Visualising menopause through imagery.
Menopause might not be the first thing that springs to mind in terms of pictures. But for me, as a photography student, it’s given me the perfect subject to depict my own story through creative visuals. And it’s also given me the chance to somewhat redress the balance in terms of the negative imagery surrounding menopause.
I live and work in Switzerland, in a large international company. As a senior HR professional, I’m leading a large transformation project there, which is a full-on role. I started getting menopause symptoms a few years back, although I wasn’t certain what they were at the time.
I’m also studying photography with the Open College of Arts as a distance learning course. As a final year project, we had to choose a subject that we’d be passionate about for a long time. The thing that was dominating my life was this strange phenomena, menopause. I did a lot of research, but couldn’t find anything where anyone had tried to tackle this topic through photography.
I started to bring the subject up a bit more at work, and a few colleagues started to join in the conversations – it really isn’t something people talk a lot about in the office, especially here in Switzerland.
So I started to think about how I could use photography to tell my story and express the emotions and feelings that other women might be experiencing. I wanted to create something that might help facilitate more conversation.
To help me get a better idea of other people’s outlook, I sent out a survey to a lot of student colleagues and friends. I asked them what the menopause felt like for them.
The colours of menopause
It was really interesting. Some said blue for depression, others bright yellow – they can do things they’ve never done before. The old adage of ‘when I’m old I will wear purple’ also cropped up. As did green, for feeling sick or ill.
At this stage, I began to think about how I could stage and depict my work. Menopause is as old as we are, it has impacted women through the ages, and made me think of a primeval forest. The idea of seasons also came in, so I set my work in the forest in autumn and winter. My favourite seasons.
I learned that the word ‘menopause’ is actually a moment in time, after you’ve had 12 months free from periods. Although interestingly, in German we call the whole period of change ‘die Wechseljahre’, which means ‘the change years’. I much prefer this.
I used black and white to depict the polarities between before and after menopause. Then I added colour to convey different emotions. I had the idea of creating my own emojis and colouring them. Finally the subject. Me. In each image, I represent how I was feeling at that stage of my ‘journey’.
My photographs tell a complete story. From the beginning, unsure what was happening. I enter into a reed bed, not knowing where I’m going. Then I express my emotions in a range of different ways. I felt a little sad that I don’t have children, and now I know I never will. Moving on, I express the brain fog, then through to feeling sick, with a sense of being upside down.
Sometimes I place myself in unusual poses to convey the idea of strangeness. I often use humour as a way of managing so there’s also an element of self irony.
Finally I come through the other side, as a wise woman, comfortable in my own skin and my place in the world.
One of the ongoing worst menopausal symptoms for me are hot flushes. They happen in important meetings where I can feel myself turning red. And also at night disturbing my sleep.
To depict this, I’ve taken pictures from the landscape and coloured them bright red. My initial idea was that people would be ‘walking through’ a hot flush through the exhibition, but Covid-19 means it will currently be virtual.
My exhibition The Climacteric: a journey through menopause launched on 21 September and will be open for 28 days – or a standard cycle – until World Menopause Day.
Let’s all keep the conversations going around menopause – in words and pictures – in work and life.