Stacy London Turned Her Mid-Life Crisis Into A Metamorphosis
In love with a woman. Hosting a menopause retreat. Dressing like Tar. The TV makeover queen-turned-women’s health advocate has experienced the ultimate transformation.
I’m hardly the first person to get emotional around Stacy London. Ask any fan of What Not to Wear — TLC’s ambush makeover hit that dominated reality TV for a decade. Her tolerance for crying strangers may be why London seemed so unbothered, and continued to serenely eat her griddle cakes, when I burst through the door of a Carroll Gardens cafe, panicking, a full hour late for our 9 a.m. meeting.
Thanks to apocalyptic rush hour suburbs-to-Brooklyn traffic, then a sprint through the streets in 93-degree humidity, I arrived shaky and sweating, my cortisol spiking higher than a shiny, early-aughts stiletto. Conveniently, women in a state of total physical and emotional chaos are now London’s bread and butter. That’s because she has revamped her career to focus on menopause — that once-untouchable taboo that, thanks to the openness of Naomi Watts, Oprah, Shania Twain, and well-known OB-GYNs like Dr. Jen Gunter, has been given a decidedly commercial glow-up. It’s such a hot topic, in fact, that tomorrow, London will host a five-day, ultra-luxe health retreat, Making Over Menopause, at Canyon Ranch Tucson in Arizona. The stylist’s passion for helping women navigate this life stage is palpable — and deeply personal.
“I didn’t even want to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, for fear that I would throw myself off it,” says London, 54, of the time a few years ago when, at the precise moment her career and relationships began to implode, her body seemed to be betraying her. She suffered through a protracted recovery from spinal surgery, a messy breakup, the death of her beloved father, professional rejection, and financial turmoil caused by out-of-control escapist spending. Most 30-something women now understand that “the change,” which begins with perimenopause, is coming for them, and possibly soon. But it hit London, she says, “like a mack truck.” Little did she know, anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation are not uncommon with severe perimenopause.
“No one told me,” she says. “How was I supposed to know? Feeling like I was being beaten over and over again by some invisible force was actually the result of experiencing stressful life challenges, at a time when I was least physiologically able to take them on.”
There was no single catalyst for her breakdown. “That breakup would not have been so terrible if I hadn’t already been such a mess,” she says. “It was my career. It was my back surgery. It was my father dying. I was doing mental gymnastics to explain my mood and all these physical issues. When you ask me, Was it work? Was it my looks? It was everything.”
But let’s start with her career. When London walked away from What Not to Wear in 2013, “I thought I was leaving a job. I didn’t know I was leaving the job — the only job people would ever associate me with,” she says. “And I never experienced the same kind of success again. Which I did not anticipate.”
This wasn’t entirely personal. Transformational TV died of natural causes, to be supplanted by GRWM TikToks. In any event, London’s place in the pop culture firmament faded. “I really found myself adrift,” she says. She launched a few more TV shows. She did a guest stint on The View. Nothing stuck. “I was bored by style. It got more and more frustrating that I couldn’t find a new platform. And I felt more and more depressed. My self-worth took such a tumble,” she adds. “Then I started to see changes physically. I was gaining weight. I started to look much older. And I was like, Oh my God, I don’t recognize myself. And I don’t know what to do. I had no agency. I just felt like I was drowning.”
Only once she connected her personal struggles to the universal challenges of midlife — and directed her energy toward supporting other women — did she find a way forward. “The first half of my life was all about me, me, me, me, me,” she says. “The second half of my life is, OK, what did I learn that I can use to lift other people up?”
“I thought I was leaving a job. I didn’t know I was leaving the job — the only job people would ever associate me with.”
In a way, her story is not unique: Studies have shown that 20% of women have left or are considering leaving a job due to menopause symptoms, and 18% have foregone pursuing promotions due to them. “Those are stats that can be used against us. ‘You’re going to leave [so why bother promoting you?]’ or ‘You’re acting crazy’ or ‘You’re an unstable boss.’ Bullsh*t, bullsh*t, bullsh*t,” she says. The reaction to London’s pro-menopause pivot has been mixed, even within her inner circle: When she told a close friend she planned to launch a menopause company, “He said to me, ‘You’re committing professional suicide.’ And I said to him, ‘You’re the problem.’”
The Canyon Ranch retreat isn’t her first bite at this apple. During the pandemic she bought, then shut down, a menopause-focused beauty brand. “I had thousands of people coming to the State of Menopause website, and very little conversion,” she says. “If you are suffering hot flashes and dealing with anxiety and insomnia, you don’t need a face oil. You need much more help than that.”
Like middle age, any era of transition — right after college, new parenthood, empty nesting, a divorce, a career change — may be accessorized with crippling uncertainty, requiring the re-fashioning of an identity. “Every time I think I’ve hit rock bottom, I realize there’s another ring of hell,” London says, laughing. “At 54, I’m learning to surf the hills and valleys.”
She has discarded her skintight pencil skirts and 5-inch heels, along with the values that no longer suit her. “This idea of, ‘What does everybody think of me?’ Or, ‘She with the most toys wins.’ Am I the prettiest? Am I the richest? Am I the most famous? All these things that are external validation symbols, for me, have just gone out the f*cking window,” she says. “I spent a lot of my life under this patriarchal lens, worrying about, ‘Does this guy think I’m hot?’ or whatever. It wasn’t until I met Cat that I was like, ‘What a waste of time. What a joke that was.’ I see myself through her eyes and I feel like I am absolutely enough.”
Cat is Cat Yezbak, a stand-up comic 10 years her junior, who helped London break the internet when she announced their relationship on Instagram at the end of 2019. They were introduced at a fundraiser for Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial campaign. “The first thing she said to me was, ‘Oh my God, you’re so beautiful,’” London says. “And I was like, OK, I don’t know what just happened here, but the electrical current that just went through my body is very interesting to me.” They had their first date shortly before London’s father passed away. “She was able to navigate grief with me in the most empathetic, beautiful, and gentle way. I never felt safer.”
In the five years since, London has overhauled her wardrobe along with her priorities. The day of our meeting, she’s wearing a black ribbed tank top, pink silk cargo pants, and sneakers. “I used to feel guilty for not looking like Stacy from What Not to Wear. I used to think I was disappointing people. Now I realize that this midlife transformation really does involve style. I can’t tell you how many people say to me, ‘I have a belly and I never had one before. My body weight has been redistributed. My pants don’t fit. I hate my arms.’ All these things where we’re beating ourselves up based on these standards of our youth. F*ck that,” she says. “I dress like Tar now. And it is the most radical freedom. Style becomes about the you you are now, not the you you used to be. I no longer believe in rules. That was the only mistake we really made on What Not to Wear. My only rule is know thyself.”
Lately, London has been wearing a chunky gold necklace that spells the word, “AND.” That “and” will carry her forward toward more menopause retreats, expert summits — and total liberation. “I grew up with disordered eating. I grew up with anorexia. What was the point?” she says. “What did it get me? In society, we think that women over 40 are suddenly unf*ckable or invisible or irrelevant. All that sh*t disappeared for me. I went through perimenopause thinking, ‘I am invisible. Nobody will hire me. I have no relevance. I have nothing to say. I’m boring. I’m ugly.’ Then after, those perceptions are something you radically let go of. And that doesn’t mean you have to be the crazy lady in the purple hat. It just means you can be who you f*cking want to be.”