Stories about fat girls generally fall into one of two categories: weight loss stories or tales of overcoming insecurity. Most are written by non-fat writers who inevitably end up projecting their own stereotypical imaginings onto their characters, resulting in unconvincing portrayals at best and downright harmful representation at worst.
Dumplin, based on the acclaimed Julie Murphy novel of the same name, is not that movie. It tells the tale of Willowdean “Dumplin” Dickson: a Texan, Dolly Parton fangirl, and the self-described fat daughter of a former beauty queen. Thanks in large part to having a fantastic fat role-model in her late Aunt Lucy, Will is perfectly comfortable in the skin she’s in. But that doesn’t make it any easier to watch her mother fawn over the skinny pageant girls every year. When she discovers a pageant entry form among Lucy’s things, she assumes her aunt decided not to enter because she feared she wouldn’t be accepted by the the pageant world, with its literally narrow definitions of beauty. Will impulsively decides to enter the pageant herself, to honor her late aunt, to make her mother notice her, and to force a world run by size 2s to make space for her.
The film itself is as unapologetic as its protagonist. It does not merely stand in opposition to most narratives about fat girls, it is a conscious response to them. In an early interview with Vanity Fair, the film’s director, Anne Fletcher, said “the whole reason I made this movie was for the girls.”
When I was growing up, there were no movies telling us we were O.K. just the way we were. Girls, women, are so impressionable to society’s narrative, whether it’s school, friends, the Internet—they influence us, and we take it on as our truth. Then we grow up with all these lies embedded in our bodies . . . If you feel like you’re on the outside, this story is meant to reach you.
A quick scroll through #Dumplin on Twitter is all it takes to know the film hit it’s mark; tweet after tweet describes the joy of seeing a fat girl leading her own movie. But, as Ana Mardoll shows in xer fantastic livetweet of the film and Sesali Bowen writes in her review, it is not just seeing the beautiful Danielle MacDonald take center stage that makes Dumplin so special; it is the way in which she, as Willowdean, is able to claim and own the spotlight in a way few fat characters are allowed to do.
In a pop culture climate filled with shows like Insatiable and films like Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty, Dumplin is outright revolutionary. It is not a movie about fat girls learning to love themselves, or striving to change in order to fit beauty standards. It is a movie about fat girls who already love themselves taking center stage in a world that prefers to keep them sidelined and demanding it witness and accept them for the beautiful queens they know they are. It is long overdue, and I hope it will prove to be only the first of many.