Columns, Opinion

Bubble Burst: Representing girlhood

“Turning Red” premiered on Disney+ on March 11. The Pixar movie follows Mei Lee, a 13-year-old girl who turns into a red panda when she becomes excited. Mei’s transformation acts as a metaphor for the emotional volatility of puberty. 

Many parents found the movie too inappropriate for its intended audience of preteens. However, the story, as communicated by the wide array of personal accounts and praises offered by fans, is a relatable and well-told narrative.

The problem isn’t profane imagery too suggestive for the delicate minds of our youth, it’s a lack of honest depictions of girlhood. We don’t need less of what “Turning Red” offers, we need more. 

Middle school is synonymous with the word “awkward.” The universal experience of changing bodies, seemingly uncontrollable emotions and cringe-worthy fashion styles unite us all as people who were once 13. In middle school, my health class featured conversations about puberty, what it was, how it affected us and how to deal with it. Despite my exposure to these important topics, there’s a generational gap in how we broach coming of age and older generations did not necessarily have the same experience. 

Throughout the mid 1900s, sex education was an exercise in beating around the bush. Students were expected to decode convoluted analogies and read between the lines. Though sex education improved following the sexual revolutions of the 70s and AIDS epidemic of the 80s, sex education wasn’t mandated throughout the United States until 1993. 

Talking about puberty isn’t comfortable, but is necessary. By not having exposure to such discussions at a young age, the topic of puberty has become taboo for many parents. 

Younger generations understand the importance of learning about your body and normalizing the weird wisdom accrual of your formative years. While for Generation Z, reports of ineffective sex education in schools are also common, the wide array of media offered to us — which was not available for our parents’ generations — has bridged this divide. 

If parents and schools failed to depict puberty, Netflix stepped up to the plate. Shows such as “Sex Education” and “Big Mouth” explore coming of age through diverse narratives. However, though this media is effective in communicating themes of puberty, its explicit nature makes it less appropriate for younger teens first coming in contact with such subjects. 

Enter “Turning Red.” The film explores the reality of puberty, but is meant for children currently experiencing it —  a luxury many older members of Generation Z didn’t have access to.

Smaran Ramidi / DFP Staff

Mei enthusiastically hides under her bed drawing pictures of herself with her crush. Her friend group obsesses over a popular boy band. Accounting for the movie’s main theme, Mei struggles to live up to her mother’s unrealistically high expectations. As she finally summons the courage to live by her own standards and disobey her mother’s rules, the film depicts generational trauma and the breaking of cycles. 

These are all central points of contention for those arguing the film’s crude nature. But if you’ve ever met a 13-year-old-girl who wasn’t drawing fan fiction, enamored with a celebrity or arguing with her mom, I owe you a dollar. 

This is kid stuff. It’s not odd to experience a first crush or to grow frustrated at the strange stage between child and adulthood, but because the media lacks such depictions, girlhood is seen as abnormal. 

Rachel Shukert, creator of Netflix’s “The Babysitter’s Club,” commented on her show’s cancellation in a recent Vulture interview. “The Babysitter’s Club” — a television adaption of the book series of the same name — tells the story of a group of young girls who run a babysitting business. Despite the show’s popularity and acclaim, it was not picked up by Netflix for a third season. 

“People are extremely uncomfortable with this period in girls’ lives,” Shukert stated. “It seems to be the time of life that girls lose faith in themselves, and I think it’s because they don’t see representation of where they’re actually at. Girls are expected to go straight from Doc McStuffins to Euphoria.” 

Coming of age is natural. Not just the latter half of graduating high school and the young adulthood commonly depicted in film, but also the genesis. 

You turn 13 and suddenly the world around you feels different. You feel different, yet you don’t know why or when it happened. It’s confusing and awful, but it doesn’t have to be. 

Films like “Turning Red” teach kids, in an appropriate manner, the importance of defiance and of coming of age on your own terms. It’s time to break the cycle of uncomfortable silence. Let media demystify the origins of adulthood. 


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