Menopause: For some, it's business as usual

October 05, 1997|By Susan Reimer

I AM A WOMAN OF A certain age.

I will not be more specific except to say that menopause is not a vocabulary word on my SATs but an event in my no longer distant future. And I will allow that I am closer to the end of my reproductive life than I am to the beginning of it.

I am trying to be upbeat about the approach of this watershed experience for women. I am trying to think of it as a spiritual transformation instead of another step toward the grave. I am trying to imagine myself as a re-energized and creative force rather than as a dried-up, empty husk.

And I was doing pretty well until I realized that, to an army of merchandisers and market analysts, I will soon be a dried-up, empty target audience.

I, and 40 million to 50 million of my girlfriends, will go through menopause sometime during the next decade. And, while 40 million to 50 million husbands may be dreading this, 40 million to 50 million sales reps are as excited about it as teen-age boys in heat.

They say a good advertising copywriter can sell ice to Eskimos, but they have met their match if they think they can sell menopause to those of us still carrying around mental pictures of ourselves as San Francisco flower children.

The first women of the baby boom generation will be 51 this year, the average age for the onset of menopause. While feminists and New Agers try to convince us that we will ride an unimagined energy burst into a new creative season, most of us believe we will leave our 51st birthday party and break a hip getting into the car.

Falling levels of estrogen, the hormone produced by the ovaries, affects the normal functioning of many body systems, including skin, bone, blood vessels and sex organs. A catalog of health problems arise from, or are complicated by, menopause: hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, vaginal dryness, frequent urination, sour taste, body odor and painful indigestion.

And, of course, dreaded mood swings.

I tried to give my husband a heads-up on this life transition, and all he could think to ask was, "Is it worse than now?"

"It is like now," I replied, "only all the time." He crossed himself and returned to his newspaper.

I don't know why I even brought it up, except that it is all anyone seems to be talking about these days.

When they start lacing orange juice with calcium and promoting it as a supplement for menopausal women, you know you have a bull's eye pinned to your back.

When Johnson & Johnson starts calling its old K-Y jelly the answer to "feminine dryness," you know they don't think you are changing diapers any longer. (My guess is, the euphemism departments of ad agencies are working a lot of late nights.)

The generation of women who wanted infinite detail about every minute of child-bearing has hit a vacuum on the complex subject of menopause because doctors are too busy shuttling them in and out of their paper gowns in a managed-care rush to answer their questions.

Leave it to marketing experts to move into that vacuum. They are the ambulance chasers of the advertising industry, but they have learned some lessons. They no longer are pitching products with slogans such as "Menrium treats the menopausal symptoms that bother him the most." But they still are trying to make a buck off women.

There are hormones and hormone patches, vitamins and herbs, hygiene products, cooling blankets, soy breads and hormone-laced face creams, special clothes and exercise products. When a trio of California businesswomen launched a mail-order catalog offering this variety of stuff, they couldn't believe their luck.

What's next, the Menopause Home Shopping Channel?

Somebody declared June to be Menopause Month. There is a hot-flash support group calling itself Red Hot Mamas. Some company named its vaginal lubricant "Moist Again."

And financial analysts are referring to incontinence as a "very attractive and overlooked market."

I don't think so.

Does anybody else find this ridiculous, intrusive and exploitative, or am I just in the middle of a mood swing?

I am sure my pre-menopausal rage will cause some man to write and say that 50-something women ought to be glad somebody is pursuing them for something, that somebody finds them attractive, even if it is only their purchasing power that excites.

All I can say in response is this: When the highways are dotted with billboards advertising products that target the great, untapped impotence market, we'll talk again.

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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