Stacy London was an early-aughts household name with her TLC show What Not to Wear. In case you’re not makeover-obsessed like me, the show involved London and her co-host Clinton Kelly pouncing on unsuspecting makeover candidates who were nominated by their family and friends, reviewing their closets (usually in horror), then scurrying them off to NYC for a crash course in shopping and personal style.
Since the show wrapped in 2013, London has undergone a series of evolutions. She hosted another makeover show called Love, Lust or Run, lent her style pedigree to various shows including The Today Show and The View, grappled with the death of her father, underwent a complicated spinal-fusion surgery, and began her first serious relationship with a woman, musician Cat Yezbak.
She also entered menopause, and was so disoriented by her lack of preparedness for that journey that in 2021 she launched State Of Menopause, a health and wellness company that made products to address menopausal symptoms including: insomnia, depression, weight gain, memory loss — and the dreaded hot flashes. In November 2022, London decided to sunset State of Menopause, because, although she retains a deep interest in the menopause conversation and field, she wanted to move away from a product focus. As she put it on Instagram, “my interest lies in connecting us, in collaborating, in amplifying all the voices in this space….Product has not held the same interest for me personally. I love being brand-agnostic!”
CEO or not, Stacy London has earned her throne as the Maven of Midlife. She’s clear that she’ll continue to be in the trenches working on awareness and advocacy. She notes that the wind-down of State Of is in the service of a “much bigger idea that I’m really excited about launching in 2023.” In the meantime, London is still a reigning leader of menopause advocacy. “This is not an ending,” she says. “Well, it is an ending … It’s like menopause. It’s an evolution…a transformation. And it is the next thing that is coming for me.”
To wit, in September 2023, she headed up a Menopause and Midlife Immersion Retreat in Tucson. The five-day wellness event in the Sonoran Desert resort was billed as an “opportunity for a reset” and included a team of menopause authorities (i.e., the fab Dr. Jen Gunter, author of the popular tome The Menopause Manifesto); also Dr. Somi Javaid, Julie Sarton, and Dr. Joy’El Ballard — who spoke on topics from pelvic health to self-love. The retreat services including acupuncture, lymphatic treatment, musculoskeletal and joint assessments, collagen facials, and health coaching sessions and more. London will also be appearing at The Marvelous Mrs. Menopause event in New York on October 4, billed as “an evening of conversation with leading experts in the menopause space.”
We Zoomed with London to talk about society’s bizarre shame around aging women, being childfree, and how to own your personal style evolution with age.
Elektra Health is incredible; they’ve created a 21st-century guide to menopause, which I think was the bible that we needed, to start talking about menopause in terms of the 21st century. Before, there was little to no research and we’re woefully underfunded in this area.
Well, not quite. It definitely helped, but State of Menopause did not exactly benefit from menopause becoming a more popular topic; the company existed so that menopause could become a more popular topic. I would like to think that we’re one of the tailwinds of getting menopause to a place where people are able to start talking about it as a natural transition and not some kind of curse.
One of the things I think is important about why this is happening now is that if you look around at the companies that are really doing something around the menopause experience — for instance, we can talk about a $600 billion renewable white space market. And all these investors that went crazy saying, “we don’t know anything about this” — but the reason that the investing side of this has gotten more complicated is that this is not an easy community to reach. Even if this community is in real need of education, assistance, and support, it’s a difficult audience to reach because, one, a lot of people don’t know anything about menopause and don’t understand what they’re experiencing is menopause, and two, there’s deep shame about it.
So why now? Now because Gen X is basically running these menopause companies — that’s not by accident. Gen X has always kind of pushed buttons and broken ceilings. Forbes published a great article saying that Gen X is not taking aging lying down.
Now, remember that menopause is not aging. You can get menopause at very different times of your life. But it is certainly associated with aging. And so when you really go down this path, what you find is that there are people my age all asking the same question and we demand answers. Gen X doesn’t take anything lying down. I think for a small consumer population we really have in some ways shaped a lot of the landscape as you see it today, and we’re going to continue to do that. You don’t see a lot of Gen Xers saying, “You can put me out to pasture now, I’m done.” And I think we’re not just framing menopause that way (as a natural transition and one that actually has a great deal of opportunity built into it) but also saying we have to name what it really is, which is ageism.
Ageism really has more to do with sexism than anything else, and the minute you start to go down that rabbit hole you realize that the female physiology overall is under-funded and under-researched and we have been basically using male physiology standards to treat women across hundreds of issues and it has been a mistake. I think that’s also why you’re also seeing a huge rise in femtech — because women are tired of not getting the care they need and deserve.
I never really got a diagnosis when I was in peri. Eventually, I asked my doctor and she said, “It’s menopause, you’ll get through it.” She was so nonchalant that I thought I was overreacting, so I didn’t ask any more questions. I asked my therapist — when I was forgetting my speech, kept losing my words mid-sentence, and thought I had early Alzheimer’s — and she was like, “Maybe it’s just menopause.” But nobody explained to me that brain fog, night sweats, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, painful sex, weight gain, skin rashes, allergies — all of these things were related. When everything starts to go haywire in your body, and you have no idea what’s happening, you do mental gymnastics to try to figure out what it is.
Years later, when my father passed away I thought, “That’s the physical manifestation of grief; he had heart disease, I had heart palpitations. He had skin rashes, I had skin rashes. He couldn’t eat very much food without vomiting and I started to not be able to eat foods that I’d eaten my whole life — like, food allergies out of nowhere!
I had no idea that, yes, stressful events like spine surgery and losing a parent will amplify perimenopause. But it wasn’t clear to me that what I was experiencing was all part of the same thing because, unfortunately, the three or four most common symptoms surrounding the menopause experience aren’t logically related to each other. So any one symptom can easily be dismissed as nothing — or as something else. We need a roadmap in order to understand where we are in our hormonal health journey — and I think Elektra’s done a great job of starting that. Then, we need to figure out whether there is pre-menopause for you, whether you’re in peri-, what happens after post-, and the ways you can take care of yourself that are really going to contribute to your overall lifespan.
Not to brag about our generation but I will. I think we are the last generation to experience that kind of internalized shame. From not talking about it and not knowing about it, we’re also going to be the first generation to break the stigma and to really change the way this conversation is held — the way it is respected. I do not believe that you can put a lid back on Pandora’s box. This is a really good thing, not being able to unsee what you’ve seen, not being able to un-hear what you’ve heard. Once you have knowledge, you have agency, and once you have agency you can start to manage this natural transition in a way that works for you, instead of having to fight and hide or pretend nothing is happening or white-knuckle through it. Or be embarrassed, or feel ashamed.
I think the adage is true: knowledge is power, especially when we’re talking about female physiology and the fact that it’s so under-researched, and a lot of the things we didn’t know about menopause were because we couldn’t test anyone for it! So now that’s changing, slowly but surely, in the medical landscape.
How do you think State Of Menopause helped battle that shame?
Part of it was engaging this community in a way that allows them to feel like they have a safe space and can always talk to us and read articles by our community, not just by medical experts.
I wanted to meet this consumer where she’s at. If she wanted to scream “menopause” from the rooftops, I was all for it. I will do that regardless of what she feels comfortable with.
But I think this idea that we are going to create a community is like any like-minded community, like any 12-step program, any chronic illness platform, where people are speaking the same language that you’d immediately recognize and there’s something so relatable and reassuring about that. What was so sad to me about my experience with menopause was how isolated I felt. If I had known that 1 billion people were going to be in menopause by 2025 and there are 6 million in this country right now with menopause, I wouldn’t have felt so bad. The more we talk about it, the less scary and shameful it is. The more you shine a light under the bed, the more you prove that there aren’t monsters there, just dust bunnies.
Also, there’s really nothing about menopause that’s actually as scary as it seems. And that’s because — my friend Latham Thomas said something really smart on this: “We’re not trained as women to feel safe in our body.” That is absolutely due to patriarchal medicine, and using a patriarchal lens; we’re never taught to be OK with our bodies. And men have not studied female physiology enough to understand what does and does not make the difference in terms of us feeling good and safe inside of our bodies.
So there’s a lot of work that needs to be done around getting people to trust their intuition and their instincts when it comes to how they’re feeling. Dr. Jen Gunter, who wrote the Menopause Manifesto, said something interesting. She’s been doing these menopause minutes on TikTok and said a lot of doctors don’t even bother with hormone tests to see what your estrogen levels are. They base it on your symptoms, they base it on the issues that are causing you discomfort in the quality of your everyday life, and they make assumptions based on your age and a set of symptoms that all speak to menopause. Now there are sometimes some crossover with autoimmune diseases, there are sometimes crossover with thyroid issues; all of those things need to be checked against to make sure you’re not making the wrong diagnosis.
Menopause is such a natural transition that it’s really not the point to prove to someone that, for instance, they’re out of testosterone. It’s more about, what is the issue that we [can help], and if you have a health profile that allows you to take hormones safely. There are issues that make it not safe, there are cardiac issues and brain issues and health history issues that make it impossible.
But I could not take hormones. It was part of the reason that I was like, I need a company that makes effective products that are not hormonal. Some people can’t take hormones, don’t want to take hormones, or can’t afford hormones.
Do I recommend hormones? Of course I do, and I will recommend them along with the doctors you can see and the telehealth companies you can talk to, but if you can’t take hormones or don’t want to, you need an affordable option. You’re still going to have issues; you’re still going to have moments when a cooling spray isn’t going to hurt, you know?
We’re at this moment that feels like a great unraveling. There’s a lot going on in the world that does not feel right and is falling apart. But in some ways, I think what’s coming out of this unraveling are the necessary needs that must be changed in terms of female hormonal health. And that’s the lifespan — puberty, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, all of it. And for those who don’t identify as women and have female physiology, how they are managing with these natural conditions, especially when they fly in the face of their identity. Forget about surgical or medical menopause, you can have that in your teens or your twenties. These are things we need to be thinking about more specifically around female physiology and less around a patriarchal lens of female physiology.
Photos by Chris Scalzi
Gretchen Kalwinski is a former magazine editor turned copy director for a healthcare company. A mother of dogs, she’s on a health journey managing chronic illness, and attempting to master gluten-free baking, Asian broths, and her self-care toolkit. Recent work can be found in Chicago: Rust Belt Anthology and she’s @gretchel on Twitter and Instagram.
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