For 10 years of the early aughts, Stacy London was on TLC telling women What Not to Wear, gaining legions of devotees. But now London, 54, has a whole new message for women — and this time, it’s about what not to fear: menopause.
To that end, she's equipping anyone who will listen with knowledge, something she says she was completely lacking when she entered perimenopause almost a decade ago.
“I knew what menopause was only because I'd seen that one episode of All in the Family where Edith Bunker gets angry,” London tells Yahoo Life of the 1970s sitcom, noting that it had been more informative than even her own mother, who had told her "nothing, absolutely zero" about the inevitable stage. “And I thought [Edith] was in her 70s or 80s, so that's when I thought menopause happened.” But in that episode, she adds, actress Jean Stapleton “was 47, which is exactly when I went into perimenopause.”
That took a while to click for London, who around that time began to struggle with insomnia, mood swings, heart palpitations, hot flashes, anxiety and depression in the wake of recovering from spinal surgery and coping with the death of her father. The symptoms, she thought, had no obvious cause, beyond perhaps grief.
“It was really trying,” she recalls. “And nobody said to me, ‘Your hormones are going nuts.’ I am so angry about that. Even when, finally, one doctor said, ‘Yeah, it's probably menopause,’ they said it in a way that made me feel I was overreacting. That it doesn't count. To stop worrying about it.”
It's why, London believes, this country needs “systemic change in healthcare” to the same extent it's needed around race, gender, sexuality or economic disparity. The need is “so big — and I am a white woman of privilege," she says. "I’m not even talking about what is happening to women of color or people who are differently-abled."
And it’s why she's taken a complete left turn, career-wise — trading media work (starting as a fashion magazine editor and continuing with WNTW and other shows) for the role of menopause guru. She’s done this in various ways — first, by acquiring the wellness products company State of Menopause and then, within two years, closing it, realizing it was not "what menopause is about, and I didn't want to be on the wrong side of it. I built my career being honest with people, and I did not want to start lying that my face oil was gonna help your mental state."
Because menopause, she's learned, "is too big a topic to be an industry," she says. "I think that we've seen everybody try and come up with products, and it's this new vertical, and everybody's going to make so much money! I think it's way more complicated than that. To reduce it to its commercialization is really to ignore a lot of important facts — one, I think this is not a beauty problem. This is a health problem, because we haven't done enough clinical studies around women," an issue the Biden Administration announced it would tackle just this week.
Now London is advising other menopause companies and using her platform, especially on Instagram, to promote menopause education, and to advocate for both medical and naturopathic interventions. She does it by sharing her own experiences, conducting expert interviews, endorsing specific wellness products and sources (including Dr. Jen Gunter's The Menopause Manifesto) and, most recently, by holding her first menopausal health retreat, with experts teaching about the wide-ranging aspects of menopausal health — “cardiac, cognitive, bone,” which many women have no idea of “at all,” she says.
"Those are the things that you have to start planning for and thinking about — it's not just what your vasomotor symptoms [such as hot flashes] are,” she says, noting that many of the attendees were “in shock” when they learned about the importance of screenings such as a DEXA scan, which measures bone density. “What happens after menopause,” she says, “is going to affect the rest of your life.”
Above all, London is trying to put a big dent in what's been the historical silence around menopause — not only among friends and between mothers and daughters, but in the offices of medical professionals, who have been taught medicine “through a patriarchal lens,” she says, resulting in years of no support or information and of not readily offering hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to ease even the most severe symptoms, largely due to fears stoked by a 2002 study.
In her mind, the topic of menopause fragments into two important aspects: the belief that healthcare for women needs to evolve, and the basic understanding that the "social, cultural, patriarchal idea that you somehow become invisible or irrelevant because you are no longer biologically able to have children is such bulls***." It's why, she says, "the idea of vanity and the idea of external validation are two things that we really have to work on in terms of that patriarchal lens."
That lens is something London has become more and more attuned to in mid-life — especially since entering into a relationship with musician-comedian Cat Yezbak in 2019. That's when London took to Instagram to note, in part: "So I used to date men. Now I date her. That’s it. That’s all I have to say."
Now five years in, she shares, being in a loving partnership with a woman has been an epiphany. "Not to need that kind of male-gaze attention was absolutely a revelation to me … It was like, I've never felt this kind of freedom in my life," she says. "I've always felt judged by men — certainly when I was younger and certainly when I was on television. I thought that it was so important for me to be as beautiful as possible, as sexy as possible. Why was I wearing all those pencil skirts I could barely walk in? And I really struggle with that now, because I think I wasted so much time."
She adds, "Honestly, I wish that more of my friends could date women because it's such a remarkable and revelatory experience."
It's made her even more outspoken than she already was. "Cat has taught me a ton about queer culture and trans rights. I mean, this is something that I am so adamant about, and I had no idea as a straight person," she says. "And now it gives me a lot more ability, when I go out into the world, to act differently. The other day we ran into somebody who introduced Cat as my friend, and I was like, 'She's my girlfriend! She's my life partner. Do you understand? Don't ever call her my friend.' It was a very powerful moment."
But still, even now, some of London's most sought-after advice can be about fashion — something she's learned on her WNTW tour, a live reunion show with co-host Clinton Kelly. The most popular question coming from women in their 50s and 60s, has been, "'I do not know what to do. I don't want to wear a crop top. I don't want to look like my 25-year-old self, but I want to be cool.' All I can say is, 'Hold on. Stuff is coming,'" she says, seemingly hinting at — yes please! — an upcoming fashion line.
In the meantime, advises London, who has discovered a personal style thrill in wearing suits, "I really believe you have to do a style audit in your closet and think about what brings you joy." And then, when you go to fill in the gaps, she suggests this: "Buy less, spend more. Buy quality pieces over s***, and every once in a while buy an accessory or something that makes you feel trendy. But buy things that really make you feel like you're in your power."