Ageing has various physiological, psychological, biological, as well as sociological implications for women. There isn’t enough conversation about issues like menopause and other biological changes that women go through as they grow older. Oftentimes, women’s health issues remain restricted to their weight, skin, dieting, or health issues concerning younger women like pregnancy. It isn’t surprising as society still measures a woman’s worth by her age, her weight, or even her reproductive capabilities. It was refreshing when former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama spoke candidly about ageing and menopause, including her own experience with it, on her podcast — The Michelle Obama Podcast
- On having an honest conversation with her daughters about growing up bodies
- On Menopause
- Having a hot flash on Marine One, the presidential helicopter
- Women’s bodies and the workplace
- Women’s bodies, pain
- Women and weight
- Women and happiness
In the episode — What Your Mother Never Told You About Health with Dr. Sharon Malone — Obama speaks to her friend and Washington-based obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Sharon Malone about ageing, menopause, talking to your children about their bodies and sex, and a lot more. Here are some (edited) excerpts from the interview that we loved:
Michelle Obama on having an honest conversation with her daughters about growing up bodies
“I always wanted my daughters to feel comfortable with their bodies, comfortable asking questions. And in order to do that, you can’t have anything that’s off limits. When kids are young, the minute they see you clenching up about something, they notice that, and they will never ask it again, or they’ll never ask you. Instead they’ll go and talk amongst themselves…what I told my girls when they were young, is like, I don’t want you learning about your bodies and sex from another twelve year old. None of y’all know what you’re talking about! You’re twelve.”
“I want my daughters to grow up, seeking out information about themselves, because sexuality ties to other things around health. Mammograms, pap smears, all of that…if you can’t touch your breast, because you feel like you can’t, you’ll never discover a lump earlier, if you’re not getting regular pap smears, you’re probably not going to the doctor…our comfort level with our sexual health is directly tied to, in my view, our physical, overall well being.”
Dr. Sharon Malone on menopause
“…Menopause, is puberty in reverse. And you know how teenagers act, because their hormones, they’re up, they’re down, they’re here, they’re there…(menopause is the) exact same thing. But you’re winding down.”
“…Hot flashes, sleeplessness, the bleeding stuff, it tends to go away, in time. But there are some other things that actually don’t show up until later. And there are things like vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, urinary symptoms, those happen, just when you think (you’re) out of that…”
Obama on having a hot flash on Marine One, the presidential helicopter
“I’m dressed, I need to get out, walk into an event, and, literally, it was like somebody put a furnace in my core, and turned it on high, and then everything started melting. And I thought, well this is crazy, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t do this.”
I’m dressed, I need to get out, walk into an event, and, literally, it was like somebody put a furnace in my core, and turned it on high, and then everything started melting. And I thought, well this is crazy, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t do this.
Michelle Obama on women’s bodies and the workplace
“Any person who’s going through menopause who’s going to work everyday in a suit, you can be drenched in sweat, down to your core, in the middle of a freezing cold office, and have to shower, and change clothes, and fix your hair all over again.”
“There’s a lot of stuff that women need to talk about, so some of these cultural norms change, like, how you dress….the temperature in the room…we’ve got to be aware that this is happening…the whole system of the workplace, doesn’t work for us in the right way.”
“What a woman’s body is taking her through, is important information. It’s an important thing to take up space in a society. Cause half of us are going through this.”
Obama on women’s bodies, pain
“How many men, do you think, could deal with the severest form of cramps, which literally feels like a knife being stabbed, and turned…And then released. And then turned! And then released. And you got to do that, and you got to get up and keep going…go to work…Go to school, go play on the basketball court, every woman who’s playing a sport now, is doing it through all those circumstances. And I don’t know any men who could possibly conceive of what that feels like.”
“When you think, of all that a woman’s body, has to do over the course of her lifetime, going from, being prepared to give birth, to actually giving birth, and then having that whole reproductive system shut down in menopause…the highs and lows and the hormonal shifts, there is power in that. But, we were taught to be ashamed of it. And to not even, seek to understand it, or explore it for our own edification, let alone, to help the next generation.”
Dr. Malone on women and weight
Dr. Malone: Women’s value goes up with how little space you take up. So, the smaller you can make yourself, the higher perceived socioeconomic group that you’re in…it’s all about being thin. (But) being thin and being healthy are two completely different things. I’m going to focus more on function than form. So, what you look like and how much you weigh is less on an issue particularly as you get older, because the question (then) is — what can you do? What’s your function level like?
Michelle Obama: And also, we come with different skeletal structures.
Sharon Malone: We do.
Michelle Obama: I am 5’11, and I have hips and thighs, and I can look over my family, and I can see that’s genetically who I’m supposed to be.
Obama on women and happiness
Michelle Obama: Do you know a woman who’s happy with herself?
Sharon Malone: Off the top of my head?
Michelle Obama: I mean, yeah, if you just think about it, do you know any woman who would come in and go “I’m good”? I don’t know one.
Sharon Malone: No, cause we were always, we’re always trying to fix or tweak something.
Michelle Obama: Yeah, and how exhausting is that?
Sharon Malone: It is
Michelle Obama: It is an exhausting way to have to live, and so many of us are doing it. Women of a certain age, we, we lose our value in society, unlike men, who gain value the older they get. You know, and those images are propagated in, on television, where you see the frumpy, funny old guy, with the young, vivacious, or even if she’s our age, she is perfect.
Listen to the full podcast episode below.
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