Turning Red is important for representation, period.


Art by Mandy Zhang.

Lin Luo, Former Multimedia Editor

This previously ran in our April 2022 print issue.

In an early scene of Pixar’s newest animated film, Turning Red, the protagonist Mei hides in her bathroom from her family in the morning before school. She’s been put into the sticky situation of being turned into a giant red panda. Blind to this predicament, Mei’s concerned mother, Ming, immediately assumes that her daughter has taken one of the first steps into womanhood: getting her first period.

“Did the red peony bloom?” Ming asks worryingly.

“No! Maybe?” Mei responds.

With lightning-speed reflexes, Ming gathers a plethora of menstrual supplies: heating pads, ibuprofen, and multiple types of pads. Mei, paralyzed with her predicament, is unable to correct her mother as she tirades on about the growing pains of puberty.

Ming is right in the assumption that her child’s undergoing a somatic transformation — just not the typical kind. Instead, she becomes a fluffy red panda whenever she feels any strong emotion, serving as the movie’s central conflict.

Despite the fact that periods are a commonly known aspect of puberty, it’s left either untouched or treated with shame in the majority of coming-of-age media. Perhaps one of the most iconic examples of this phenomenon is the 1976 cult classic Carrie. When the titular character, 16-year-old Carrie White experiences her first period in the gym locker room, the approach was taken in the goriest and most traumatic manner — with Carrie sobbing from confusion as her female peers ridicule her, throwing tampons in her direction. The immediate effect is framing periods to be a shameful and gross happening.

Turning Red completely subverts this expectation, with the goal of being completely unapologetic about puberty.

“The hope is with putting it on the screen and having it be something that is cringy, but also funny, and a part of this story, it does normalize it. There’s an appreciation from anybody who’s gone through it for what we put on the screen, but also those who haven’t gone through it,” producer Lindsey Collins said in an interview for Polygon.

At the heart of the film are the geekier, cringer parts of middle-school preteenery. A key facet of Mei’s character is her and her friends’ adoration for their favorite boy band, a BTS-like quintet called 4*Town. Her fascination with the group is something that’s given respect to by director and co-writer Domee Shi.

Teenage girls are typically portrayed as rabid, obsessive fans, frothing at the mouth and shrieking at the top of their lungs at the sight of their current fixation, usually an attractive teenage male star. However, Turning Red puts some respect on their interests. “It just felt right for a movie about a tween girl that the stakes of the movie, the goal of the movie… It’s to get to their first boy band concert and collectively become women together as they watch it,” Shi said in an interview with Slate.

For adolescents, the idea of having conversations about puberty with their parents or other trusted role models in their life can be clumsily daunting. That is precisely why it’s so important for all parts of puberty — from menstruation to “cringy” boy bands — to be normalized through the media we consume. Especially in regards to something like a period, which is typically experienced at least once a month to be treated with shame and secrecy is absolutely absurd in this day and age, when in fact it’s simply a mundane happening for those who actually have them.

By masterfully representing all aspects of puberty’s awkwardness, Turning Red helps millions of young people feel seen in their own coming-of-age stories. One can only hope that as the years go on, such representation will be seen as the norm, rather than a notable example.