I was at first hesitant to watch Dumplin' when my sister recommended it to me. The plotline seemed overdone- the girl that doesn't conform to body type standards finds herself, gets the guy, repairs relationship with her mother, etc. But what I came to find was a message of confidence and self-acceptance I wish I would have watched as early as fifth grade and will definitely take with me into the new year.
The Netflix hit released on December 7th follows plus-size teen Willowdean Dixon as she enters a beauty pageant run by her mother (played by Jennifer Aniston aka Rachel Green) in an effort to honor her late Aunt Lucy and revolt against the beauty standards for which she feels her mom has always been ashamed that she doesn't match.
The best part? The film is backdropped with Willowdean's love for Dolly Parton and features all of the Queen of Country's most inspirational lyrics- Who knew 9 to 5 could be so motivational? Through Dolly's words, Willowdean finds herself and her confidence.
If I'm being honest, I didn't watch Dumplin's predecessor Sierra Burgess is a Loser released earlier this year, but when I compare the film to earlier messages of body positivity like Hairspray and the story of Pitch Perfect's beloved Fat Amy, Willowdean's tale stands in a league all on its own because of it highlights the insecurities of nearly everyone on cast and serves to advocate for an acceptance of all people's issues with themselves. It's not just about Willowdean's weight, it's about her Aunt Lucy's confidence, her mother's realized selfishness, and even in subtle facial expressions the star, soon-to-be-pageant queen's self-perception. In a heart-lifting moment toward the end of the film, Willowdean accepts herself not as a now pseudo-conforming pageant queen but as an imperfect collage of all the things that make her beautiful. She said it best to her mother backstage, "I'm fat. I'm happy. I'm insecure. I'm bold."
Someone somewhere will probably find Dumplin' problematic in a multitude of ways I don't, but it's messages like Willowdean's that I plan on taking with me into 2019. I've always had issues with my weight, but it's about more than that; I've always been insecure about who I am as a person- how I look, the way I talk, the clothes I wear, the friends I keep, the things I like- I've had issues with everything. But what Dumplin' teaches me and hopefully all who watch it is that, per the words of the film's original novel by Julie Murphy, "Perfection is nothing more than a phantom shadow we're all chasing."
Willowdean refuses to conform to the effortless beauty of the pageant girls- she crafts her own lane and in the process learns to accept herself in all of her flaws. What's most important is that she doesn't do it in a comedic fashion in the way other plus-sized actors have been portrayed to do, she does it in a way that feels authentic to her and who she's built to be throughout the movie. It's Willowdean's sentiments that I'll echo throughout my new year- my authentic imperfections do not impede my beauty, they define it.