same time. And we have to be prepared and at peace with that.
Anne: We all have to shout it from rooftops!
Stacy: Yes! We need all of the voices we can get out there to talk about their different experiences in order to come to some kind of real understanding. And if we aren't solving for the person who is the most marginalized in this already stigmatized topic, we are not solving for everybody.
Anne: There really is so much shame around it, the shame of what's happening to your body, the shame of being an older woman.
Stacy: And there's fear, there's fear around all of those things. And if there are two things in the world that will stop you from taking action and taking care of yourself, it’s shame and fear. We have to free ourselves to allow for meaningful conversation like this. You can't do this without talking about it. You're going to think that there are monsters under your bed until you shine that flashlight and realize they're shadows. We as women already do so many miraculous things with our bodies. If we knew what to do with menopause, I actually feel like it would be such a more exciting experience. If we think about what it means to no longer ovulate, then we would think about what that means in terms of our freedom, in terms of recentering our focus on ourselves and what we're capable of doing at this stage of life. That’s pretty damn exciting.
Go ahead, you deserve to