Pop Culture Needs More Plus Size Protagonists
When almost 70% of American women are a size 14 or bigger, movies like Dumplin' are ridiculously important, while movies like I Feel Pretty just feel ridiculous.
For as long as I can remember, I've been fat. The protagonists in the movies I've watched and the books I've read, however, have not been. . .
Luckily, that's starting to change.
On December 7, 2018, Netflix released Dumplin', an adorable, heartfelt teen movie based on Julie Murphy's YA novel about a plus-size girl who decides to enter a local pageant as a protest and instead inspires other outsiders to also enter the competition. I absolutely adore the book, it means a lot to me, so I was pretty nervous and excited about this film.
I didn't expect to sob through the entire film.
In my 24 years of life, I've never seen a girl in a movie or on television express the exact same fears and anxieties I've experienced because of my body. Willowdean is a confident girl who is generally comfortable with herself and her body, but she is aware of how other people view fat bodies and worries about that. For the first time, it seemed like a character on my television actually understood me - something that Netflix owed fat girls after the cruel dumpster fires that Insatiable and Sierra Burgess is a Loser were.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this is that it's not ending with Dumplin'. Next year, Hulu is adapting the Lindy West memoir Shrill into an Aidy Bryant - driven comedy. Isn't It Romantic?, a romcom starring Rebel WIlson is set to release next year as well! And YA has recently been FULL of fat protagonists - Dumplin', The Upside of Unrequited, and Puddin' are just a few! The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) not only features a fat protagonist, but Amy Spalding's book gives us a fat, gay, fashionable girl who has pink hair and isn't afraid to eat in Abby Ives!!
As body positivity inches closer to being the norm, pop culture seems to be evolving to attempt to accommodate this change a bit. They don't always get it right - like with Insatiable or Sierra Burgess - but when they DO, it's life changing for the girls who need it. Willowdean Dickson is the heroine I needed when I was a teenager. Hell, Abby Ives is a character I needed at the beginning of this year!
The thing is, people are sick of fatphobia. The average woman is a size 16! Stores like Torrid and Lane Bryant make it relatively easy for women of all sizes - not just straight sizes - to be fashionable and trendy! Like always, Hollywood is slow to catch up - I mean, we did have to suffer through Insatiable before we were blessed with Dumplin' - but at least now things are getting better. "Fat Monica" in Friends wouldn't cut it now, and creators and executives in the media industry finally seem to be catching onto that.
At the beginning of the year, Amy Schumer released a movie where her character was constantly called fat and ugly (two things Schumer definitely isn't), and she had to have a brain injury to realize she was actually beautiful. Now, we have Willowdean's brilliant confidence and organic journey towards self-acceptance in Dumplin'. The inclusion of bodies that are outside the usual idea of what is beautiful is a slow process, but it's ultimately a beautiful thing to witness.