In a (hot) flash, Drew Barrymore has made the menopause cool

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There is already a multitude of reasons to love 48-year-old Drew Barrymore, but watching her cheerfully experience her first hot flush on telly just took girl-crushing to new heights.

While interviewing Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler about their new film, Murder Mystery 2, Barrymore suddenly breaks off and says; ‘For the first time, I think I’m having my first hot flash’.

Rather than casting their eyes to the ground in horrified silence at such a topic of conversation, as per all of human history since Aristotle pointed out that women are just imperfect men, Aniston and Sandler happily join in the chat.

If ever proof were needed that menopause has gone mainstream, that was the seminal moment. Barrymore – who has spoken about perimenopause before – wasn’t ashamed of her hot flush (or ‘flash’ as it’s called in the States).

What a great day for peri and menopausal women globally, to have an endearing A-lister document that experience moment by moment.

She didn’t attempt to ignore her obviously sweating face but rather encouraged further chat from her two eagerly complicit friends. What a great day for peri and menopausal women globally, to have an endearing A-lister document that experience moment by moment.

I have seen various friends have hot flushes. Frequently, they feel they have to apologise, fanning their face and getting even warmer and more uncomfortable with the (unnecessary) embarrassment.

Hearing and seeing an intelligent, successful and witty woman such as Barrymore speak so openly about the subject is like a vast cool flannel being pressed on our collectively burning cheeks.

The vibe was, if I’m honest, a little bit grown-up period party. I’m not entirely convinced by those, much as I approve of the celebration of female fertility and hormones. But far better than secrecy and the suggestion that women’s bleeding is unpleasant.

Furthermore, is there anyone you’d want more at your first hot flush than woman’s woman, Jennifer Aniston. ‘I feel so honoured’, she says, as she fans Barrymore’s face.

Barrymore is just the latest in a long (very long) line of high-profile women Stateside flagging up that – surprise! – 50% of humanity goes through menopause, and that it’s a biological fact rather than a shameful secret.

She mentions that she’s just been part of a panel about menopause with Oprah, and the audience cheers.

Actor Naomi Watts has been equally outspoken about the transition. ‘When I arrived at (perimenopause), the marketplace of products and information was lonely, scary, painful…and shameful’. To this end, Watts has created her Stripes line of peri and menopause products. Others include Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek – ‘People have the wrong assumption that (menopause) is when a woman stops being sexy’ – and Michelle Obama.

A hot flush, for those of you fortunate enough not to be in the know, is said to be experienced by as many as 80% of women during peri or menopause. The part of the brain controlling body temperature is the hypothalamus. When oestrogen goes down, this can become very sensitive to changes in temperature, and should it think you’ve overheated, it erroneously and counter-productively tries to cool you down via a hot flush.

‘People have the wrong assumption menopause is when a woman stops being sexy – Salma Hayek

Hot flushes generally start in our forties or fifties and there’s no time limit; women in their seventies and even eighties might still endure them. Some women have as many as 30 every night. It’s no exaggeration to say that they can severely affect quality of life, and I’ve personally interviewed or read the stories of hundreds of women who’ve found them distressing and embarrassing – especially in the work environment, where only too often unsympathetic colleagues can give rise to feelings of humiliation.

Solutions include HRT, and there are other drugs available for those who don’t wish to or can’t take it, as well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and practical suggestions such as fans, wearing natural fibres and avoiding triggers such as alcohol, coffee and spicy foods.

Much as a hot flush may be a rite of passage for many, nobody I’m aware of – to date – has welcomed them. Presenter Mariella Frostrup, with whom I wrote a book, Cracking The Menopause, has described the sensation of intense heat as being like dropped on a bonfire and traversing through her body, ‘in a matter of seconds, making me feel like a latter-day Joan of Arc just as her ordeal at the stake began’.

Is Drew Barrymore your hot flush hero too? Or should we cool it with menopause chat?

By normalising and even celebrating a hot flush so publicly, Barrymore has helped in the breaking down of boundaries. Frostrup is also Chair of campaign group Menopause Mandate, and she tells me: ‘Drew Barrymore represents the cool and refreshing breeze of change when it comes to the tradition of menopause = shame, and women feeling that we need to conceal our symptoms. She has single-handedly (or bare-facedly) and very publicly shattered a taboo’.

Sandler points out that perimenopause is supposed to come with anger and mood swings. ‘Maybe you could bring that out soon too’.

And Barrymore mock-frowns at him as the audience cheers again. It’s a shame you can’t get Barrymore on prescription, and she deserves some sort of award for what I’d call the most important performance of her life.

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