Menopause Has a Branding Problem

Seeking new language for midlife

Lisa Renee


The Calm Sea, Gustave Courbet, 1869

Depending on your source, there are 34 symptoms of menopause.

Or 36. Or maybe 66 symptoms.

And there are 9 “unusual” symptoms, all of which I found usual.

I am thankfully on the far side of the worst of it, but my peri/meno experience was a long and often brutal course in suffering. I had almost every one of those “symptoms.” And yes, the quotes are there to diminish the legitimacy of the term — it became harder to think of my experience as a collection of symptoms when it was my day-to-day reality. When there are 66 or more of them, for years, are we really still talking about symptoms? Aren’t we just talking about life, at that point?

Not sleeping is a symptom? Itching? Rage? We are each a walking constellation of symptoms under this system, a pathologized caricature, and I object. What we really need is a new way to talk about this “change of life” (ugh) — not just a list that your dismissive doctor can use to dismiss you.

“Menopausal” is shorthand for the long-term reality of a vast, overheated swath of the population. It can mean nothing, or 66 things. Or a whole lot more.

A symptom is literally a sign of disease and menopause is not a disease. Is the growth of pubic hair a symptom of puberty? Is a boy’s deepening voice a symptom of adolescence? These are natural and expected experiences in changing bodies which, like it or not, we all possess. The body is never static.

Perhaps our “symptoms” are really just “aging,” another weighted word that we struggle with. Why, exactly? We are all, always, every minute of our precious lives, AGING. We age until we die. It’s really the only reliable thing, right? Aging and death, what else can you count on? It’s normal. It’s expected. Hoped for, even. Consider the alternative.

If we’re all doing it, ALL THE TIME, every minute of every day, then why can’t we talk about it without cringe? Why all the euphemisms and the attempts to hide or reverse our very natural aging? I know why, of course, it’s because we’re all afraid of death. We age, we may go mad and roar at the heavens, and we will die. You and me, many of us overdrinking and making too much noise, pumping our…