Even in 2022, there’s still some awkwardness and taboo surrounding periods and puberty – Turning Red boldly breaks down those barriers.

When it comes to the way we talk about periods, we’ve come a long way in a short space of time. It was only 2017 when Bodyform replaced the chemically blue liquid used in adverts for period products with a more realistic red liquid. It’s a small change, but it was implemented in the hope it would reduce the stigma around menstruation.

It’s often spoken about awkwardly, or met with a disgust that discourages women from speaking about it at all. The notion that periods are ‘dirty’ is only furthered by phrases like ‘feminine hygiene’ used in supermarkets – Asda has recently been praised for changing their aisle name to the simpler ‘period products’. This is good progress, but there’s still a certain amount of shame around the topics of periods and puberty, especially puberty in girls.


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Pixar’s Turning Red blows away any sense of taboo with its pure, refreshing honesty. 13 year-old Mei is a high-achieving young lady just on the cusp of puberty when she suddenly finds herself undergoing a strange transformation. Strong bursts of emotion cause her to turn into a large red panda, an animal that has strong links to her ancestors.

The transformation is clearly an obvious analogy for the changes Mei’s body is going through during puberty. Even the film’s title, Turning Red, could be interpreted as a period reference. When Mei first wakes up in a panic about her new appearance, her mother’s first assumption is that she’s got her first period.

The scene that follows is both funny and relatable. Once her mother, Ming, has got over her panic, out comes a huge box of period products with pads for every occasion. I myself live in a house full of women, so stocking up like you’re preparing for the apocalypse is just normal, but it was still brilliant to see that average, everyday thing displayed so earnestly.

Mei’s Panda alter ego also represents other hormonal changes. There are comments about the panda’s smell, and the fact that its appearance is triggered by strong emotion is very telling. It’s all about how mood swings and changes to your body can make you feel like you’re not yourself anymore, and that the body you’re in isn’t the one you’re used to. But this is a fairly obvious comparison – it’s the way Mei’s friends and peers react to the panda that’s particularly special.

Turning Red, from Pixar

For someone young and easily embarrassed, periods and puberty can be difficult to discuss. It’s often an isolating experience. The joy of Turning Red is that Mei’s friends Miriam, Priya, and Abby accept her pretty much immediately. There are some initial questions (she’s turned into a giant red panda, after all), but they soon start showering her with compliments on how fluffy she is. This film is a masterclass on how to treat people who feel awkward about their pubescent selves. The characters are just wonderfully accepting of Mei and give her unconditional support. This applies to her peers, too. Once the initial shock wears off they realise she’s still Mei – just a little bit different.

There’s not only a remaining stigma around periods, but also some damaging stereotypes that still get applied to teenage girls in general. Often mocked for being too dramatic, or for their interests and hobbies, this movie flaunts all of those typical teenage girl behaviours without an ounce of judgement. The group start to become interested in boys, draw embarrassing pictures of themselves with their crushes, and obsess over fictional boy band 4*Town (a fictional version of bands like Backstreet Boys).

But no matter what their interests, Turning Red embraces their unbridled enthusiasm, and it only adds to the joyful, infectious energy of the film.

It’s a huge step forward for female representation on-screen, and works hard to destigmatise and have a frank conversation about the experiences of women and girls. It’s especially impressive for Pixar, as most of their films centre on male protagonists. 2015’s Inside Out saw teenage Riley struggle with her emotions around moving far from home, but those emotions are portrayed as fantastical characters living in her head, and are the real protagonists of the movie. Turning Red is indisputably Mei’s film, and she is a well-rounded, fallible person coming to terms with the way she’s changing.

When puberty and periods are barely talked about in real life, it’s really great to see an animated film breaking down those boundaries. Turning Red will make teenage girls feel seen, and reassure them that they’re absolutely normal.

More importantly, it’ll open up conversations and perhaps encourage people not to feel awkward about something that’s simply a fact of life. We need more films like this that put women in the director’s chair, in the protagonist’s role, and make the young women and girls in the audience feel good about themselves.

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