How many men do you think could deal with the severest form of cramps, which literally feels like a knife being stabbed and turned and then released and then turned and then released, and you got to do that and you got to get up and keep going, like, go to work, go to school, go to school.
I'm feeling good. What about feeling good? What you got? Feeling good. I'm gonna do you. I'm on a new. Hi, everybody, I'm Michelle Obama and this is the Michelle Obama podcast, and in this episode, we're going to be talking about our relationships with our bodies and our health. My guest is one of my amazing friends. Her name is Sharon Malone and I have known her for well over a decade now. Dr. Sharon Malone is an ob gyn in Washington, and she's been such a wonderful resource, a steadying force in our group of women friends.
So often women have a lot of questions about our bodies, what we know, what we don't know, especially when we're going through a transition like puberty or menopause or anything else.
And Sharon has been such a godsend for us as we navigate these topics in our own lives. And I'm going to be honest.
This might sound like a conversation that's just for women, but I really believe that men can learn a lot from this one, too.
So this episode might not be one to listen to alone. You may want to put this on the speaker and blasted throughout the House so that your husband or your boyfriend or your brother, they can hear it, too. I think this one might help open up some eyes and help you open up a conversation that you've been meaning to have. It's worth it for everybody to hear this kind of stuff. And so with that, I just want to start by welcoming Sharon to my podcast.
Thank you so much for having me.
So one of the reasons why I wanted to talk about health, especially in this series of conversations where we're talking about relationships and all the things that make us who we are as women in particular, we can't really fully unravel that that that idea without fully understanding the relationship we have with our own bodies. Right. It's a relationship that's fraught with complications, to say the least, and ones that I think that we as women, we need to spend some time exploring, talking, sharing.
We come from a generation, our mothers and grandmothers and those before who didn't talk about anything, you know, and I fortunately had my mom was, I think, ahead of the game because she was like, we're talking about it all. Here's your kid. You remember during our generation, you got the kit that came in the box. It was a it was a flower box. And it had the pamphlet on all the information. And that was before tampons and you had the belt and the big old pads and and that got delivered.
And we discussed it. And then it was stored. The box was stored under the bed. It was sort of like a little treasure waiting for the moment to happen. But unlike a lot of people my age and younger, I was prepared in a way that I've come to learn. A lot of young girls weren't prepared well. And so imagine that major thing is going to happen to you. One day you were going to wake up and your whole physical being has changed.
And nobody nobody told you it was coming, right. Everybody has a different level, a comfort level of what?
They feel comfortable discussing and then on the part of your children or your daughters, they're only comfortable with hearing so much from you, you know, because I used to go through this all the time, you know, I try to talk to my girls and that, you know, and they would be I try to go someplace and they're like, oh, mom, please don't I don't want to hear that, you know?
And you're a doctor. So everything is very matter of fact. Oh, they don't want they don't want to hear it. But it's important that the information gets transmitted. However, it does.
So whether or not you have you know, your girls have a favorite auntie or they have, you know, or they go to their doctor, to their pediatrician, but it should be another person in their lives that that's a trusted person.
And, you know, sometimes it hurts your feelings, but it may or may not be. You watch not me, but I can talk to is funny. I talk to other people's daughters and young women all the time. And my girls are like, please.
And it's only been really since their been in their 20s that they've come back around to say maybe mom does have something to say.
Well, and I think our generation has an opportunity to send a different message to the young to to the generations that follow us. I know for me I've approached conversations with my daughters very differently and we both have have daughters. We started talking about their bodies.
What's going to happen, what that means, talking about it openly, I found that my girls would be as open as they saw me being, you know, so if they if they thought I was tiptoeing around something or I was like, don't ask about that or shut down when they had a question, even if the question was uncomfortable, I had to learn how to put that mommy pokerface on and go, OK, OK, ok, let's do this.
OK, well, you know, sometimes I try to buy myself a nice little sleep on that and talk about it in the car. Right.
It's to sort of figure out what to say because I always wanted my daughters to feel comfortable with their bodies, comfortable asking questions. And in order to do that, you can't have anything that's off limits, because especially when kids are young, the minute they see you clenching up about something, they notice that and they will never ask it again or they're never ask you. And then instead they'll go and talk amongst themselves. And I used to tease what I told my girls when they were young is like, I don't want you learning about your bodies and sex from another twelve year old.
None of y'all know what you're talking about. You're twelve. Come ask me.
But it's so important to set the stage for talking.
Right? Right. But I think we have to kind of kind of acknowledge that that's a good direction. I mean, that doesn't make your child more promiscuous. It doesn't you know, information is power, right, in all areas of life, but especially when it comes to health. All right. I want my daughters to grow up seeking out information about themselves because sexuality ties to other things around health, mammograms, pap smears.
All of that is like if you're if you can't touch your breast because you feel like you can't, you'll never discover a lump earlier. If you're not getting regular pap smears, you're probably not going to the doctor at all. Right. So our comfort level with our sexual health is directly tied to our, in my view, our physical overall well-being.
And I don't want my daughters to think that they can't ask questions when something is wrong, when there's a bump or a lump or a you know, something out of sorts, if we've shut them down sexually when they're young, it's their first interaction as adolescents with health. Right. And if we shut that down, what does that do to them later on in life when they really need to be questioning, when things feel different, when things are wrong, when there's a discharge, when there's an itch, when there's all these are signs of bigger things that have to be dealt with.
But if you've shushed that conversation in your household for four girls and probably for boys as well, you're shutting down the power that they'll have in the years to come to have control over their health, to take control over their health care broadly.
I have been practicing now for almost 30 years and it's interesting how things evolve just in terms of my man. Or how I talk to my patients, you know, 20, 30 years ago versus now, the one thing that I have come to understand is that it's true.
You never know the answer to a question you don't ask. And when you're in a situation like that, one of the things that I have learned to do. Is to bring it up, I ask questions about sex, you know. OK, how's that going? How's this?
And it's just you can see a sense of relief that just comes over like I thought you'd never ask.
And but I realized probably for the first 10 years of my practice, I you know, you didn't ask because you're busy talking about other things. It's you know, that wasn't a part of your training.
What it was not. Wow.
You were you're busy talking about, you know, contraception and pap smears, just like you're saying all the health stuff. And we get you through a pregnancy safely on the other side.
But when you are done with that part of your life, that discussion about sex, very few women will bring it up.
But once the topic is broached, then you've opened a door and it helps to, you know, the same thing we do with with girls that we do with young women.
You need to normalize the conversation. Yes. And to not make it seem like, OK, well, I'm weird or I'm the only person that has this and you set the stage.
And once you've done that, it's so much easier to have the conversation.
My conversation with my mother, you know, good old Mary and I love that. I love that woman because she talks about a lot of stuff.
But then there's just some stuff like, I don't know, I don't I don't remember menopause. I was like, you don't remember? You don't remember it at all. Can you give me some hints? Did you have hot flashes?
Oh, yeah. Yeah. Which, you know, she's eighty something. So, you know, look, I barely remember what I did last week, so I mean, maybe by the time I'm 80, I won't remember menopause either. But that is another reason why we need to talk about it while we're remembering it. Our friend group, we've had many, many conversations over the last ten years or so about menopause.
There is so little information that people know to really excess because sometimes with menopause and the perimenopause and all that, just for definition sake, perimenopause is the years leading up to menopause, which but when it starts usually in your mid 40s, sometimes in your early 40s and menopause itself is your last period, you've had your last period.
That's it. Hallelujah.
And and then you are postmenopausal for sure when it's your last period plus a year. And why it's so confusing because it happens to you before you even thinking about it.
That's the problem.
And so you're 43, 44 and you start to be irritable or you've got hot flashes or your periods get screwy.
And that's why you kind of need to know what to expect. So you don't think that, again, that there's something terribly wrong or what am I going to do about this? Because women complain a lot about I just can't sleep.
So the range of symptoms is huge, and then there are some women, those few lucky women who don't really have any symptoms, they kind of like, oh yeah, and then my period stuff.
Those are the same women who I just went into labor and I just had the baby, OK? They they exist. You don't see many of them, you know.
Why the irritation, just like, you know, I guess the same thing is true when you're going to have your period, what, what, what what is going on?
That is exactly that is that is the perfect analogy, because menopause is puberty in reverse. And you know how teenagers act because the hormones, they're up. They're down.
They hear that they're they're screaming one minute, you know, hey, you know, my lord, your next exact same thing.
But you're winding down at that phase. And it's not just the presence or the absence of the hormones, because once you get.
Done and your everything is settled down. Then you're kind of back to a baseline, a different baseline, but you don't have those mood fluctuations that you have in the transition and then everybody's emotional changes are different, right?
Because your genetic makeup, your size, everything. Right. Will will impact how you feel, though.
Some people, like you said, to have those emotional shifts and it just doesn't even register right that time of life, which is which makes it even more complicated because usually in your mid 40s to your mid 50s, there's a lot of stuff going on in your life, too.
And sometimes you're just mad and upset because sometimes they're really maddening and upsetting things to, you know, going on in your life.
So there's that.
But what that extra hormonal sort of imbalance does is it takes away your buffer, you know, your ability. Something that you're hoping. Exactly. You'd be irritated on a regular day. You might be in a murderous rage the next because you just don't have the ability to modulate.
And that's why this sort of perimenopausal menopausal phase is also a time when either women who've had history of depression or anxiety, it's worse around the time of the menopause.
And sometimes it's women who've never had a history of either of these things.
And then they find that around the time of it, it's just great unmasking of all the sort of emotional changes that go on.
Where are you on hormones? I mean, because that's another thing, right? To take them. To not take them. It depends, it's like, you know, just when I thought you would be for everybody else. There are like eight thousand option not. But they're. But, you know, I think the first divide is hormones or hormones.
Are you do you want them or do you not want them? And I and it depends upon which category you fall into.
I think the women who have the most symptoms, who are most bothered, who've got hot flashes and night sweats and, you know, and just all the mood stuff, that's an easy sell because you are going to when you take hormone replacement therapy, there are a lot of other alternative things you can do.
And that's assuming that you've already exercised in your eating right and your, you know, mitigating the stress in your life. But nothing is going to hit all of those things as efficiently as hormone replacement therapy. The other imponderable about this is that even though after I've told you all those symptoms that you could have and you said, well, how long does it last? Well, if it lasted for two months, you might be fine and say, all right, I'm good.
That's how I felt about an epidural, you know.
Exactly. Just like now in the height of your pain, it's like now how long is this going to be? It's like if it's a 24 hours, it's like Stigman. Fine. Perfect. That is perfect. Exactly. It's like I could do this for 20 minutes, but no, it's the same thing, those sort of immediate things. Hot flashes, sleeplessness is all that the bleeding stuff. It didn't go away in time. But there are some other things that actually don't show up until later.
And there are things like, you know, vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, urinary symptoms. Those happen just when you think, oh, I am out of that, then me again.
And then it's like, what? Phase two kicks in? I will, you know, not be oversharing and say that I take hormones and I take hormones because at the time that I was actually having those things, they were just too much else going on in my life.
Well, you know where I was 10 years ago, so and we've had this conversation. I said I can't be any madder than I am right now. I just cannot.
So I think they better let me sing better to maybe this takes the form of killing somebody.
You know, if you are bothered and I say bother to the point that it is affecting the quality of your relationships, how you do your work, how you feel, then that's an easy sell. And for everybody else, you know, if you're not, you know, it it's kind of like a non-event. Like you're if you say your mom, she kind of went through it and it was over, but she doesn't remember.
Well, was you know what? She could have been swinging from the chandeliers. And I was in college. My father's not here to share. So she might have been like, I'm fine. He's like, oh, no, she wasn't.
But there are some non sort of menopausal symptoms, benefits, really a hormone replacement therapy, and it prevents osteoporosis, you know, so you have less fractures later on down the road.
And you also will have less of those longer term complications that I was saying, you know, like vaginal dryness, painful.
And of course, if you want to remain sexually active, I, too, am a hormone taker at low risk on all the other fronts because I have a very healthy baseline. And also, well, I was experiencing hormonal shifts because of infertility, having to take shots and all that. I experienced the night sweats even in my 30s. And when you think of the other symptoms that come along, just hot flashes. I mean, I had a few before I started taking hormones.
I remember having one on Marine One.
I'm dressed. I need to get out, walk into an event. And literally it was like somebody put a furnace in my core and turned it on high. And then everything started melting and I thought, well, this is crazy, I can't I can't I can't do this.
And Barack was surrounded by women in his cabinet, many going through menopause, and he could see it, he could see it in somebody because sweat would start pouring and he's like, well, what's going on? You know? And it's like, no, this is just how we live.
You know, he didn't fall apart because he found out there were several women in his staff that were going through menopause. It was just sort of like, oh, we'll turn the air conditioner on, you know, because there's a lot of the functions of day to day life when you're going through menopause that just don't work. It's like how we dress wearing a suit. Any person who's going through menopause, who's going to work every day in a suit, you can be drenched in sweat.
Yes, down to your core in the middle of a freezing cold office and have to shower and change clothes and fix your hair all over again. There's a lot of stuff that women need to talk about.
So some some of these cultural norms change, like how you dress the temperature in the room. But again, if we're trying to hide this stuff right and we're not talking about it, that doesn't mean you bring it up in the meeting. But it's like we've got to be aware that this is happening.
If it's happening from women beginning in their 40s, the whole system of the workplace doesn't work for us in the right way. What a woman's body is taking her through is important information.
It's an important thing to take up space in a society because half of us are going through this. Right.
But we're living like it's not happening. Our power as women are power in our voice also comes from our ability to value our our health and the vessel that we exist in.
More on the Michelle Obama podcast after the break. How many men do you think could deal with the severest form of cramps, which literally feels like a knife being stabbed and turned and then released and then turned and then released, and you got to do that and you got to get up and keep going. It's like go to work, go to school, go to school, you know, go play on a basketball court. Every woman who's playing a sport now is doing it through all those circumstances.
And I don't know any men who could possibly conceive of what that feels like.
Right. If we can't acknowledge what's going on with us, we we can't fully celebrate just how amazing we are.
We had a whole channel dedicated to men throwing a ball in a hoop. And I love sports. I love watching men play sports. I get it.
But there should be like some Berthon channels.
Just some. Did you see what she did? Did you see that little woman push a ten pound baby out? Let's give her where it's her s.b or there should be an award ceremony.
When you think of all that a woman's body has to do over the course of her lifetime, going from being prepared to give birth to actually giving birth and then having that whole reproductive system shut down in menopause.
Right. That changes the highs and lows and the hormonal shifts.
There is power in that. But we were taught to be ashamed of it and to not even seek to understand it or explore it for our own edification, let alone to help the next generation.
And then after you go from that, after you've given birth, then your children become your priority. So, you know, still there's still this point at which. You kind of say, all right, when is it my turn and this is I think the good news about menopause is that.
Even though getting there is complicated, you know, it may be the first time in a lot of women's lives when you're not tied down by the other things that are that are just part of your day to day life, the notion of trying to present yourself.
To someone other than your truly authentic self kind of fades away.
Yeah, you know, yeah, you just get to say, you know, this is this you know, I have changed and tried to adapt and I've been accommodating, accommodated my husband, accommodated society, have accommodated my children. Now I'm done. Who?
When I turned 60, I said to myself, you know, I'm going to give myself this gift and the gift is I'm going to say yes to everything. I want to say yes to and no to everything. I don't and I don't think I have ever in my life given myself permission to do it.
And let's stop there so that the men that could be listening to this hear this because they start doing that when they're 20, they adopt their that philosophy much earlier in their lives. Men, it takes us until we're 50 or 60 to feel free enough physically and emotionally to be able to say, I'm going to think about what I want and say yes and no to the things that that bring me joy or turn me off. It takes us a lifetime to get there.
It does. And some people, unfortunately, never get to get there. You know, we are.
Accommodating because that is how that is what is required of us to get, you know, you say, you know, sex for a woman, you have to have another person into your body, another person.
Pregnancy means you've got to share your body with another human being for nine months.
And that is a level of accommodation that you realize that that's why we're always second, because there's always like, I've got to keep this here. I've got to keep, you know, this person.
Then you get this baby.
I'm going to keep this baby alive because it's a lot harder than it looks.
But, you know, I look at it now and I think about it.
I said, Hmm. First time that we are not having to accommodate other people, and I think that's a beautiful thing and I think that's how women should really look at menopause.
Don't think. Think of it as the end of things. It's the beginning of things. As a beginning of your new chapter, or as I like to call it, we're entering our third trimester, you know, of life.
Well, one of the things we've talked about and that I'm I'm finding as I get older, not just dealing with menopause, but dealing with what does health mean for a woman of our age.
Right. So, you know, there's that. Right. But then I think backwards and I think, well, what's what is what is being healthy mean for women, period. And we've always talked about how there's so many conflicting messages out there about weight, about mostly about weight. Right. First of all, because it seems to be that that's the only thing from a PR standpoint that people tend to care about. But we don't sort of have a real clear baseline for what health means for a woman.
Women's value goes up with how little space you take up, you know, so the smaller you can make yourself, the the higher perceived, you know, socioeconomic group that you're in, whatever it's all about being thin.
But you're right, being thin and being healthy are two completely different things.
I'm going to focus more on function than form. And, you know, so what you look like and how much you weigh is less of an issue, particularly as you get older, because the question is, what can you do? What's your function level like?
And also we come up with different skeletal structures. I am five 11 and I have hips and thighs and I can look over my family and I can see that's genetically who I'm supposed to be.
We spend a lot of time being unhappy with our in our physical selves.
My breasts are too small there. To me, this is too what that was. I look better if I had on and on.
And do you know a woman who's happy with herself? Off the top of my head, I mean, if you just think about it, do you know any woman who would come in and go, I'm good? I don't know one?
No, because we always we're always trying to fix or tweak something. Yeah.
And how exhausting that it is. It is an exhausting way to have to live. And so many of us are doing it. Women of a certain age. We we we lose our value in society. Unlike men who gain value the older they get, you know, and those images are propagated in on television where you see the frumpy, funny old guy with the young, vivacious, or even if she's our age, she is perfect, you know, hair late.
Not really. To the you know, the woman always looks a lot better than her husband in the movies. And it's like, was she with him, you know, so that, you know, I've heard a lot of women my age feel like, as with each age, they feel less seen in a public place. You know, no longer do heads turn because heads only turn in your 20s or 30s or maybe 40s if you keep up that bod, you know, in order to be noticed, women are rewarded for not looking their age.
You know, it's like, oh, she snapped back. She doesn't even look like she ever had a baby. She doesn't. So that's essentially saying she doesn't look like she's maturing. Exactly. And so, wow, that's the goal.
People need role models and they need someone to look to say because they don't have whatever you have in your mind of what fifty looks like or what 55 looks like, it might be based upon something that is really not, you know, the way that you would aspire to be, but that's in your head.
But the more women that they see who are 55, 60, who are out there living their best lives and being, you know, active in physical and beautiful, you know, but beautiful in a 50 year old way, not in a 20 year old way, you know, it's a different way of doing it.
And I think that, you know, that's what, you know, we've got to keep putting out there.
I think for women, I'm not trying to be twenty, you know, and guess what? And I'm sure all the tea in China. No, but, you know, and it once you sort of redefine what that space is, then it becomes, I think, easier for the women who come behind us.
We have had many conversations around the dinner table about health and everything else going on in the world, and it's good to be able to share because I think not many people have the girlfriend group that we have.
That's a safe space that you can say whatever you want to say and ask whatever questions that come up. You know, we've solved quite a few problems around that we have on the table.
We have to give people a sense of our women's health group started in the White House. I have always had this wonderful group of girlfriends and I thought, well, I need to not just see them, I have to be out and physical and doing something that gets me into the fresh air.
So I started organizing what I call bootcamps, which were held at Camp David, and I invited a group of women friends and we started pretty strict because I was kind of losing my mind back then.
I know that I've always had a big commitment to my health, but in the years in the White House, I found that I was more desperate to hang on to that part of myself. So for me, the weekend was important not just for a physical jumpstart, but it was an emotional jumpstart to be able to be surrounded with some women that lifted me up. And I know for me, you all took me out of the world that was stressful and tense.
And where the spotlight was, was was burning bright, where we felt like we couldn't make a mistake.
And by the end of those three or four days and over the course of the years and years that we did it, I saw some of my friends just physically transform themselves to find a different power.
And I thought, wow, what is what is this say about us as women that we can get to our middle age and many of us have never discovered or invested in our physical selves in that way.
You know, over the years, I've always sort of considered myself relatively physically fit, but, you know, that meant like a couple to three times a week I'd do something.
And I'll never forget that first time I came to Camp David and I said, we're going to work out three times a day.
So we would essentially go to Camp David for three days where we had intensive workouts and healthy eating that started like with seven o'clock meditation.
And then we do a morning cardio followed by breakfast, then a workout, a second workout followed by downtime for lunch where you could get massages or run away from me, and then we would end with an afternoon workout. So it was three day workouts and our evenings were really spent kind of complaining about the day's workout, probably cursing my name for making everybody go through all that.
We had something that is quite a luxury was because we had we would have two or three hours to talk about things, and even if you go to your doctor and you have legitimate questions, you got 15 minutes, 20 minutes tops. And it's hard to get into a rhythm of what you're really trying to ask. And a lot of times you don't even know what to ask. You're just hoping that someone can direct the conversation.
But when you have the luxury of 10 women sitting around a room, you know, one thing will spur another question or another comment about what's going on and and having the safety.
That's also a big, big, big factor in all of this, because most people don't trust enough to be able to say what really is going on with them or what you really fear and cohort's matter with women.
They've always mattered for me, health for me. I enjoy it in community. Like I always joke. It's like my husband can get on a treadmill. He can follow a workout on a piece of paper, in a dark corner, in a room. And he he could do that every day. And I look at sometimes his workout situation guy. I said, that just makes me sad that you're down here lifting weights by yourself. And he's like, what will you talk about?
He's like that when anybody around I am happiest. When I am exercising with my friends exercise, I got to have somebody else because we have to talk while we're doing it or talk before or talk afterwards. I say this because if that's part of who we are as women and we're trying to fit our health plans into a male model that is very individualized and isolated. Well, no wonder we're not embracing our health because it's no fun and it's it has to be fun.
It has to be collaborative, which is goes back to our boot camp retreats. You know, we got through those because we knew, well, we're going to eat breakfast together and they were going to work out and then we're going to talk and then we're going to work out and then we're going to playing together and then we're going to work out. I want to encourage women who find it difficult to get started to think about shaping their health community's right, you know, because maybe that's the thing that will keep us in it.
I will quit on myself faster than I'll quit on my friends. So thank you, Sheriff. Oh, you are so welcome. It's been the ride of a lifetime and we're still on it. Yeah. Isn't she brilliant? I'm so lucky to have Sharon as a friend for so many reasons and I hope all of you learn something from her, too. As we discussed, I hope you find a way to develop a wellness routine that works for you, a routine that fits who you really are, not one that fits someone else's standards.
And I hope you start asking those hard questions and having those conversations about your health, whether that's with your doctor or your girlfriends, your partner or your children, because that's really the only way we can get through any confusion or uncertainty by talking through the stuff together. That's why I wanted to do this podcast and that's why I want to thank Sharon for joining us. And thank you for listening over all these years. Girl, thank you so much.
Everybody take care and we will talk soon. The Michelle Obama podcast, it's a Spotify original presented and produced by Higher Ground Audio in collaboration with Dusseldorp Productions from Higher Ground Audio, Dan Fierman, Anna Holmes and Mukhtar Mohan are executive producers. Jenny Marrable is our editorial assistant. Adam Sachs is our consulting producer.
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