Guest Author - Tammy Elizabeth Southin
An increasing number of women belonging to Americaís prominent ethnic groups are more positive about going through menopause. In her groundbreaking research Dr. Eun-Ok Im of the University of Texas at Austin indicates how changing attitudes mean a better understanding of menopause for both patients and healthcare providers. More importantly, cultural barriers in the medical community are being shattered. Yes, menopause affects all women of all ethnicities.
Multi-ethnic menopause research study
Conducted at the University of Texas at Austinís School of Nursing, Imís multi-ethnic study used an Internet survey approach to gather womenís opinions. A total of 512 women aged 40-60 years old participated over a period of four years. This group represented the four most prominent American ethnic groups; Whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians, with every group made up of the same number of participants (128 women in each group).
Further details as to how many women were just beginning menopause or were further along in menopause are not known. Also unknown is how many women if any underwent a hysterectomy versus natural menopause.
Most importantly is the inclusiveness of Imís study. Most of the time, research has been biased towards white women who have been the visible majority. This explains why women who are visible minorities believed menopause was another example of socio-medial segregation. Menopause in America was a Ďwhite womenísí menopause.
Imís research concentrated on womenís attitudes towards menopause; whether they say menopause as positive or negative. Women also reflected on how menopause impacted their lives and to what extent menopause defined them as women. Not surprisingly, while there were some differences in the types of symptoms particular ethnic groups are more prone to, the majority of women reported menopause to be a normal life process. Rather than fear or shun menopause, these women embraced menopause, the good and the bad, as an empowering phase in womenís lives.
Changing attitudes about menopause
Still persistent among doctors and patients is the idea that menopause marks the end of a womanís life, vitality, youthfulness and usefulness. Curiously, white women have been most likely to react negatively towards menopause. Contrast this to African-American, Hispanic and Asian women who tended to view menopause as just another part of life. Menopause was not necessarily the end but more of a transitional phase.
Why the differences in attitudes?
One of the reasons pointing to white womenís dread of menopause centers on the North American or Western obsession with youth, beauty and ideal body image. The light skinned All-American girl has been the benchmark for decades with images of the perfect woman displayed in film, television and print. From magazines to beauty pageants white women have dominated culturally and socially explaining the troubling trends of skin-lightening lotions and eye-shaping operations in visible minority groups.
Hispanic, African-American and Asian women have relied more on their families and friends for support than from the greater community at large. Turning inward meant drawing strength and purpose from a stronger support group. This is not to say that one ethnic group was better than another at dealing with womenís issues. Women of all backgrounds have endured the menopausal stereotypes and the medical communityís lack of awareness. But to take the example of Imís findings, African-American women have dealt with other life issues and menopause is simply one more item on the list.
Changes for white women and menopause
White women may finally be catching up to their peers and looking at menopause differently than previous generations. A quick Internet search reveals literally hundreds if not thousands of Ďmenopositiveí sites that help women survive and thrive during menopause. Laughter in particular is cited by most of the white women in Imís study as a way to cope with the difficulties of menopause. Itís a way to turn the negative views of aging into positive views of becoming a much more interesting and yes beautiful woman in ways far beyond having perfect skin or hair.
Regardless of what her ethnic background, every woman will experience menopause. For some women menopause is uncomfortable, for other women menopause is miserable. Like other advancements in womenís health issues, this study demonstrates the need to approach menopause openly and inclusively.
This study is a must read and you will find the article about Dr. Eun-Ok Imís work at this link: www.utexas.edu/news/2010/07/27/menopause_research
Her full study was recently published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research.
Menopause, Your Doctor, and You