Veronica Webb started her modeling career in the ’80s and has been featured on the covers of Vogue, Essence, Elle, and many others. She was the first Black supermodel to win an exclusive contract for a major cosmetics company as a spokesmodel for Revlon. She has appeared in critically-acclaimed films including Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, The Big Tease, and Malcolm X, and has also had recurring roles in TV shows including Becker and Clueless.
Despite being one of the most stunning women in the world with decades of success under her belt, Webb felt completely blindsided when she encountered something that nearly 1 billion women deal with every day: menopause.
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“My mother was an RN, my sister is a doctor, and no one really talked about menopause,” Webb told an audience at The Marvelous Mrs. Menopause event organized by Caire Beauty last month in New York City. “And when it happened to me, it caught me so unaware. I had every single symptom you can think of: heavy periods, brain fog, hot flashes, can’t sleep, depressed, everything.”
Webb was born when her mother was 46, a time when many women are solidly in perimenopause. On top of that, as is the case in many families, female relatives referred to menopause in euphemisms like “my own private summer” and “the flash.”
“It gave me this feeling that menopause was something that was never going to happen to me, or it would happen so late in my life that it wouldn’t even be an issue,” she told the crowd of mostly 50-something women on the 74th floor of One World Trade Center.
When, inevitably, symptoms of “the flash” came knocking on her door, menopause didn’t register as the cause.
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“My husband was like, ‘What’s wrong with you? I want you back.’ I just thought, ‘I’m going crazy, it can’t be menopause,'” Webb said.
When she finally realized that’s exactly what it was, she decided she was not going to be quiet and ashamed about it. Instead, she would use her platform to spread the word that menopause and getting older is a normal part of life and anything but the end of vitality.
“It’s not a disease,” Webb said. “It’s something that we should all look forward to. It brings freedoms, and it brings responsibilities for taking care of your health. I’m happy to be here.”
Following the event, I sat down with Webb to learn a little more about her menopause journey, and how she tolerated some serious discomfort in the interest of taking menopause conversations out of taboo territory.
Q: How Did You Decide To Start Using Your Platform For This Particular Cause?
A: “Because when I went through menopause, even though I come from a family that’s very well-educated and very fluent in the medical silo, it caught all of us by surprise, including my sister who’s an M.D.”
Q: I Think You Mentioned On The Panel That Your Sister Said That They Didn’t Really Learn About Menopause In Medical School.
A: “No, not at all. Menopause wasn’t covered in medical school. My mother was an RN and really brilliant at what she did. And I was actually born when my mother was in perimenopause.
“Those conversations were just never had. And when women did talk about it when I was younger, this is like in the ‘70s and ‘80s, people just said, ‘Oh, I’m having my own private summer.’”
Q: In The World Of Modeling, Beauty Is So Important. Did It Feel Difficult To Come Out And Say, ‘Menopause Is A Thing That We All Go Through, Whether You’re A Model Or You’re A Housewife?’
A: “Well, for someone like me to feel out of control and uninformed about something that was happening in my body was intolerable.
“And of course, yes, when you are in a youth-obsessed business, the conversation about beauty, up until really the reckoning of the Me Too movement, the conversation about beauty was cut off even before pregnancy. It was a very difficult transition to make and it felt like jumping off a cliff when I first started to write about and talk about menopause seven or eight years ago on my blog and among my friends.
“But it turned out to be just a two-foot cliff, really. It became more comfortable sort of quickly. You realize that menopause is not a disease or a condition, it’s a phase of life that we all go through. And every woman who has been important in your life, if she lived long enough, she’s menopausal.”
Q: If You’re Lucky Enough To Live Long Enough, You Go Through It. You Were Very Pioneering Talking On This Topic Nine Years Ago. That Must Have Felt Really Out Of Your Comfort Zone.
A: “It was entirely outside of my comfort zone. But I had a lot of experience with stuff like this because when I first moved to New York in the ‘80s and I was in the fashion business, I lived through the AIDS crisis and lost so many people.
“The most powerful saying I think in the AIDS crisis from Act Up was ‘Silence equals death.’ But in menopause, it’s silence equals shame. And we shouldn’t be ashamed of a natural process, any more than women should be ashamed of having a period or everything that happens after you have a baby that no one ever tells you about until the baby’s there.”