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