When you imagine a movie about a beauty pageant, you might think it’d be the last cinematic trope with any body positivity. After all, so many entries in this genre involve an extensive makeover or unsupportive competitors willing to do anything to win. Netflix’s newest original film, “Dumplin,’” separates itself from the pack with a simple central message: Every body is worth celebrating.
Based on a 2015 novel of the same name, “Dumplin'” tells the story of Willowdean Dickson (nicknamed like the title by her pageant-queen mother), a plus-size Texas teen with an undying love for Dolly Parton. After discovering that her beloved late aunt (also plus size) backed out before entering the same small-town pageant that was Willowdean’s mother’s claim to fame, she decides to enter the competition in protest. What she doesn’t realize is how empowering the experience will prove to be.
Here are just 6 of the many reasons “Dumplin’” should be considered the body-positive movie of the year. Warning: This post contains spoilers!
1. Romantic leads come in all shapes and sizes
As a rule, the female lead in a film is conventionally attractive (read: tall and thin). The star of “Dumplin’,” played by Danielle Macdonald, is a firecracker teen with a body type that’s not usually given top billing. Willowdean is determined, bold, and (spoiler!) has a love interest who’s quite smitten. If you ask us, more movies should follow suit. After all, the majority of women in the U.S. wear sizes 14+—it’s about time the entertainment industry reflected that.
2. Positive role models can change the way you view yourself
Though Willowdean may have had a strained relationship with her mother, she found a kindred spirit in her aunt Lucy. In a whimsically decorated enclave located behind her mother’s sewing room, Lucy introduced Willowdean to self-love and the inimitable stylings of Dolly Parton. In Lucy, Willowdean discovered that you can find confidence at any size.
3. Sometimes all it takes is a few sequins
Despite only entering the pageant to prove a point about narrow beauty ideals, Willowdean discovers the value in sharing her own beauty with the help of a few new friends. After finding an old flyer in Lucy’s Dolly Parton scrapbook, she visits a bar where drag queens impersonate the iconic country singer. Channeling the spirit of her aunt, she learns that she can overcome her fears and insecurities to prove that she’s just as worthy of a competitor as anyone else.
4. There’s more than one way to be a beauty queen
When Millie, another girl from school with a similar body type, first enters the pageant following Willowdean, she tries to shut it down completely. “I’m not the Joan of Arc of fat girls,” she says. But the determined Millie isn’t ruffled—she’s wanted to be a pageant queen since the age of eight. After a rocky start, Millie fine-tunes her act and ends up scoring the runner-up spot in the competition—a far cry from what her peers expected.
5. Every body is a swimsuit body
The swimsuit portions of pageants are known for their emphasis on “bikini bodies” and crash diets. In this pageant, however, Willowdean takes the opportunity to enlist her slender best friend to help her demonstrate that every body is a swimsuit body—and the crowd goes wild. This scene proves how integral a support system can be to building self-love.
6. Dolly Parton is a body-positive icon
Any recap of “Dumplin'” would be incomplete without an homage to Dolly Parton. With famous quotes like, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose,” and “It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world,” Parton instills in her listeners the importance of showing off what makes you uniquely special. And for young women growing up in a society that’s not always the most body positive, this is a lesson that bears repeating.
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