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Menopause Barbie: What if We Could Play Menopause?

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

Last week Laura and I set up our Launch Your Pause table next to the Bluebird Ice Cream booth at the Columbia City Farmers’ Market and were quickly swarmed by kids who saw our “Free Menopause Tattoos” sign. In order to get a tattoo (hot flashes or orca whales) they had to first answer a question about menopause. We would start with, “Do you know what menopause is?” When most of them didn’t know, we’d ask if they knew about puberty. If this was also a no, we would look around for a parent somewhere before we asked if they knew about periods. We tried to make a connection between the tumultuous time of body changes during puberty and the similarly wild time of perimenopause when we eventually stop releasing eggs and having a period. Ok, most of these kids were just interested in a free tattoo, but we hope that some of them remembered something about our conversation when they looked at the hot flash on their arm later that night, or maybe told their moms about menopause, or even better, their dads!

When we first discussed the idea of representing Launch Your Pause at the Farmers’ Markets, I was surprised by my fear of talking to kids about menopause. I was afraid of the look on their faces, how they might view or dismiss me, or how they might take the “bad news” about what’s coming for them down the road. We don’t talk to kids about Menopause for so many reasons, fear being many of them. But this fear inhibits growth and progress and protects the status quo. Information and curiosity are power, and children are at such a developmental high point for this power. The timing is perfect to plant a seed about their future, about their connection to all the women around them. And, as Laura says, anything is interesting to kids. It’s interesting because it’s interesting.

For many of us people born with uteruses, our whole reproductive life we are or will be somewhere in our menstrual cycle. Our brain chemistry can vary as much as 25% depending on where we are in that cycle. We will spend an average of 3,500 days on our period, that’s 9.5 years! Awareness and solidarity about how this cycling will impact our lives could be so transformational, and perimenopause and menopause are crucial parts of this story. But we are so far from that openness and solidarity. Like, can public school teachers in Florida even talk about periods anymore? It’s illegal for women to make decisions about their reproductive health in 20 states right now and gender identity is under attack in many of those places as well. To be having casual conversations with young people about hormones and menstrual cycles and Menopause next to Bluebird Ice Cream feels really important. Right now, for our young farmers market patrons, it’s new words and tattoos and an interesting encounter with their older female future. Later it could be landmarks, remembering what to look for so they’ll recognize it later: Your life doesn’t suck and you’re not a complete failure, you’re just in the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle! Your progesterone and estrogen levels just dropped because your egg didn’t get fertilized and you’re about to shed all that uterine lining. Or, you’re in your early 40s and your estrogen and progesterone levels are flaring and dropping because your body is slowly decommissioning the egg factory and your endocrine system is desperately, clumsily trying to find balance.

When my daughters were in preschool their pretend play evolved as they noticed more about the world around them, incorporating random bits of information into their games — bosses, phone bills, injuries, sheep, vacations. They constructed pretend worlds that followed mutually agreed upon rules, trying on different roles and identities. This was such critical practice for life, gradually integrating new information into what they already understood. What if we got to play with menopause like this,notice it around us, mull it over, imagine different ways of being with it? What if alongside the pregnant people, the moms, dads, babies, bosses, bad guys in children’s pretend games, there were also older women who dressed however they wanted and gave good advice and did impulsive funny things and were suddenly irritable sometimes? Writing this, it feels ridiculous. Like, would anyone really choose to play with Menopause Barbie? But I don’t think I ever once imagined anything about menopause before I was experiencing it. I was completely unprepared and stuck just living each bizarre symptom as it swept over me. What if I’d had time to play menopause before I had to live it? Maybe introducing menopause into kids’ lexicons is an important opportunity for them to be more aware of the lived experiences happening around them, and a chance to play with the idea before they have to live it themselves.

So, a surprise hit of our summer farmers’s market tour has been these intergenerational encounters about menopause. It’s an experience of female lineage. Laura and I get to enjoy their bold curiosity and a glimpse of who we were at that age. They get a friendly preview of what’s coming. We’re female humans! This is what we do! It will be weird and wild and you’ll be ok because you are not alone. You’ll be connected to every female who has come before you, and also Orca whales!

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