The teen comedy is a shining light of love, acceptance and celebration regardless of size
Growing up fat, the makeover scenes in teen movies did not resonate with me. Taking off glasses (She’s All That), straightening hair (The Princess Diaries) or taking off excessive kohl eyeliner (The Breakfast Club) wouldn’t make me more attractive; by being fat, I was immediately ruled out of the strict, skinny-ruled standards of beauty. With Dumplin’, a new movie on Netflix, the opposite is true – these standards are being widened (literally). The 2018 adaptation of Julie Murphy’s 2015 young adult novel is already being celebrated as an enigma: it’s telling a story of multiple fat women making themselves a space in the world, full of love, acceptance and celebration regardless of their size.
Not only is Dumplin’s protagonist Willowdean Dickson – played by Danielle Macdonald – plus size, but so is her friend Millie and her aunt Lucy. While the film is focused on Dickson’s fat struggles, the supporting stories of fellow fat women makes for a fleshed out narrative that reflects reality. Because in actuality, plus size people don’t exist in a vacuum: Fat people exist and interact with each other daily and we’re so much more than a sidekick or suplot.
The important difference between Dumplin’ and recent fat-focused Netflix ventures Sierra Burgess is a Loser and Insatiable is that the latter are lacking a plus size writer behind the project. By having a member of our community telling our stories, the authenticity and relatability is palpable. “To watch a girl like me be represented in a positive manner was an unparalleled experience and one that could only have been communicated effectively by a fellow fat woman,” elucidates Ione Gamble, editor-in-chief of purposefully inclusive publication Polyester Zine. “To let us tell our own stories is to reject using fatness as a plot device, it’s to accept us as people who deserve happiness regardless as opposed to having to overcome something in order to earn it.”
The main plot point for Dumplin’ centres on the town’s annual beauty pageant, which has never had a plus size contestant and is run by Willowdean Dickson’s mother, who won the pageant in 1991 after losing weight. Dickson, however, enters the pageant and inadvertently becomes the “patron saint of fat girls” by proving that anyone can compete to be the town’s beauty queen. Her application is immediately followed by another plus size teen and a non-binary high school peer. This contrast in pageant entrance and etiquette between that of mother and daughter parallels a difference between generations; the 90’s answer to fatphobia was to lose weight, the 00’s attitude is to lead a revolution.
“She represents a positivity I haven’t ever seen on a screen – one that doesn’t seek to change her body to fit in, but to change the world to find space and celebration for her fat frame”
Fatness in Dumplin’ is at the forefront without being the only focus – an awkward romance, a falling out between friends and a strained mother/daughter relationship are all typical of any teen film, but in Dumplin’ these are all wrapped up in weight issues. Willowdean Dickson recoils at her thin partner touching a back roll, finds herself jealous of her friend Ellen’s ability to fit in and suffers from her mom’s ignorant wish that she’d be thinner, because it makes life “easier”. These issues are all teen movie tropes but tainted by fatphobia that fat people struggle with daily. The message of Murphy’s book and the Netflix film is this: It’s hard being a teenager, it’s harder being a fat teenager.
By fighting the system that shames her for being fat, rather than agreeing that being plus size makes her lesser, Dickson is more than just a leading lady, but a heroine. In the film she blazes the way for fat girls to not only enter pageants, but succeed in them. In my eyes, she represents a positivity I haven’t ever seen on a screen – one that doesn’t seek to change her body to fit in, but to change the world to find space and celebration for her fat frame.
Growing up fat, the plus size people on my screen were Shallow Hal and Norbit, both of which don’t just fail in representing fat people but makes us suffer by worsening stereotypes and propagating hate. For the 14 year old girls who grow up fat now, Dumplin’ will fill a hole in their hearts and soothe their minds with a message that helps any situation: You are not alone in this struggle.