If you haven't seen "Dumplin'," you're missing out on one of the best body positive movies ever to grace the screen. I do not say that lightly. It is even better than Real Women Have Curves. The title alone discounts some of its body positivity, but the movie itself does a great job. Body Positivity is a movement that believes that all people should have (or are entitled to) positive body image, and be accepting of their body and the bodies of others.
I watched "Dumplin'" as a person who has lost a significant amount of weight, but who is still not thin. I watched "Dumplin'" as a person who was teased for being heavy in middle school, and who now fights diet culture on a daily basis. I live Bopo. This film blew me out of the water. It has drag queens, yodeling, dancing, singing, amazing quotes, women of every body type, and Dolly Parton everywhere you look.
The main character, Willowdean, has a bigger body, but the real theme of the movie isn't about the main character's struggle with her weight. Because she's not struggling with her weight. Like, at all. She owns it, and that is one of the things that makes this movie magical. Will's weight is not an issue, until you put her in relation to her Mom. Will's Mom is played by Jennifer Anniston, and is a beauty pageant winner who now runs the show. Literally, she is in charge of the town's beauty pageant. Willowdean decides to be a contestant in this year's pageant, mostly to stick it to her Mom, and plot ensues. So, the real story here is about Will's relationship with her Mom, and how they overcome their differences.
There are some really wonderful examples of how to be a kind and empathetic person in this movie, especially if you have weight-bias. Seriously, you should be working on that. In one of the only scenes inside Will's school, Millie, another larger girl, is being bullied for her weight. Millie is a total sweetheart and is honestly the real hero of this movie. More on that later. Willowdean comes to her defense by kneeing the guy in the crotch, and gets herself suspended. I'm not condoning violence of any kind, but if you see someone getting bullied, you need to speak up. During an argument about Will's late Aunt Lucy, Will's Mom says "If she took better care of herself she'd still be here!" This line says so much. It highlights fact that weight and health are still so mentally linked even though the research tells us that the biases and stigma experienced by heavy people are actually much more harmful than the actual weight. This line also blames Lucy for her health problems, when many things are genetic. It's unfair, and meant to belittle Lucy, and in a way, Will.
Will's Mom exemplifies diet culture in almost every way possible. She's thin but says "The pilates just ain't cuttin' it anymore." in response to why the refrigerator is full of only "rabbit food and condiments." When Will has a breakout her Mom asks her if she's been eating that greasy food over at work, to which Will responds that she doesn't even like hamburgers and hotdogs. Diet culture idealizes one kind of body, and does everything it can to make everyone buy and do and be whatever they can to fit that ideal. Willowdean bucks that system in a big way and doesn't let those messages touch her.
Millie is another character that bucks the system. She is conventionally very attractive, and has a bigger body. I'm telling you guys she's gorgeous, and she's happy. Granted, she has Jesus. I imagine that helps her mood. When a passing car yells "You're fat!" She yells back, "We'll pray for you!" Millie also joins the pageant as a contestant, but instead of doing it in irony, she does it for real. She really wants to win, and she gives it her all. She does not let the body-norm of pageantry stop anything she does. I wish that this were the norm and that it went without saying. "Of course shes body-confident, why shouldn't she be? What is your article even about?" I am waiting for those days. In the meantime, these are the role models we've needed for so long.
The kinds of role models you will see in "Dumplin'" include older women, small women, big women, small women who still don't fit the mold of diet culture, drag queens, women not afraid to go for what they want, women not afraid to be touched, loved, and cared for, sexually ambiguous women, and women who effing LOVE Dolly Parton. This movie passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. In fact, the men in this movie are almost completely insignificant to the plot. There are a few, but more than half of them are drag queens and they really fill the role of beauty prep team. The movie would be the same if they were Will's Aunt's female best friends. It is all about women, and their lives, their relationships, and their feelings. This is so important because women need to see themselves represented outside of their relationship to men. There are no Dads in this movie, at all, ever. Which is kind of weird, but to me, they were left out because they would be superfluous. This story is not about them, and it's not about men.
Leaving men out of the equation is one of the things that made this movie so body positive. There was one scene when Willowdean and her love interest were kissing and he touched her back roll. She freaked out and left him in a hurry and he didn't know what he did wrong. After talking to her thin friend, Ellen, Will learns this happens to other people too, not just fat women. "I've had the same freaky feeling with Tim. When he touches my stomach or a spot of acne on my chin, I clam up like a psycho." This is normalization. This moment is humanizing. Its body positive in the way that it is across the board an issue of negative body image that everyone may struggle with at some point. I love that at no point during this movie does anyone do anything to change their weight, except Willowdean's Mom, whom I've already explained exemplifies diet culture.
"The difference between winning and losing is all in the details." and "Dumplin'" wins.