Menopause campaigner Mariella Frostrup: ‘I look forward to a future where women gradually stop feeling so ashamed’

The broadcaster and author is shining a light on bladder leakage – and why menopause awareness still has a long way to go. By Abi Jackson.

Abi Jackson
Wednesday 18 October 2023 09:03 BST
Frostrup has partnered on a new pelvic floor exercise campaign (Amy Vickery/Always Discreet/PA)
Frostrup has partnered on a new pelvic floor exercise campaign (Amy Vickery/Always Discreet/PA)

Mariella Frostrup said she looks forward to a future where women “stop feeling so ashamed” of their bodies.

The broadcaster, author and former Observer agony aunt, who has been known for her work as a menopause campaigner over recent years, also said “the world is not changing fast enough” when it comes to awareness and support for women’s health experiences.

“[There has been] centuries of misinformation and misunderstanding that’s gone on around menopause. You have to look to history to see where we’ve ended up – and then in a more optimistic vein, look forward to a future where women gradually stop feeling so ashamed,” Frostrup, 60, told the PA news agency.

“I mean, everything to do with women’s bodies has been a source of shame. I remember as a teenager, I was hiding my Tampax underneath cereal packets when I went to the shops to buy them, because I was so ashamed of the fact I was having a period.

“You look at young people today, and I just love it when young women will announce to a roomful of people, ‘Oh, I’m on my period’. That is a great indication of the sort of liberation we need to experience around our bodies.”

Frostrup, who wrote an advice column for the Observer for a decade and joined Times Radio as a presenter in 2020, co-authored the 2021 book Cracking The Menopause and is chair of the Menopause Mandate collective, whose aim is to ‘revolutionise’ the support and advice women receive through their midlife health challenges and beyond.

She has now teamed up with Always Discreet on a campaign highlighting bladder leakage.

Despite affecting around half of women, many (50%) are unaware this can be a common symptom of menopause, according to a survey by the brand. Of those who do experience bladder leaks during menopause, the poll (of 1,200 women) also found more than 50% are not sure they would want to discuss it with anyone, with some (19%) citing embarrassment as the reason.

Frostrup, who has a teenage son and daughter with husband, lawyer Jason McCue, is keen to highlight, however, that bladder leakage is often one of the menopause symptoms women can effectively self-manage – through pelvic floor exercise.

These are simple exercises that involve squeezing the muscles around the pelvis, bladder and vaginal area. The campaign sees Frostrup and TV medic Dr Philippa Kaye encouraging women to ‘Squeeze the Day’ every day, with daily pelvic floor exercises.

“It’s something a lot of women live with, a lot of women don’t talk about, and a lot of women feel ashamed about – but it is actually something you can tackle, when there’s so many other symptoms women struggle to obtain treatment for,” said Frostrup. “Here’s something you can personally take agency of, and do your pelvic floor exercises.

“My mum, weirdly – and I have no idea why, because I was a teenager in the Seventies – was very vocal about the need to do pelvic floor exercises. I think probably back then, it was more to do with childbirth and making that a bit easier in the future, but I was lucky in a way, as it’s something I’ve had an understanding about – although I’m still practicing how to do them without raising my eyebrows,” she added, laughing.

“With so many of these things, you need a bit of levity as well. Obviously, [bladder leakage] is not the most pleasant thing – but it’s not the end of the world, and you can prevent it and actually make a difference if you’re already suffering.”

Frostrup is certain that lack of awareness and support around menopause has made it “so much more difficult” for those affected, and that there’s still work to be done.

“I think for an awful long time, our ignorance around the subject has made the transition through perimenopause and menopause so much more difficult,” she said.

“The discovery that one in two women are going to suffer from bladder leaks – that’s an astounding proportion, particularly when you look at it as just one of 50 symptoms around menopause that women are unaware of.

“I think there’s an issue in that menopause is now presented as something everybody knows about – ‘yada, yada, why is it still being talked about? You’ve got everything you wanted, now get on with it’ – and I think that’s absolutely not the case,” Frostrup continued.

“Based on the thousands of women who’ve written to us at Menopause Mandate and talked to us about their symptoms, the treatment, the support they’ve been able to access, their experiences in the workplace and so on. What’s clear is that the world is not changing fast enough for these disenfranchised women.

“We don’t want to rest on our laurels and just think, ‘Oh, everything’s fine now’. We’re still at base level – we’ve still got Everest to climb, when it comes to just recognition and support for women.”

Mariella Frostrup has partnered with Always Discreet on their ‘Squeeze the Day, Every Day’ missions. Find out more about pelvic floor exercises via the Always Discreet Menopause Hub. (Speak to your GP if you are concerned about bladder leakage).

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