Dumplin’: A Love Letter to Friendship

I first read Dumplin’ a few years ago. I had heard about this great little book that featured a plus-size heroine, but I was hesitant to try it. Time and time again, I turned to young adult novels about plus size girls and their main ambition in life was always to lose weight. After being assured by multiple people this was not the case, I finally gave Dumplin’ a try.

I consumed it.

Willowdean Dickson was unlike any heroine I had ever met. She was like me, or the me I wish I was. She was funny, smart, loyal, outgoing, courageous, and fat. And while the last moniker was the one the world was most obsessed with, it didn’t stop her from joining a pageant and challenging notions of beauty.

Then, of course, there’s Bo. Bo, in the novel, was dreamy and completely in love with Willowdean. He did it without fetishizing her body or loving her “in spite of” it.   He just loved her. Which was potentially one of the most radical things for me, even as a 23-year-old. Through a relationship with my own “Bo,” I was just learning that was even possible, thinking I had found the exception. But here, this novel was making it the norm.

Willowdean loving her body and herself, Bo, the pageant, and Dolly Parton were the things that I remember most from the book. After watching the movie, I sorely am in need of a rereading. Because, the movie radically refocuses the heart of the story, championing female friendship above all else.

At first, I was a little bit sad Bo wasn’t in the movie more and that there wasn’t a development of their relationship like there is in the book. BUT, I quickly got over it. Because Bo’s storyline was minimized to make room for creating beautiful and complicated female friendships founded in differences.

Hannah and Millie shine in this movie. Hannah is the angry, goth feminist who seems so angsty next to Millie’s saccharine sunshine. Despite looking incompatible, they’re so supportive of each other and Willowdean, even when Willowdean is judgmental and moody and overall undeserving of their friendship.

But, loyalty is the root of friendship, according to Willowdean. In the preliminary round of the pageant, Willowdean is asked to define loyalty:

Loyalty means never giving up on someone even through doubts and differences. It’s a noun with action, fueled by shared experiences, which are memorable, meaningful, and irreplaceable. But loyalty isn’t blind love. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. Loyalty means telling someone when they’re wrong when no one else will. And loyalty means apologizing when you’re wrong because of the trust you’ve built over time. Loyalty is true friendship.

More than loyalty, the friendships they build allow these “misfits” to find confidence in their appearance and existence in a pageant. They help each other find outfits, learn the opening dance number, give flare to their performance, and shine as individuals rather than conform to what the pageant wants them to be.

Yet, for some reason, critics are ignoring the beauty of this film.

“Jennifer Aniston’s Ode to Dolly Parton”

“Netflix film celebrates teen girls and Dolly Parton”

“Jennifer Aniston stars in Netflix’s Dolly Parton love letter”

There are other, less annoying titles that you can find with a little work, but these are the top three articles that Google recommends. Don’t get me wrong, as I write this, I’m downloading Dolly Parton’s life work and making a list of Jennifer Aniston movies to rewatch, but they’re not who I’m going to think of when I remember this film.

These reviews only perpetuate the problem that the pageant represented in the novel and movie. Erasing non-conforming beauty by not even mentioning it, even in the review of a movie that’s all about the representation of non-traditional beauty?

No thanks.

Dumplin’ is a love letter to your body and the friends who help you along the way.



Fa La La La Ladies

In a post-Thanksgiving haze, I have consumed more Christmas movies than I care to share. But, who can blame me? I mean, Hallmark played non-stop Christmas movies the entire weekend. And Netflix keeps releasing/uploading more options. What’s a girl to do but succumb to the terrible genre that is Christmas rom-coms.

 (Yes, I watched three DJ Tanner Christmas movies back to back…)

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good rom-com every day of the year, but I’m a sucker for Christmas-time, Hallmark-level-bad, only-you’ll-love-will-save-me-and-Christmas, romantic comedies.

In my recent Hallmark daze, one thing that struck me was how many of these movies were based on Harlequin romance novels.   In a talk I attended, Kate Broad acknowledged romance novels history with strong female characters, suggesting that romance novels allowed women to read stories about independent women who worked, and had lives, and made their own choices, but were also able to fall in love.

The reason I love Christmas movies and rom-coms are similar to the reasons I love YA. Girls are allowed to be vulnerable and emotional, but they are still shown as strong and capable. They’re the active heroines who make choices that affect their fate.

Now back to Hallmark’s 24/7 Christmas movie marathon.

Rebranding Weight Loss

Diet culture sucks.

I say this from personal experience.  Growing up as a heavy-set kid, I never learned proper nutrition.  I learned how to diet.

As a result, I have an unhealthy relationship with food that developed into a binge eating disorder in the last few years.  Now, in therapy, I’m having to unlearn everything that Weight Watchers and TOPS taught me.

No more restricting.

No more treating this as a temporary existence until I reach that goal weight.

No more focusing only on scale victories (Non-Scale Victories are big in the weight loss community right now).

No more feeling bad for having that cookie.

And more importantly, understanding that it’s okay to eat pasta and chocolate cake (within reason).

But now, Weight Watchers is dropping the “Weight” from its name.  Now, WW emphasizes the message of “Wellness that Works.”  Part of their new program includes a laundry list of “free” foods that users are supposed to have at the core of their diet, focusing on tracking foods higher in sugar, carbs, and saturated fat.

For example, eat all the chicken breast and vegetables you want, but pay attention to how many cookies you grab out of your secret jar.  While they don’t suggest you can eat three pounds of fruit a day, they highlight a move towards intuitive eating that promotes an overall healthy diet.

 While I still think the idea of tracking food can be dangerous for young girls, I think Weight Watchers is taking steps in the right direction to rebrand diet culture.  Instead of telling girls it’s about how much you lose, it’s now about loving vegetables and bread.

I wonder how different my relationship with food would have been if someone emphasized an overall healthy existence than “lose weight, get rewards.”

And the weight loss became a high.  People would praise you!  If you went to meetings, you’d get public recognition.  If you lost enough weight, you might even get a bracelet!  Third grade me wanted that shiny silver charm bracelet, but she also wanted to eat Ding-Dongs and Cheese Wontons and stay in bed and read all day.

But then, if you gained, having to watch your line go up on the chart, have to sit back in silence as everyone else got praised for their success.

As the only kid in a room full of adults, I learned my body was not okay.  I became aware of how different it was from the petite girls in my fourth-grade class.  These girls didn’t have to write down everything they ate, didn’t have to tell their mom and a roomful of adults whether or not they had a “good” week or not, and didn’t have to worry about their bodies needing to be made smaller.

Looking back, I realize my experience with my body and my weight was an inherently gendered experience.  The majority of people at these meetings were women.  The gym my mom took me to, Curves, was a gym designed for women.  Weight Watchers, or WW, or whatever we want to call it, uses predominately women in its advertisements.

Women had created communities whose sole purpose was to breed a mutual hatred for our bodies.  Because self-love wasn’t a thing in the 90s.  These meetings didn’t preach love your body first and then weight loss will come.  No, lose weight and when you hit that goal, then you become worth loving.  But at what number are we finally worthy of love?

And I don’t blame my mother for taking me to these meetings.  She was trying to help, and this is all she knew.   She was trying to prevent me from having to be one of these middle-aged ladies in these meetings, fretting over eating a single Hershey Kiss at the end of a bad day.

I want to eat the Hershey Kiss.  I want to eat the bread.  I want to not have to constantly worry about every crumb I consume.

The constant obsession over consumption breeds eating disorders.

So many articles (both academic and not) have linked diet culture to the rise in eating disorders.  And diet culture obviously goes beyond Weight Watchers, we can’t blame one company for everyone’s problems.  Diet culture is anything that praises thinness and weight loss.

Fat girl revenge stories (looking at you Netflix).

Fashion models having to be a size 0.

Praising the thinness actresses as the most beautiful.

Anything equating health to thinness (YOU CAN BE THIN AND NOT BE HEALTHY!).

Maybe the change in Weight Watchers to Wellness that Works is a step in the right direction towards ending one small part of diet culture.

Maybe a generation of girls’ will grow up and not have to see the before and after weight loss photos on TV (you know the ones, where they look so miserable when they’re fat and so happy and glowy when they’re thin).

Maybe they won’t feel worthless if they aren’t dieting.

Maybe they’ll learn to love their bodies before they learn to change it.

Maybe one day, I will, too.