'Everything started melting': Michelle Obama recounts epic hot flash, talks aging

The former First Lady sat down with OB-GYN Dr. Sharon Malone to talk about the upsides of menopause and growing older.
Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama's most recent podcast focused on women's health and topics that are sometimes considered taboo like menopause and hot flashes.Paras Griffin / Getty Images

During a candid conversation on the "Michelle Obama Podcast," the former First Lady spoke freely with her friend Dr. Sharon Malone, a Washington, D.C.-based OB-GYN on a number of women's health topics.

One major recurring theme? Menopause, post-menopause and the freedom that comes with growing older.

Malone said that the lack of information about menopause, combined with the emotions brought by hormonal changes, can be an upsetting combination.

"There is so little information that people know to really access," Malone said. "... (And) that time of your life 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 ... What that extra hormonal, sort of imbalance does, is it takes away your buffer."

In some cases, women can take hormones, which Obama said she started doing while her husband, former President Barack Obama, was in the White House. Hormone therapy can help manage symptoms of menopause.

"I had a few (hot flashes) before I started taking hormones," Obama explained. "I remember having one on Marine One. I'm dressed, I need to go 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. I thought 'Well, this is crazy. I can't do this.'"

Obama said that during her husband's tenure as president, several other women on his staff were experiencing similar things.

"He could see it in somebody, because sweat would just start pouring, and he's like 'Well, what's going on?' And it's like, no, this is just how we live," Obama explained. "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, well, turn the air conditioner.'"

Malone and Obama both agreed that symptoms like hot flashes could be better handled if certain cultural norms shifted — but those norms would only change if more women spoke out about their experiences.

"If we're trying to hide this stuff, and we're not talking about it — that doesn't mean you have to bring it up in a meeting, but we've got to be aware that this is happening," Obama said. "If it's happening to 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."

"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, the changes, the highs and lows and the hormonal shifts, there is power in that," Obama continued. "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."

Malone said that despite the negative symptoms often associated with menopause, she saw the transition as freeing.

"I think the good news about menopause is that even though getting there is complicated, 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 just part of your day-to-day life," Malone said. "The notion of trying to present yourself to someone other than your truly authentic self kind of fades away, you know?"

Malone said that when she turned 60, she gave herself "the gift" of saying yes to "everything (she wanted) to say yes to, and no to everything (she didn't)."

"It takes us until we're 50 or 60 to feel free enough, physically and emotionally, to say, 'I'm going to think about what I want, and say yes and no to the things that bring me joy or turn me off,'" Obama agreed. "... It takes us a lifetime to get there."

Malone said that she has found aging itself to be a freeing process.

"Don't think of (aging) as the end of things," she said. "It's the beginning of things, it's the beginning of your new chapter. Or, as I like to call it, we're entering our third trimester of life."

"People need role models ... The more women that they see who are 55, 60, who are out there living their best lives, and being active and physical and beautiful, but beautiful in a 50-year-old way, not in a 20-year-old way," Malone continued. "Once you sort of redefine what that space is, then it becomes, I think, easier for the women who come behind us."