Adolescence Is More Than Physical Change For Asian Girls In ‘Turning Red’

A high school junior felt pangs of similarity upon watching “Turning Red,” a coming-of-age film.

The main character Mei has to hide her love of a boy band from her mother, whose approved activity is watching Chinese dramas together, and she felt represented.


Sofia Luo sees the Pixar movie released last week on Disney+ to affirm the cultural tensions often felt by Asian American girls, especially in their teen years.

Luo said, “As I was reaching puberty, having struggled with these new changes as a person, I also had to think about so many other things.”

Experts said this film about a teenage Asian Canadian experiencing puberty reveals how those teen years can feel confounding for Asians because of the physical changes and the choice they must make between their heritage and the dominant cultural teenage norms.

Mei was born and raised in Toronto, where Ming, played by Sandra Oh, her helicopter parent, set the course for her life. Rosalie Chiang was the voice of Mei in the film.

Richelle Concepcion, a clinical psychologist, said it’s a heady mix, especially as Mei tries to reconcile her mother’s expectations with her own, and one that causes uncomfortable, inner anxiety that’s so central to coming-of-age in the Asian diaspora for many girls.

Richelle said, “When we think about it, at least from the parent’s standpoint, it is about saving face. You don’t want your child to be this boy-crazy, sexually curious being.”


It was a dark time for Luo in her early adolescence. She confessed to engaging in much of the same behavior, including heavy social media usage to explore her political views and love for K-pop – interests that her parents did not immediately approve of.

Luo said, “I remember I struggled a lot with wishing I was white and thinking my life would be easier.”