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Pixar’s ‘Turning Red’ breaks taboo on menstruation

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Lindsey Knewstub

Pixar’s first feature-length film solely directly by a woman, “Turning Red,” centers on a Chinese-Canadian teenager who finds herself engulfed by the onset of puberty. The animated film aims to remove the shame around menstruation and can be used to help parents explain to children the physical and emotional changes that happen during puberty.

Jane Mendle, associate professor of human development in Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology, studies the transition from childhood to adolescence, primarily how different aspects of puberty – including the ways that children, peers, and family member perceive and understand it – are related to psychological health and well-being.

Jane Mendle

Associate Professor of Human Development

“What ‘Turning Red’ captures is a unique phase of life, when change is rampant and kids must figure out who they are and how they fit into the world around them. Puberty – and especially menstruation – are historically taboo topics in our society, and there is often a culture of silence around them. To see a major motion picture talk openly about these topics is astonishing.

“Mei turning into a red panda cleverly simulates the experiences many girls have. Menarche – or getting a period for the first time – is an unmistakable event. It's loaded with personal significance, but it's also loaded with clear physical shifts to the body – like cramps or headaches or back pain – that can feel so out of the ordinary that one might as well be a panda.

“With a first period, girls can sometimes feel very self-conscious. They might think 'oh, everyone can see I'm wearing a pad' or assume that this change is as obvious to other people as it is to them. Turning into a panda captures that idea nicely. The irony, of course, is that it's not as obvious as girls think it is. It may feel monumental to them, but it's relatively hidden from other people unless they choose to share or disclose it.

“We don't talk enough about adolescent periods. Menstrual symptoms are the leading cause of missed school for adolescent girls in the U.S. (and many other countries) and heavy bleeding is a prime driver of emergency visits. Yet we undertreat and under diagnose menstrual problems until girls are much older, often because girls don't know what's normal and what isn't.”

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