What Would Dolly Do? But more importantly, What Would Dumplin’ Do? The Netflix movie is the crowning glory in a year of fantastic YA novel adaptations: a sparkling, bedazzled celebration of body diversity and self love.
This has been the year I’ve learned to love my body. That’s a post for another time, but it’s impossible to talk about why I loved Dumpin’ so much without reflecting on my own body confidence journey.
If you’re not familiar with Julie Murphy’s acclaimed YA novel, it follows Willowdean Dixon (Danielle Macdonald) as she enters a beauty pageant to protest society’s strange and sexist physical standards for women. In doing so she pitts herself against her mum (Jennifer Anniston), a champion Beauty Queen and the organiser of this Southern town’s annual pageant.
Quite simply, Dumpin’ is the movie my teenage self needed. I was overweight and filled with hate for every inch of my body, which felt like bumbling and out of place next to the lithe bodies of my friends and classmates.
When I lost weight, it wasn’t because I wanted to get fit. It was a punishment, for not being pretty enough or self-disciplined enough to ignore my cravings for food when feeling bored or emotional.
I needed to see Willowdean Dixon, being her fabulous self on stage with her best friend in swimsuits reading “every body is a swimsuit body”.
I needed to see a fat woman who didn’t transform physically to achieve happiness, success, and love.
Dumpin’ is the antidote to all the negative messages women are sent about their bodies, wrapped in a bedazzled bow and backed by the utterly fabulous Dolly Parton.
The power of Dumpin’ lies in the subtlety of its activism. Yes, Willowdean’s weight and body confidence is a focus. But the film also explores the complexities of grief, the strength of female friendships, and the struggle to break free of parental expectations.
As empowering as Dumpin’ is, the film also highlights the isolation so many women feel when they don’t conform to the physical beauty standard they’ve been told since childhood equates success.
Early scenes perfectly depicted the alienation I felt as an overweight teenager watching my friends shop for clothes in stores I could never dream of finding an outfit in while I shopped in the same stores as my mum.
Love interest Bo is a delightful addition, and I can’t explain how much it would have helped my younger self to see a guy I considered very attractive making out with a fat girl. I’m not saying it would have completely eliminated my fears about dating, but holy hell would it reassured me that I didn’t have to slim my body down to a certain clothing size before I could even contemplate kissing someone.
Hearing Willowdean say “boys like him don’t date girls like me” broke my heart, because for so many years I believed that too.
Anniston is perfect in the role of a demanding former pageant queen, afraid to let her own crown slip and cutting off a loving relationship with her daughter in the process. The revelation of her own emotional vulnerabilities was one of the most touching parts of the film, and a much needed reminder that everyone is flawed and fighting their own battles.
I have so much love for this whole cast. Christian Millie (Maddie Baillio) is another standout: a fat girl who’s always dreamed of joining the pageant but has been held back by her strict mum and a belief that she was too big to join.
Similarly, queer teen Callie (Georgie Flores) brings some nasty woman activism to the pageant in a giant middle finger salute to patriarchal beauty standards.
Forget Christmas movies, play Dumpin’ on repeat in December and sashay into 2019 feeling as fabulous as Dolly Parton.
Loved Dumplin’ and want more body positivity in your life? Listen to our chat with body confidence coach Michelle Elman on Better Words
You can grab a copy of the novel here (affiliate link) and stream the film on Netflix now.