Pixar’s Turning Red is the studio’s latest film that explores the awkward yet exaggerated journey of adolescence. It tells the story of a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian teen who turns into a giant red panda when they’re overcome with emotion. The coming-of-age movie tackles parent-child relationships, teen angst, intergenerational trauma, and changing bodies. The catch: the protagonist is a cisgender girl going through puberty. As a result, it’s been criticized as being “inappropriate,” “too mature,” and not family-friendly (Chron, ABC News). But the reaction to the film’s portrayal of menstruation is not shocking. Period stigma mars this natural process with sentiments of disgust, fear, and shame to the point where people who menstruate are ostracized or pushed into “period poverty.” As “a metaphor for the big changes that we go through in life,” the film confronts a topic most feel is too taboo to discuss.
• Start talking openly and inclusively about menstruation with family members, members of your communities, and schools to break the stigma.
Most people menstruate. Despite being a natural bodily function that occurs in more than 800 million people globally, menstruation is often discussed in hush tones and euphemisms like “Aunt Flo,” “the curse,” or “that time of the month” (Global Citizen). This mindset reinforces the idea that periods are a shameful problem that has to be concealed. This secrecy further amplifies period stigma by limiting the health education resources available and barring discussions on the menstrual cycle. It also perpetuates period poverty, the “social, economic, political, and cultural barriers to menstrual products, education, and sanitation” (Medical News Today). As a result, people who menstruate are left uninformed regarding their health, miss school or work due to lacking menstrual products, are temporarily shunned from their community, and sometimes die from their periods (Verywell Mind, Flo Health).
At its core, misogyny plays a significant role in period stigma and the shame shrouding menstruation across society. Periods are mischaracterized as an exclusively woman’s issue, ignoring that not all women have periods and not all people with periods are women (Self). Failing to acknowledge this trivializes trans men’s identities and alienates trans women and other cisgender people who don’t menstruate. It also absolves those that don’t fit the narrative, particularly cisgender men, of any responsibility in ending period poverty and the pink tax, which is when gender-based pricing on products designed for women are upcharge compared to the identical male equivalent (Healthline). They get to cite willful ignorance while still influencing how menstruating people are viewed and holding a political majority that could ensure menstrual justice (The Guardian).
Some religious traditions viewed menstruation as spiritual “polluting” (VICE). But intense shame around menstruation continues even in secular society. For example, some Jewish religions forbid physical contact between married couples if the wife is menstruating. “Purity” is restored seven days later after a ritual bath (VICE). Other faith-based restrictions include being prevented from prayer and entry into a mosque since “bleeding defiles the state of ‘purity’ required for these acts of worship.” Or being banished from the home and community during menses due to a misconception that those who bleed are “unclean” and bring “bad luck” (Global Citizen). The result is isolation, humiliation, and false perceptions of periods that can have dire effects on one’s health.
Almost two-thirds of low-income women in the U.S. couldn’t afford menstrual products in the last year, while nearly half sometimes had to choose between buying food or menstrual products (Reuters). One in five girls and young women have been bullied about their periods (The Guardian). Of those targeted, about 67% said the abuse occurred in school, and 66% said they had missed classes because of their period.
Period stigma forces people who menstruate to advocate for their humanity in a system built to ignore and vilify them. In order to destigmatize periods and dispel harmful taboos, we must talk openly about periods with everyone, not only those who menstruate. We must welcome conversations and stories like Turning Red that don’t sensationalize or stigmatize but instead normalize the process of getting a period for the first time. During a time when pseudo concerns for kid safety spiels anti-trans rhetoric at trans youth, it’s vital to be unapologetic about our bodies.
• Period stigma is global and stems from a lack of education and discussion around menstrual health.
• Misconceptions about periods shame menstruators into thinking they are unclean, forcing them into isolation and period poverty.
• Menstrual justice isn’t an issue just for people who menstruate.