We all love Andrea McLean for her honest and open presenting style on daily talk show Loose Women – without doubt, she’s one of the most glamorous 49-year-olds on telly. She recently detailed her experience of going through the menopause in her book Confessions of a Menopausal Woman and is now working with Holland & Barrett on their Me.No.Pause campaign, supported by City Hall and Tfl. The initiative is calling for an increase in diversity in advertising for women, particularly around health subjects like the menopause. Andrea exclusively told HELLO! why the often taboo subject is so close to her heart…
“Getting involved with the campaign was a complete no brainer,” Andrea tells us. “Because it encapsulates everything that I already think about the menopause and also of women of my age – which is: you are not invisible any more, you are still a strong and capable woman who’s able to do different things and you come from all different walks of life.
“Once you go past a certain age in the media, you will notice that you’re not necessarily represented. It’s a real slow realisation, because you’re so used to seeing young gorgeous women – and there’s nothing wrong with being young and gorgeous, it’s a wonderful thing – but that’s just one part of your life. You can still be middle aged and gorgeous and older and gorgeous, just in unique and different ways. This highlights it. There’s not one definition of beauty or being a woman. Going through the menopause is just that; it’s part of our definition of being a female.”
Andrea told us about her own experience of the menopause. She said: “At the end of 2016 I had to have a full hysterectomy and what that did was it put me into full menopause, which is different to a normal menopause in that it’s more intense.”
The presenter explained: “I started becoming more vocal about it because of working on a daily TV show – I had to give a reason as to why I wasn’t going to be on air. I told the truth, which at the time was actually quite a daring thing to do. If you spoke out about going through the menopause, you were instantly seen as old. Working in the media as I do, being seen as old is really not a great career move. So it was quite a big deal to hold my hand up and say, ‘This is what’s happening to me, this is what I’m going through’. I was still in my 40s, so I wasn’t looking back at it retrospectively. It was something that I was going through at the time.”
Andrea reveals that as soon as she spoke of her hysterectomy and menopause on air, 10,000 women contacted her within 24 hours. “For me, it felt like it came from nowhere but I realised that there’s all these women – half the population of the entire world – going through the menopause at some stage. The only time the menopause is ever mentioned is when people are taking the mickey out of it – the whole Les Dawson character leaning on a garden fence and having a hot flush sort of thing.”
In her book, Andrea bravely spoke about how she found sex painful during the menopause. How did it feel talking about such a personal subject? Andrea says: “If you’d asked me a few years ago, would I ever talk about that sort of thing, I would literally have laughed and say why on earth would I want to talk about that? It’s as personal as it gets. When all those 10,000 women got in touch, I started a Facebook conversation and I asked them: What is it you want to know? What bothers you the most? Where is it that you really need help?”
She adds: “Over and over again the topics that came up were revolving around the mental health of women going through this stage of life, but also how much the fact that their sex life was affected. It was affecting their relationships, their confidence and their sense of self.
“I realised any way I could start a conversation and say, well I’m going through this too and this is what I find helps and I’ve spoken to a doctor and they suggest this, this and this. That helped me be one step removed from the embarrassment of it.”
Surprisingly, Andrea tells us that she’s had a huge reaction from men after speaking about her menopause. “Since talking openly about sex and these other things, I’ve been completely blown away by, not just the women who’ve stopped me in the street and given me a big hug, but the men who’ve stopped me and said, ‘You’re that woman who wrote that book that my wife’s read. Can I just say, thank you so much, you’ve helped us and we’ve started talking about things. You’ve given me my wife back because now we’re able to communicate and now I understand what she’s going through.”
Andrea says going through the menopause isn’t just a one-off event like decorating your house; she says it’s an ongoing process ‘like gardening’. “You realise, that ok, this has changed and you start sorting everything out, planting new bulbs and trimming your hedges and then in a month’s time you turn around and think ‘oh I need to do that again’ because you need to keep on top of it.
“For me, the menopause isn’t something I went through and then disappeared; it’s something that I’m still going through and will do for a pretty long time, especially because I’ve had my ovaries removed.”
Andrea has started her own website called thisgirlisonfire.co.uk all about embracing middle age. “That was why the Holland & Barrett campaign really resonated with me,” she says, “Because it completely underlined the fact that, you are just half way through, not half way done and we may all look and sound different, but that doesn’t mean that our voices aren’t as relevant.”