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An application of the theory of life's lesions to the study of the menopausal transition

Finkler, Kaja PhD

doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e318030f20e
Articles from the Workshop on "Cross-cultural Comparisons of Midlife and Aging"

The aim of this article is to shed light on the experiential and contextual sources influencing menopausal manifestations, or discomforts. To do so, I propose the concept of life's lesions, suggesting that women's experiences of physiological changes occurring during the menopausal transition may be heightened by specific aspects of their lives embedded in society and culture. The concept of life's lesions advances the notion that the lived experience tends to order a person's life and shape a person's experience of his or her body, including during menopause. Indisputably, menopausal discomforts will be due to inexorable biological changes that take place when a woman reaches a certain age, but they will also be promoted by external factors that prevail in a given society, such as economic scarcity, malnutrition and public health deficits, environmental or political upheavals, civil wars, forced migration, and racism, especially in developing nations; most important, they will be furthered by irresolvable contradictions, irreconcilable incongruities, and moral indignations in their lives that lead to anger and anguish. Rooted in the notion of life's lesions is the fundamental assumption that human beings the world over exist in a moral and ideological universe, that they engage in moral evaluations by distinguishing between right and wrong in the social environment. All these factors become part of their physiology and amplify the experience of bodily changes. By pointing to the moral domain and the existence of irresolvable conundrums in human life, which could also be felt as moral affronts and injustice, the concept of life's lesions introduces an important new dimension to our understanding of the extrasomatic causality of discomforts that may occur during the menopausal transition. Although the concept of life's lesions must be studied qualitatively, requiring us to attend to the cultural and experiential characteristics of women during the menopausal transition, the article proposes several ways of applying this concept to the study of menopause that will also generate new hypotheses, which could then be tested using quantitative methodologies.

This article illuminates the experiential, existential and contextual sources influencing menopausal manifestations. The concept of life's lesions is proposed and suggests that women's experiences of physiological changes occurring during the menopausal period may be promoted by specific aspects of their lives, described in the paper, that are embedded in society and culture.

From the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.

Received October 10, 2006; revised and accepted December 6, 2006.

Funding/support: The original research on which the theory of life's lesions is based was supported by the National Science Foundation (BNS8607543) and the Department of Health and Human Services (BSRI ROIMH42309-1 and BSBROIMH42309-2).

Financial disclosure: None reported.

Address correspondence to: Kaja Finkler, PhD, Department of Anthropology, CB 3115, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27517. E-mail: kxf9438@email.unc.edu.

©2007The North American Menopause Society