Turning Red: The Importance of Normalizing Periods for Young Girls

Pixar’s Turning Red was met with an abundance of praise for its diversity, appreciation for Chinese culture, and depiction of puberty, following its premiere at the end of last month. However, just as the main character, Meilin “Mei” Lee, was turning into a red panda, the female-directed film has been turning heads of various parents who claim that the movie is too “inappropriate” for young children. What makes this film so unsuitable for typical Disney audiences, you ask? Periods. That’s right, good old Aunt Flo is making parents uncomfortable.

Mei Lee, provided by Pixar

My Personal Experience with Puberty: The Issue with Period Stigmatization

Euphemisms like “Aunt Flo” alone showcase our society’s discomfort and distaste surrounding the completely natural menstrual cycle. As a woman and a period-having individual, I certainly felt the effects of the cultural shame surrounding my period as I was beginning puberty. Anytime my mother would attempt to give me the universally dreaded “talk” concerning puberty and sex, I would run away squealing with my hands covering my ears. After a few tries, my mother simply gave up, deciding it was best for me to discover all these difficult situations on my own, leaving me feeling guilty and regretting pushing her away at a time in my life when I most needed a mother.

When I finally received my first period, my father and I had just dropped my mother off at the airport for a business trip, and I was left uncomfortable without a female presence to guide me through the miserable week. I immediately called my grandmother, pleading to stay at her house and begging her not to tell my father why I was suddenly acting so jittery and awkward. I went to school terrified that I’d bleed through my pants or that my pad was somehow noticeable underneath my underwear and uniform khakis. The worst moment of all was when my friend didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t have an extra pencil, and when she went searching through my backpack, she found my emergency period pouch, pulling out all my pads in front of all the boys in the class who subsequently erupted in laughter. Needless to say, I didn’t speak to her for a week.

As I got a bit older, the conversations around periods changed slightly, but not necessarily for the better. I dealt with uncomfortable conversations in the girls locker room, watching the older girls debate on what’s better: pads or tampons. I remember one popular girl claiming that anyone who didn’t use a tampon over a pad was a loser and unhygienic. She told her friend, “pads look like diapers and can make your butt look bad in tight clothes! You seriously need to grow up if you can’t use a tampon!” My confidence shrank as the words left her mouth, seeing as I barely even understood how tampons worked, not having tried one at that time in my early teen years. Then there was always dealing with immature boys who at any sign of strong emotion or frustration would ask, “is it that time of the month?”

Thankfully, women and vagina-having individuals are being more and more outspoken about periods in attempts to destigmatize our culture’s view of the menstrual cycle. It is a healthy and routine part of every month that shouldn’t be shamed or hidden away, but does that make it okay to advertise in a children’s movie? Personally, I would say absolutely! In my eyes, including an honest perspective of female puberty in a Pixar movie is not only beneficial, but important as well.

So, How Does This Film Discuss Periods?

Official Trailer of Pixar’s Turning Red

When puberty-aged Mei Lee, voiced by Rosalie Chiang, gets emotionally charged, she turns into a red panda, per her family’s curse. This transformation also happens to be a perfect metaphor for puberty. When she experiences this metamorphosis for the first time, her mother, Ming Lee voiced by Sandra Oh, assumes that her daughter is struggling with her first period. She sweetly and promptly offers up pads, Advils, and little remedies to aid her through the next few days, reassuring that it is nothing to be “embarrassed” about. Though they struggle off-and-on as typical mothers and their teenage daughters do, the film showcases a mother who is helpful and positive during a young adult’s time of need. Not only does this normalize the monthly occurrence which hasn’t been seen in a Pixar film before, but it also showcases a perfect support system during a trying time in one’s life. This provides mothers and daughters watching with the opportunity to open that discussion and get closer and more comfortable with one another.

A Response to Critics

To the parents who see a healthy mother-daughter relationship and important puberty and  period representation as an issue, I simply ask, “why?” Puberty is something that any individual who is blessed with the ability to grow into adulthood must endure, and it is out of anyone’s control. It is simply nature, so why should it be hidden or deemed “inappropriate?” If anything, this film makes having the “talk” with your child that much easier. 

An important thing for critics to remember is that this is a Pixar-Disney movie about puberty-aged children and young teens specifically for that age group. The Walt Disney Company has a variety of shows and films directed for a variety of age groups, ranging from the Disney Junior channel for toddlers to Deadpool which is strictly Rated-R. Turning Red is a film with a specifically-targeted Disney audience that hasn’t been tapped into in this way before. If you think this content isn’t suitable for your six-year-old, who probably wouldn’t get the innuendos anyway, that’s completely fine because it isn’t strategically meant for that age group, but if you are ready to start that conversation with your young one, go for it! Make your children less afraid of puberty!

Mei and Ming, provided by Pixar
References

Meyerowitz, Anya. “’Turning Red’ Is Pixar’s Latest Film Aiming to Destigmatise Periods and Remove the Shame around Menstruation for Young Women.” Glamour UK, Glamour UK, 8 Mar. 2022, https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/turning-red-pixar.

“Character Design.” Pixar Animation Studios, 2022, https://www.pixar.com/turning-red.

Turning Red. Directed by Domee Shi, Pixar & The Walt Disney Company, 2022. 

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