If you are a Black woman and menopausal, chances are you are winging it when it comes to dealing with its effects on your life. One woman is determinedly taking action to re-centre the narrative to include Black women in the menopause journey.
Karen Arthur, founder of ReddskinUK and the creator of the ‘Wear Your Happy’ movement has created Menopause Whilst Black, the UK’s first platform committed to sharing the menopause stories of Black women – women of the African Diaspora who are based in Britain, in an effort to diversify the menopause landscape.
When Karen was herself going through the menopause six years ago, she said it was tumbleweed in the media, no one was talking about it. “The information I found on Google was confusing, frightening and hella depressing. I have always been open and honest about my mental wellbeing (I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2015) and when it came to dealing with menopause, I found they go hand in hand.”
“The last time Black women based in the UK were specifically asked about HRT was back in 2007.”
But it wasn’t until a few years later, specifically in May 2020, following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement, that she felt compelled to really do something about the lack of visibility.
At the time, Karen Googled ‘menopause’ and after looking at the images, the lack of representation spurred her on to create her platform, Menopause Whilst Black and its sister podcast. She said: “My first action after setting up my Menopause Whilst Black Instagram account was to create a survey for Black UK women to learn about their menopause journey. I thought I’d get 50, but more than 230 women filled it in.”
Earlier this month, Karen launched a new survey to build on the knowledge of the first. In this latest survey she is asking Black UK women to talk about their attitudes to and/or experience of Hormone Replacement Therapy and our holistic practises around menopause.
Already, with her surveys, Karen has done more than most in the UK to shed light on how menopause and HRT specifically affects Black women. With research showing that “Black and Latina women may begin perimenopause earlier, experience more intense effects, and have a longer transition period”, the question is why are we overlooked when it comes to understanding menopause?
In a passionate post on the Menopause Whilst Black Instagram account, Karen said:
“The last time Black women based in the UK were specifically asked about HRT was back in 2007. It was aimed at BME women in Northampton and published in The Nursing Times on 9 March. BME = British Minority Ethnic (now BAME but no less problematic) 22 women aged 45 to 61 were spoken with regarding how they managed their symptoms and what they thought about HRT. Only four identified as Black British. One in the sample was taking HRT at the time (and said it was the best thing that had ever happened to her). Six had in the past but said they did it because their doctor told them to and felt they had no choice. They didn’t know enough. At the time, healthcare professionals assumed that BME menopausal women could be treated the same then concluded that there wasn’t enough research to be sure. There has been no specific targeted research since that I have been able to find.”
“Instead of dreading ageing or ignoring the inevitable I’m here to say that ageing can be powerful and liberating.”
Over the years Karen has been speaking with many Black women in the UK about menopause and in her post, she concludes that assumptions, misconceptions and misinformation about menopause is rife. Within the health landscape we are overlooked and dismissed and within ourselves we are confused and don’t know what’s out there to help us.
When it comes to HRT, Karen says: “Hormone Replacement Therapy has come on in leaps and bounds since 2007. The risks remain for some but have lessened for many and there are benefits too. In addition, there are more treatments, powders, supplements and holistic therapies available to us than EVER before. Black women are half as likely to take up HRT than our white counterparts. We need to tackle what’s going on so that we can not only advocate for ourselves but ensure that younger Black women don’t walk blindly into this perfectly natural transition.”
“Instead of dreading ageing or ignoring the inevitable I’m here to say that ageing can be powerful and liberating. No Black women should have to navigate it alone.”
Karen is encouraging Black woman brought up primarily in the UK to fill out the survey. She said: “You don’t have to be Peri or menopausal but you do need to be Black and identify as a woman of the African diaspora based in the UK. If one of your parents was from an African/Caribbean country that counts too.”
Like many services and needs for the Black community, Karen has had to roll up her sleeves to do the work and will be sharing her findings once she has collated them. A passion project, she has self-funded the surveys but is determined to do her bit to raise awareness.
She said: “As Black women, we need to look after ourselves better. We are the future. We need to prepare ourselves to enter possibly the most important transition of our lives. Instead of dreading ageing or ignoring the inevitable I’m here to say that ageing can be powerful and liberating. No Black women should have to navigate it alone. Menopause is a global conversation that EVERY HUMAN needs to have not just women who are going through it. I want us to break the silence within the Black community – talk about the stuff our mothers didn’t, so that we can thrive through menopause.”
Listen to Karen talk about why she started this work, in her own words
View this post on Instagram
Fill in the Menopause Whilst Black HRT survey here.