Turning Red: Pixar and Puberty

Turning Red is a fun and heart-warming coming of age story made by Pixar; with huge progress in representation with a Chinese Canadian main protagonist and multicultural characters and casting, it is no doubt a must-see film. However, this film has seen a lot of controversy from parents who believe the content of the film is unacceptable, specifically period talk; some claiming that children in the Disney demographic are too young to learn about the menstrual cycle. 

On average most people who menstruate start their periods at the age of 12, though this can vary with some younger and others older. The main protagonist, Mei Mei, is 13 years old so can it really be said that she and audiences are too young to learn about the menstrual cycle? I’d argue not. The NHS itself encourages period talks with young people stating, “most girls start their periods when they’re 12, but they can start as early as 8, so it’s important to talk to girls from an early age to make sure they’re prepared.” There is an incredible and terrible amount of stigma surrounding periods but should a basic human bodily function be seen as taboo?

The act of making periods seen as a taboo subject that is only for adults is an incredibly scary and confusing concept. If you asked to go to the toilet in school the teacher would likely say yes, you can openly ask with no shame…why is talking about periods different? They are both natural and integral to the way a person’s body functions. The stigma around periods is yet another way women are oppressed in our society; made to feel ashamed and guilty for something we can’t control, mocked and ridiculed for a natural part of our lives. 

We need to educate the children earlier and better about the ways in which our bodies work, as many have no idea what is happening to them at a time where hormones are already confusing everything. Not only do people have to deal with bleeding and other uncomfortable symptoms such as cramps, bloating, nausea, acne and headaches to name a few; we are forced to keep it to ourselves. The director of Turning Red, Domee Shi, said that “the red panda is a metaphor not just for puberty, but also what we inherit from our moms, and how we deal with the things that we inherit from them”. Clearly, this is an extremely progressive film that allows periods to be openly portrayed as well as struggles with familial relationships, puberty and adolescence for younger audiences that need to have this information and support. 

It is also vital that those who don’t menstruate are taught about the menstrual cycle as often the misconceptions and shame come from people not understanding it and, in the worst cases, being disgusted. Films like Turning Red allow for a discussion to be had with young children and teenagers in a fun and less daunting way (for kids and parents) as it opens the discussion and portrays themes of periods, puberty, acting out and crushes in a mature and realistic way. The movie normalises periods and even though I’m 19 and had no idea coming into the film that it was one giant metaphor for puberty and periods, I still loved the movie and the message it portrayed. I, and many others, would have loved to have seen a film like this when they were younger and beginning to go through puberty. It is an incredibly emotional time and hard to navigate at such a young age but the progress through education, movies such as this and people sharing their personal stories and tips are the best ways to not only educate but tackle the stigma. 

To end my article, I found some superstitions around periods across the world and shall share my favourite ones. In the UK, if you touch any vegetable before or during the pickling process they would not pickle and would go bad. In Malaysia they believe that you need to wash your pads before throwing them out otherwise ghosts will come and haunt you! Though these are somewhat comedic to me, they reflect the many ways in which periods are acknowledged and discussed throughout the world. The reality is people have periods and it’s about time we stopped shying away from that. 

Niamh Kemp

Featured Image Source: Still via Youtube // Turning Red | Official Trailer – Pixar

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