“Dumplin:'” Plus-size representation done right

By Tiffany Coelho | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Walking aimlessly around in Barnes & Noble as a 12-year-old, I remember trying to find something to catch my attention in the magazine racks.

I hadn’t discovered my true love for books yet and, really, had no place being in a bookstore. The magazines geared toward kids and teenagers with their bright colors and catchy titles were covered with girly pop idols like Gwen Stefani and Britney Spears. They were stick thin and photoshopped to perfection. They looked like the exact opposite of me: a too tall, too big, too hairy, almost teen who could not even fathom being so small and “perfect” by society’s standards.

These almost fake looking, extremely feminized images led me to steer clear of magazines all together and to start hating the idea of associating myself with “girly” practices: liking colors like pink and purple, wearing dresses and caring a great deal about my appearance. I created this opposition because the media showed “girly” girls as thin, perfect people and since I was nothing like them, I had to become the opposite of everything they were.

Staying away from those magazines and being “girly” led me toward the book section at Barnes & Noble. Books, especially young adult fiction books, were my way of escaping to a more ideal world away from the expectations to look a certain way. Throughout the years, there have been a few books I’ve read with background characters who looked like me or a protagonist who wasn’t thin but there size was more of an afterthought of the author and it wasn’t important to the story.

Almost a decade later, I found myself reading my first book by a plus size woman with a plus size narrator whose story incorporates her body type as an integral piece of the story line. This is what I’ve been waiting for since that day in Barnes & Noble when I was 12.

Julie Murphy published her novel “Dumplin’” in 2015 where Willowdean Dickson is our spectacular plus size protagonist. Willowdean’s narrative deals with being a plus size girl in a world that is not so kind to us bigger girls, while also being a hopeful narrative where plus size girls are allowed to be in love, be beautiful, be themselves, and be celebrated.

When “Dumplin’” first came out, I refused to read it. I should have been over the moon that plus size girls were getting some form of representation but one part of the book’s description took all that excitement out of me: Willowdean was going to enter a beauty pageant. I cultivated had been cultivating a bias against all things “girly” since that day in Barnes & Noble and I could not stand the idea of reading about a plus size girl being ridiculed, humiliated, and made fun of for joining a beauty pageant.

I eventually picked up the book and all of my preconceived notions of “Dumplin’” were both confirmed and denied at the same time. Willowdean was made fun of for joining the pageant with a band of other unconventional beauties, but it did not stop her from doing what she thought was right: showing the world that plus size girls can do anything they set their minds to, even if that means being in a “girly” pageant.

“Dumplin'” proved me wrong in thinking that plus size girls could not be celebrated and feminine like those women on the magazine covers. We can be beautiful, we can like pink, we can fall in love, we can want to be pageant queens. We can be anything and experience everything life has to offer. Our body type should not restrict us from living our lives the way we really want to. In the end, Willowdean’s body type didn’t limit her, and I now know it shouldn’t limit me or any plus size girl out there either.

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