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Saying Yes to Mid-Life, Naturally

"I was the first baby boomer to have a prime-time hotflash," says Memphis-born supermodel and movie star Cybill Shepherd. Cybill continues to inspire women to embrace mid-life as an exciting time in their lives.

I remember watching Cybill on Oprah talking about mid-life, menopause, and the stress that pre-menopause and menopause add to relationships. Women in the audience spoke of memory loss, decreased libido, and mood swings that left them feeling like Ivan the Terrible one moment and the Madonna the next. But one of the most impressive things about Cybill's appearance on Oprah (besides her great closing rendition of the "Menopause Blues") was her ability to make people laugh—this woman is heading into midlife and intends to have some fun on the way.

Now turning fifty, Shepherd says she initially thought of her hot flashes as "sort of fun." She called them "power-surges" (from a term originally coined by website founder Alice Stamm). But, soon, the hot flashes became "really intense and not so much fun." Shepherd says she is "not going to romanticize premenopause and menopause. It is not easy, but it is also another exciting stage. It can be explored. You can learn from it."


Cybill urges women to become critical consumers. In fact, after the famous Cybill menopause episode aired, she received many different menopause formulas in the mail. One was a package of standardized red clover extract. Today, Cybill has found that this phytoestrogenrich plant extract has made all the difference in the world. In fact, medical studies have shown red clover is an excellent remedy for hot flashes. Its phytoestrogen content may even help to support healthy bone density and circulation.

Many women today never fill their prescriptions for estrogen and instead are forging their own pathways through menopause, substituting doctors' usual drugs for a more natural approach-and there are a lot of different approaches. Black cohosh, soy isoflavones, ipriflavone, fennel, natural progesterone, vitamin Enature's pharmacy probably offers women more choices than their doctor ever could. But it takes reading and education-and a whole lot of trial and error-and probably some humor, too.


"Menopause used to shout 'middle age,'" writes Gail Sheehy in Silent Passage. "But boomers simply aren't having middle age. Youth is intrinsic to their identity. And, in fact, boomers are the beneficiaries of a revolution in their life cycle…in the space of one short generation the whole shape of the adult life cycle has been fundamentally altered. The territory of the fifties, sixties, and beyond is changing so radically, it now opens up whole new passages leading to stages of life that are nothing like what our parents or grandparents experienced."

But women must be knowledgeable about their options. "When I work with women patients or lecture to women at my workshops and seminars, I strongly emphasize the importance of women assessing their menopausal symptoms as well as their risk factors for conditions which become more prevalent after midlife, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and breast cancer," says Susan Lark, M.D., a member of the clinical faculty of Stanford University Medical School, where she continues to lecture when she isn't seeing patients in her private practice in Los Altos, California. "I feel strongly that each woman should be knowledgeable about [her] treatment options and initiate her own selfcare program for best results."


"This is what 50 looks like, so far not surgically corrected (but never say never)," says Cybill in her new book, Cybill Disobedience (HarperCollins 2000). "Ancient artifact that I am, my pictures are still on the makeup counter at the drugstore, so I know the response to my lamentations may be: Shut up, Cybill Shepherd. But I still have to confront the bathroom mirror-no retouching, no flattering lighting. As an aging beauty in America, I have an interesting perspective. I'm ready for my Shelley Winters parts now, and I have less vanity than you can imagine. My kids beg, 'Before you pick us up, could you please comb the back of your hair?'"

In the end, however, for Cybill it is a sense of humor and laughter that gets her through the tough times.

"I am comforted to imagine that someone in the 21st century will remember a big, brassy blonde who tried to use humor as the Krazy Glue for life's necessary reparations," she says, "a stranger who will stand with a smile at my final resting place, reading a tombstone that says, 'We'll make this a comedy yet.'" D.S.

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