Wellness industry insiders have a nickname for the section of the store that stocks certain menopause-related products: the “aisle of death.” So says Alexandra Fennell, co-founder of personal care company Attn: Grace (pronounced “Attention Grace”). “I remember hearing that for the first time and being really, really taken aback at just how sort of insensitive and … almost cruel it is,” Fennell says.
In its cruelty, the moniker accurately reflects widely held perceptions of women over a certain age. Menopause is inevitable for half of the world’s population, but almost invisible in politics, culture, and other figurative public squares. Somehow, it has remained a taboo even as other progressive topics have migrated out of the shadows to become regularly depicted, even celebrated. Think about it: When was the last time you saw a character in a TV show bemoan a bout of brain fog or buy a supersized carton of lubricant at the pharmacy?
The absence of menopause from media, and the discomfort with the subject are rooted in sexism and misogyny, according to Fennell. It’s a subject that’s been on her mind as she enters her mid-40s.
“Our society and our culture ties our value as women to fertility, to procreation, to that aspect of our life,” Fennell says. “And there's this almost … subconscious or conscious belief that as we, as women, age, we must be washed out, irrelevant, devoid of the vitality that we had previously.”
But a backlash to that attitude is potentially brewing. Realizing people experiencing menopause represent a neglected customer demographic, a cadre of (mostly women) entrepreneurs, including several celebrities, have begun speaking openly about menopause and developing products to provide relief from its symptoms — a savvy business move that also manages to serve an important social purpose. Below, you’ll find a list of four brands doing their part to disrupt offensive social narratives about female aging.
While Naomi Watts is perhaps best known for her turn as the wannabe screen siren in “Mulholland Drive” or the harrowed, heroic mom in “The Ring” and its sequels, she is carving out a new niche for herself as an advocate for women in the throes of what is often euphemistically known as the “change of life.” Her new company, Stripes, will have a range of products designed specifically for menopausal customers available for purchase when it opens for business later this month. Products showcased on the Stripes website include a hair mask, body oil, facial serum, hydrating cream, and the coyly named “play oil.”
Marketed with the tagline “Welcome to a world where menopause isn’t a dirty word,” Stripes strikes a careful balance between positioning menopause as a condition that can be emotionally and physically disagreeable and not pathologizing that condition. In preparation for its upcoming launch, Watts has been candid about her own struggle with night sweats, itchy skin, chronic migraines and a range of other associated symptoms. If nothing else, it’s refreshing and, dare I say, trailblazing to witness a celebrity speak frankly about her own personal experiences with a physiological transformation that is so frequently and heavily stigmatized.
When she was 51, lawyer Debbie Dickinson had her first hot flash, a sensation she compares to an inferno. Dissatisfied with the commercial solutions available to her, she and her daughter Markea Dickinson collaborated on developing one of their own: a smart device they call the Thermaband Zone. Designed with input from engineers, OB/GYNs, menopause experts, and beta testers, the Zone straps around the wrist, superficially resembling an Apple Watch when worn. Sensors detect an increase in body temperature, then produce a cool pulse to counter it. (The Zone can also work in reverse by producing a warm pulse to counter a decrease in body temperature.) Like Stripes, it is due for its wide release this fall.
“Essentially, what the Zone does is make temperature portable,” Debbie says.
The development process was eye-opening. In speaking with other menopausal women, Debbie became aware “many people were suffering in silence.” Many reported that menopause was such a mark of shame they hid their symptoms in the workplace for fear of judgment or outright discrimination: “We fight so hard to get a seat at the table that I found that women were uncomfortable representing or presenting [menopause] in a way,” Debbie says, recounting stories of women powering through the pain of a hot flash during a presentation or business meeting. With the Zone, she and Markea hope to use “data and information” — the Zone relies on AI technology to determine when to activate — to offer women an increased measure of agency over their own health care.
Watching her wife’s elderly mother struggle with bladder control problems, Alexandra Fennell said she was struck by the inadequacy of conventional incontinence products. Her in-law often complained that the harsh material irritated surrounding skin, causing pain. By doing a little digging, Fennell and her wife, Mia Abbruzzese, identified the root cause: The surface layer of most liners, pads, briefs and other items designed to soak up leaks is “a petroleum-based synthetic that is then treated with chlorine bleach and synthetic fragrance and synthetic dyes,” Fennell says. That composition, she says, can “really be a recipe for … a wide range of skin problems,” including welts and rashes.
So, in 2020, Fennell and Abbruzzese began selling skin-safe alternatives through Attn: Grace. Instead of a petroleum-based synthetic, “we use a top sheet that’s made of upcycled sugarcane, so only natural fibers are touching that layer of your skin,” Fennell says. “And then we left out the bleaches and the dyes and the fragrance and all of that.”
In addition to comfort, Fennell and Abbruzzese found that discretion was extremely important to potential customers. Reflecting the stigma associated with menopause, many reported they found the process of buying incontinence products in person “deeply uncomfortable.” To address these concerns, the couple decided to adopt a direct-to-consumer business model, making home delivery a focal point of the brand’s appeal.
In their capacity as Attn: Grace co-founders, Fennell and Abbruzzese believe they have a responsibility to spread “education and empowerment.” Roughly one in two women over 50 in the U.S. experience bladder leakage, according to Fennell, making it all the more necessary to reject the prevailing culture of silence. To that end, the company’s website features a resource library filled with medical information about incontinence and a location-based directory of specialists who offer incontinence treatments.
Medical complications forced Mary Kay Bitton to suddenly undergo a hysterectomy. In the wake of the procedure, she entered what is known as “surgical menopause” — menopause induced by surgery rather than the natural aging process. She recalls once running downstairs to stick her head in the freezer when a hot flash came on while she was hosting a dinner.
“While sticking your head in the freezer works, how often can you possibly do that?!” she says.
Desperate for a more practical form of relief, Bitton discussed hormone replacement therapy with her doctor but decided it wasn’t for her. Seeking a natural remedy, she teamed up with her children Bobby and Brianna, co-founders of the women’s health and wellness brand O Positive and manufacturers of the first PMS gummy vitamin, Flo.
“We dove deep into herbs that have been traditionally used to treat a wide range of issues, including those surrounding PMS, as well as menopause,” Bitton says.
Supplement line Meno, the fruits of their labor, went on sale on May 10. Meno offers “natural, hormone-free relief” for an array of menopause symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and sleeplessness, according to Mary Kay. The five ingredients in Meno’s vitamin capsules include black cohosh, ashwagandha, and chasteberry — plants that research suggests are in fact effective.
By telling her story, Bitton says she hopes to “make menopause … viewed as less ‘taboo.’” In her mind, menopause is not the “lonely time” many women are taught to see it as. Rather, it is “the start of a new chapter that should feel thrilling!”