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Dumplin’ Is The First Movie to Actually Make Me Feel Great About My Body

I cried a lot.

danielle macdonald, jennifer aniston

Being a bigger girl is a mindset that doesn’t just go away for many of us, even if you lose weight. I grew up chubby. Had a grandmother who, while well-meaning, liked to tell me that I was fat and would always be chubby, and then when I didn’t eat for 5 years, finally looked good in her eyes. The problem was that, even at my skinniest, I didn’t feel confident in my body.

So a lot of the more recent things about “body positivity” often do not resonate with me. Not that they are not well-meaning, they are. Young girls, and women of every age, can and should embrace their bodies and love themselves in ways that I never could and I accepted that. I wished that I could internalize that discourse, but I felt as if I’d been too steeped in my own mentality.

But then, there came Dumplin. I heard the murmurs, heard everyone telling me that I was going to cry and love it, and I wasn’t exactly sure.

A movie about a bigger young woman getting the hot man? Netflix tried it with Sierra Burgess Is A Loser and what that showed was Sierra Burgess forcing herself on a man while he had his eyes closed because she didn’t think he’d kiss her knowing what she looked like. Not a great message. But there is just something affirming about Dumplin’ that manages to bring out this feeling of acceptance and love for both ourselves and those around us that finally gave me a feeling of positivity that I hadn’t felt before.

Did I have an eating disorder when I was in high school? It wasn’t diagnosed but I’d say yes, since I would only eat toast once a day and run six miles, feeling guilty for what I did eat. Even when I weighed nothing, I felt undesirable. And it isn’t exactly fair to blame my grandmother for it, it was also the kids at school calling me a dinosaur, and even my best friend telling me that I wouldn’t win a beauty pageant because I “wasn’t the type they let win.”

I was 12 when my mother let me participate in a beauty pageant because my best friend and her sister were also doing so. I was chubby with terrible acne and a haircut that I still hate myself for, but I beat my friend and her sister because I could play piano. I had a talent I’d worked hard for, but I still was second to last. That experience made me realize that the way we judge beauty is outrageous and I had the feeling about pageants that the protagonist Willowdean has throughout the movie.

Dumplin’ shows growth and growing self-awareness throughout the movie for Will as well as for her mother. It isn’t forced, and their understanding of each other is a bit more filled out by the end of the movie, but nothing feels like a resolution just for there to be one. They aren’t “healed,” they don’t magically understand each other, but they’ve grown closer and learned to appreciate previously unexplored elements of one another.

This realism—a relatively happy ending without having everything be magically fixed forever—is something I appreciate. It took my mother until this year to admit that me only eating toast and running like a nutcase wasn’t a fantastic thing. In a lot of ways, she reminds me of Jennifer Aniston’s character Rosie because she was always beautiful (and continues to be so) and the fact that I refuse to do my hair and won’t dress in pretty dresses every day drives her up the wall.

But there now exists a level of understanding between us that Will finds with her mother and seeing that relationship develop throughout the movie hit home in a way I didn’t expect. Now, I don’t expect everyone to have the same (or even a similar) reaction to Dumplin’ that I did, but I do think it is important, and the movie is going to help a lot of young people in accepting that every body is a swimsuit body. I wish Dumplin‘ had been around when I was Willowdean’s age, and in all my years before that.

(image: Netflix)

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Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. A writer her whole life but professionally starting back in 2016 who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.