As an Eating Disorders Therapistand Body Image Warrior, I was absolutely delighted to watch the incredible movie “Dumplin” on Netflixrecently. I declare it the best body-positive film of 2018 and feel it will pave the way for many more like it.
I’m usually not a huge fan of Jennifer Aniston, but she was spectacular in her role as a single mother of a bodacious teen girl navigating her way through a fat-phobic culture in the heart of Texas. I also loved it because Dolly Parton was one of the main focuses of the movie and I’m a huge Dolly Parton fan and used to listen to her records when I was a kid and sing along. I thought I wanted to be a singer, but obviously that wasn’t my career destiny. So here I am writing about the feminist messages Dolly Parton has passed down to many a young woman. The only singing I can do is singing the praises of inspirational women!
Esther’s Top Five Reasons the movie Dumplin’ is a winner
- It takes on the dreaded ‘beauty pageant’ tradition and kicked serious sand in its face.I think most of us would agree that beauty pageants are an archaic, patriarchal institution which undermine girls and women and focus exclusively on stereotypical perceptions of ‘the perfect woman’ which equals: beauty, useless talents (think baton tossing if you’re stuck), and project the idea that women aren’t that intelligent. They reinforce all the stereotypes about women that we feminists have been trying to blow up for many years. Unfortunately, they still abound, even with the Gloria Steinem’sof the world doing their best to promote and achieve equality between the sexes. Well this film introduces the newest generation of feminists who most definitely kick ass and my hope is that it inspires more of the same.
- It features a beautiful plus-sized teen who has a best friend and love interest who see past her size and love her for her she is as a person.Willowdean, or Dumplin’ (her mother’s not so cute nickname for her daughter), is surrounded by thin people and is subversively sent the message by her mother that she needs to lose weight. Her mother is one of the main leaders of this annual beauty pageant and won the title herself when she was a teen after she lost a significant amount of weight. This turned out to be her ‘15 minutes of fame’ in her life and she clings to the memory desperately because the rest of her life hasn’t exactly been fun nor easy. A very touching aspect to the movie revolves around the incredibly close friendship she has with Ellen, a sweet, thin, young woman who’s been her best friend since childhood. Ellen ignores Willow dean’s mother’s emphasis on being thin and striving to be a beauty queen, and eventually conspires with Willowdean to both enter the beauty pageant, along with another plus-sized teen, and a Goth/butch girl to make a statement against the entire institution. There is also a sweet young man Willowdean works with after school at a local burger joint who falls in love with her. She resists getting into a relationship with him because she can’t wrap her head around the fact that such a good-looking, decent fellow would want to be with a plus-sized young woman. There are a couple of beautiful scenes in the film where it shows his infatuation and appreciation for Willowdean; only to be met with trepidation on Willow dean’s part- she even runs away from him in one scene after they kiss and he touches her back which she believes is ‘untouchable’. But don’t worry- she finally comes around after she’s taken her place in the beauty pageant and been disqualified. She shows up in a gorgeous red dress with a fancy hat to their workplace after the pageant is over and it’s obvious she’s realized what he sees in her because she finally sees it herself- that she is beautiful, bright, engaging, funny, and deserves love.
- The incredible focus on her aunt Lucy- a beautiful plus-sized woman who owned her beauty and power and passed on body-positive messages to her beloved niece.In my opinion, Willow dean’s mentor and guide is her aunt, who basically raised her because her mother was too busy to care for her child as a working single mother. Her aunt showered her with unconditional love and acceptance and a huge love for Dolly Parton and her music. Unfortunately, Lucy dies when Willowdean is a teen before she enters the beauty pageant, but it’s obvious that Lucy is her inspiration for taking the whole thing on. Lucy was big, bold, beautiful, sassy, and didn’t care what others thought of her. She lived her life on her own terms and paved the way for Willowdean to carve out her own unique path.
- It beautifully illustrates the many gifts that gay men- especially drag queens- can give to women of all ages about self-acceptance and redefining the entire concept of beauty. My absolute favourite part of this film was the focus on gay men who had an underground Dolly Parton drag scene going on at a local bar. It turns out that aunt Lucy attended these Dolly Drag Queen shows regularly and was deeply loved and appreciated by the performers. When Willowdean shows up at the club, one of the drag queens immediately recognizes her as Lucy’s niece because there is such a resemblance between the two. He takes her backstage after the performance and basically tells her that she’s “family” because Lucy was part of their family. The drag queens end up coaching Willowdean and her gang of rebellious beauty pageant contestants who plan on making waves at the beauty pageant to prove a point. These lovely men spend endless hours fretting over the girls’ outfits and performances and give them a special edge only a drag queen can teach. In short- these wonderful men who know what it feels like to be an outsider and not fit in, but have found their inner strength and power and put on wonderful drag queen shows in homage to the great Dolly Parton; teach these young women to tap into their own inner power and talents and show the rest of the world what they have to offer. And let me tell you, in the end, these young women shine brighter than any of the other contestants. My favourite performance was when the other plus-sized teen, Millie, sang a gospel song right from the gut and blew the audience away. Her head was up high, she stood in her power and owned her beauty and sang from her soul. It was breathtaking.
- It’s blatant feminist edge- challenging the validity and stupidity of beauty pageants and entering two plus-sized girls and one Goth/butch teen named Hannah into the mix.Hannah was one of my favourite characters because she was the complete opposite of a “girly girl”. She dressed like a boy, had really short hair, piercings, and talked constantly of “taking down the patriarchy”. Even more fabulous was her audition for the beauty pageant where she doesn’t even try to look girly and just stands there and shouts “down with the patriarchy” and walks offstage. The dance recitals with all of the contestants were hilarious because Hannah just makes fun of the whole thing and does her own dance and messes it up for everyone else. She is a true rebel with guts.
I strongly advise you to watch this movie after you read this and see for yourself what the fuss is all about. For a wonderful in-depth exploration of this film with the director, read this article.