Why Hollywood star Naomi Watts is reshaping the narrative around menopause

Academy Award-nominated actor Naomi Watts began experiencing signs of perimenopause when she was just 36 years old.

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“Firstly, I’ll say I had two children naturally,” Watts told an audience gathered to hear her speak on a panel held at South by Southwest Sydney (SXSW).

“As soon as I had my second child, I basically went into hardcore symptoms,” Watts said.

She experienced shame, panic and loneliness and, as a Hollywood actor, faced the real prospect of what she was going through impacting her career.

“I went into, ‘Oh my God, I’m finished,'” she said.

“‘I’m no longer sexy. I work in Hollywood.

“And if you’re not fertile, you’re unf***able.”

Watts said she had long ago been told by an agent that she needed to “work, work, work” because she only had until she was 40 to “play a leading lady”.

The SXSW panel on menopause and midlife as a springboard for reinvention was hosted on Tuesday by Mamamia co-founder Mia Freedman.

It also featured scriptwriter and former Dolly model Alison Brahe Daddo, and Dr Ginni Mansberg, Medical Director of the organisation Don’t Sweat It, aimed at making workplaces peri and menopause friendly. 

Navigating a new relationship… and menopause

Watts, 55, married Morning Wars actor Billy Crudup earlier this year and said they were dating at a time when she was experiencing a great deal of discomfort.

“I will go carefully here to protect the privacy of my relationship,” Watts said.

“But I will say, it was a very awkward time.

“I didn’t know how squeamish he would be. And the idea of exposing such personal things that I knew I felt ashamed of, how would he feel?”

Naomi Watts and Billy Crudup standing side by side dressed formally and outside at an awards show
Naomi Watts considered menopause a litmus test for her relationship with Billy Crudup.(Getty Images: Matt Winkelmeyer/WarnerMedia)

She said ultimately, keeping secrets is too exhausting and communication is key.

She chose to lean in and own it.

“It’s hard to hide a patch,” she said.

“It’s hard to hide the moods. It’s hard to just show up in the ways that you may have in your 20s and 30s.”

She decided menopause would be a great litmus test and was really honest with him and he responded with empathy, kindness and “a few jokes”.

“He knew how to behave. He knew how to just be gentle and show up.

“And obviously he passed the litmus test, and now we’re married.”

What is Menopause?

  • Menopause is a single day
  • That day is 12 months since your last menstruation
  • Most women become menopausal between 45 and 60 years of age.
  • It marks the end of the reproductive stage of life
  • Symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, muscle and joint aches and tender breasts
  • There may also be sleep disturbances
  • The combination of these symptoms can cause anxiety or depression
  • Perimenopause is the stage of life leading up to your last period. During perimenopause, your periods may become irregular and you may experience a range of other symptoms, such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness
  • Postmenopause is the final stage of menopause. During postmenopause, some symptoms such as hot flushes usually become less concerning or disappear altogether
  • A woman’s risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis naturally increase in postmenopause

Sources: Health Direct, National Institute of Aging, Mayo clinic

Weeping, rage, anxiety ‘and then throw in some teenagers’

Members of the panel described feelings of rage and anxiety while experiencing perimenopause and menopause as well as sleeplessness and brain fog.

“Doesn’t Mother Nature give us teenagers at the worst time?” Dr Mansberg posed.

“And elderly parents as well.”

Dr Mansberg said one in three women will experience anxiety and/or depression at around this time.

“The peak period of vulnerability in a woman’s life is actually around perimenopause and the early postmenopausal years and it’s actually the peak time for suicide as well … and divorce,” she said.

Freedman asked the panel about reckoning with their identity and self-image in a youth-obsessed culture at a time when women also experience feelings of invisibility.

“I felt really embarrassed and ashamed about how I’d aged and thinking like I’d let people down somehow,” Ms Brahe Daddo said, saying she had to dig deep to overcome these feelings and embrace this new stage of life.

Watts said it was important to have these conversations.

“I’m encouraged that we’re normalising this conversation between all of us,” she said.

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