Post by Milena Bacalja Perianes and Danielle Keiser
Today, on World Menopause Day, it’s time to talk about an even more taboo topic than menstruation. We sat down with a new innovator in the space – Become – to learn more about why there are so few products out there to meet the changing experiences and needs of menopausal women*.
Within the menstrual space we spend a great deal of time talking about the need to break the bloody taboo around menstruation, whether through understanding the origins of menstrual taboo and how it impacts women, girls and menstruator’s lives, or knowing that globally, the onset of menstruation is accompanied by a range of socio-cultural practices which can both celebrate and denigrate the female transition from child to adult.
“The biological process of menstruation is central to women*’s gender identity, sexuality, and social status.”
At the Menstrual Health Hub, we take pride in highlighting the inspiring interventions, programmes, studies, campaigns and innovations that are helping build the knowledge base, fill the gaps in education and positively influence the narrative around menstruation. As a testament to this rising tide, menstrual health has become its own topic worthy of independent focus beyond pioneers such as the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research (SMCR) and UNICEF, both in the halls of academia and on the front pages of the mainstream media.
And let’s be honest… we love it! It’s the reason the MH Hub exists!
But, and here’s the truth bomb: Menstrual health and the menstrual cycle represent the foundation of female health more broadly, and we would argue, the most critical entry point for being able to address other issues that happen later on down the line in a woman’s lifetime.
What many menstrual advocates fail to recognise is that menstruation is not the last taboo in women’s health – it is actually the first of many that still need to be addressed. Incontinence. Infertility. Miscarriage. Postpartum Bleeding Postpartum Depression. Menopause.
Today, in celebration of World Menopause Day on 18 October, we are tackling the latter.
If there are an estimated 334 million menstruating women in the world, there are even more who have moved beyond it. So why don’t we hear more about it?
Image: Huffington Post
“The silence around menopause is deafening.”
Not only deafening, but invisible and not to be discussed. Education around menopause is mostly non-existent, and that which exists fails to take into account the complex socio-cultural experiences of pre-menopause, perimenopause, and post-menopausal women.
According to the U.S. National Institute on Aging, menopause is a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period. The average woman reaches menopause between 45 and 55, but it can occur as early as a woman’s 30s in some cases. The entire menopause can last anywhere between 7 and 14 years. Perimenopause, or the transition to menopause, starts slowly with changes to the menstrual cycle length, eventually leading a final menstrual period.
The functioning of the ovaries ceases, and women can no longer become pregnant. As the ovaries are the main source of female hormones, menopause is accompanied by a variety of symptoms such as irregular periods, hot flashes, night sweats, changes to the vagina (dryness, itching, or irritation) weight gain, extra hair growth, and various emotional and cognitive symptoms. The impact on the body as women’s biology changes can be difficult to say the least, but at a socio-cultural level, women’s position in society changes as well.
If menstruation is seen as central to understanding women’s identity, sexuality and social status, menopause should also play a critical role in shedding light on the experiences of older women. Menstruation is a sign of “womanhood” and women’s reproductive responsibilities. In many cultures, women’s value comes from their ability to reproduce. However, with the onset of menopause and the finality it brings to women’s reproductive life,
“…women’s sexuality and value shifts drastically.”
In the media and film industry, menopausal women are seen as less sexually appealing. Their faces and voices are notably absent as they transition into the next phase of their life. Whilst men’s status continues to grow with age (think: the increased positive sex appeal of the ‘silver fox’), women’s diminishes (think: the negative hypersexualized stereotype of the ‘cougar’), as grey hair has colloquially become a sign of an ‘old hag’ or someone who ‘has really let herself go’. The new documentary ‘Grey is the New Blonde’ tackles this discriminatory sign of aging head on.
With regards to the dearth of products and market choices for menopausal women, Amy Schumer – Last F**kable Day, has a comedy sketch capturing just this.
“Menopausal women are an incredible market opportunity. With disposable incomes and specific pain points, why don’t more companies innovate for them?”
For World Menopause Day, we took the opportunity to interview one company who are doing just that. Our partner MAS (whom we first introduced here) is developing new products that are designed for menopausal women’s physical and aesthetic pleasure under their UK brand Become.
MH Hub: Tell us why did you (begin) innovating around menopause?
Become: We strongly believe in creating products and solutions across the FemTech space. This is because, as a business, we owe so much to women since they make up the vast majority of our workforce. Women are also the vast majority of the consumers that we serve through our current B2B apparel customers.
“There are so many symptoms and issues throughout the reproductive cycle that have yet to be addressed”
As a company we see a large opportunity in the market, because women’s needs remain mostly underserved. We are passionate about filling these gaps and addressing the needs of women of all ages. Fashion / apparel brands tend to focus on younger demographics; however older women have unmet needs which warrant an interesting business (and social) opportunity.
Menopause is something that all women go through but for some reason companies are not looking to innovate around it. Our expertise is apparel tech, so we tried to create a solution to help women experiencing it, not to cure it.
MH Hub: So, then tell us about this new brand you’ve created – Become – and what makes the product so unique?
Become: Become provides functional and intelligent clothing solutions designed by women, for women. We have developed a variety of undergarments (including underwear and vests) which use Anti-Flush Technology. They are designed to alleviate the effects of hot flushes – or hot flashes – as many people also know them.
Wicking, cooling and temperature regulation technology has existed in some way or form for a long time in the sportswear environment, but sportswear is engineered to handle the heating and sweating that is specific to those scenarios. Hot flushes and night sweats behave very differently in terms of the temperature fluctuation, volume of sweat, etc., so we’ve engineered our product to be able to handle these variable situations. We tested our products in 3rd party laboratories and in real-life environments to make sure they work for women in different contexts.
>> Interested getting a pair of Become? Click here to get 15% off your purchase with the discount code MHHUB <<
MH Hub: What major challenges do you see across the menopause space?
Become: Menopause has always been a taboo topic, so any overt branding and efforts towards it have often been difficult.
“However, we believe that acceptance lies in tackling issues head on.”
With developing the Become brand, we initially found that models didn’t want to be associated with menopause. We think this was because of the stigma around menopause but also issues of ageism. Women were afraid that modelling for a menopause brand could associate them with being older, and therefore less suitable for other work.
Secondly, marketing for an older audience requires innovative approaches. Our customers are not necessarily searching for solutions online. Therefore, we must think about PR and marketing through offline mediums as well.
To date, women have looked mostly to medical interventions to assist with hot flushes. We are working to educate women that there are alternatives, and that intelligent apparel can be a great solution. We are working hard to build this credibility around our product and brand.
MH Hub: What do you think are the major needs of a peri- or menopausal woman?
What’s interesting about menopause is that just like puberty, the body undergoes both physical and emotional changes. Below are a few voices from our Facebook group about their symptoms:
“One of my symptoms is the speed in which my hair and skin have dried out, both making me feel marvellous.. not! My hair is falling out and was prone to frizz at the best of times, especially dampness“
“Has anyone lost their sense of taste? I lose mine then it comes back and goes again.“
“Does anyone have the problem of the scalp itching like hell, especially at night time?”
As you can see, there are many needs that need addressing, including how to deal with hot flushes, vaginal dryness and eczema, itching, night sweats, chills, thinning hair, taste bud changes, dry skin, appearance of facial hair, insomnia, mood changes, anxiety & depression, slowed metabolism, weight loss or gain.
We’re only scratching the surface with Become.
MH Hub: How have you found the menopause space different from the menstrual space?
Become: There are similarities across both. In the menstrual space, the barriers are slowly being broken down by the likes of THINX, you (the MH Hub), big NGOs, MH Day and so forth. Menstruation is in some ways seen as leading to fertility/ pregnancy and linked to being “feminine”/ “womanhood”. In that sense, menopause feels like a bigger taboo because it is related to the loss of fertility, femininity and womanhood, which can be debilitating for some (especially in societies that are preoccupied with this notion).
There is a certain “yuck” factor that the menstrual space traditional has/ had, however with menopause there are other connotations/ nuances and concerns – e.g. ageism, lack of sexuality. Apart from getting shamed for menstrual blood (or lack of it), being menopausal implies being older, which is traditionally seen as negative. We are working hard to change this!
MH Hub: Who is currently working in the menopause space?
The main players in the menopause space are large medical companies who, while they might be solving the physical issues, are not really making an effort to normalize menopause or engage with the emotional or social aspect of it. We want Become to play a critical role in making room for women’s voices and real experiences. We want to build a community around menopause, much like that which has emerged around menstrual products.
MH Hub: I guess we should ask the obvious question… where can one get their hands on some Become undergarments?
Become: You can order online here (use MHHUB for a 15% discount).
We are currently only selling in the UK and US, but we are looking for strategic distributors / partners to grow in different countries. We also have a Facebook group for people sharing their menopausal experiences and reviewing the product.
And if you find yourself in London on Saturday, October 20th, please do join Become at their Menopause Workshop event. Get your tickets!
Well, that about wraps it up, folks! Thanks for tuning in and reading about menopause today. Remember, menstrual health is just the starting point of a whole lifecycle of female health experiences to follow. The more we make progress around periods, the more we can start tackling the other, equally important and life-changing experiences women and girls will likely face in ther lives.
Collective impact requires a common language, so let’s start talking and sharing – starting with sharing this article on World Menopause Day!
*Not all women menstruate or experience menopause, and not all those who menstruate or experience menopause identify as women. Men also experience menopause too, it’s just NEVER discussed.
(This was sponsored content brought to you by the Menstrual Health Hub)