Beauty Pageants, Body Positivity, & Dolly Parton

“Dumplin’” is the Feel-Good Movie We Need

By: Brooke Price 

Willowdean’s mother introduces her to life in the pageant world. Photo Credit:

Willowdean Dickson, “Dumplin’’ lives in Texas with her mother Rosie and best friend Ellen. Willowdean’s Aunt Lucy was a curvy and confident woman who taught Dumplin’ to love herself for who she is.

She was her role model and Willowdean looked up to and confided in her. Aunt Lucy would host Dolly Parton parties with Willowdean and Ellen, which led to their love for Dolly Parton.

After Aunt Lucy’s passing, Willowdean realizes that people judge her on her appearance because her mother is thin and a former beauty queen. Willowdean is pressured from society about her weight and feels uncomfortable in her body.

As Willowdean goes through Aunt Lucy’s belongings, she discovers that her Aunt Lucy had completed an application to compete in a beauty pageant, but never handed it in. Willowdean then decides to register for the Miss Teen Bluebonnet Pageant as a protest against the bullying and stereotyping she has endured for being a plus sized woman.

Willowdean registers for the pageant along with her friend Ellen, as well as their friends Millie and Hannah to stand up to what “beauty” can be defined as.

Willowdean Dickson is played by Danielle Macdonald and her best friend Ellen Dryver is played by Odeya Rush.  

Rosie Dickson, Willowdean’s mother and beauty pageant judge, is played by Jennifer Aniston. Jennifer Aniston was also a producer for “Dumplin’.”

The curvy and cheerful Christian, Millie Michalchuk is played by Maddie Baillio. The goth feminist, Hannah Perez is played by Bex Taylor-Klaus.

Willowdean also works at a diner with fellow coworker Bo. They often flirt with one another, which later blossoms into a relationship. Willowdean’s insecurities with her appearance creates obstacles in her relationship with Bo.

Danielle Macdonald discussed with TIME how important it was to represent other plus-sized women; “I wanted to do it for my 16-year-old self…There aren’t plus-sized teens represented in film who aren’t made the butt of a joke. I had to be a part of making this a reality.”

“Dumplin’” promotes body positivity and self-love. When Willowdean and Ellen compete in the swimsuit competition for the beauty pageant, they wear swimsuits with the saying “every-body is a swim-suit body”.

This moment showed that everyone can defy beauty standards and be considered beautiful.

Willowdean later discovers that her Aunt Lucy previously went to a biker drag bar and was loved by the patrons and drag queens of the bar.  Willowdean gains advice from the drag queens from the bar about how to boost her confidence and come to terms with loving herself for who she is.

As Willowdean goes through Aunt Lucy’s footprints in the film, viewers realize how much of an impact Aunt Lucy had on her and how she was like a mother to Willowdean.

“Dumplin’” was based on the book of the same name by Julie Murphy.  Julie Murphy also made a cameo appearance in the film as a patron in the drag bar.

In an interview with USA Today, Julie Murphy discussed her inspiration for writing “Dumplin’”:

“As a fat kid growing up, every instance of fat I saw in media, the fat person was the butt of the joke or the funny fat best friend or they were evil or they had to lose weight to have a fulfilling story arc… I was angry about not seeing myself and I was angry about bad representation perpetuating stereotypes about bodies and body image.”

The soundtrack for the film was mainly produced by Dolly Parton. The song “Push and Pull” was sung by Dolly Parton, Jennifer Aniston and Danielle Macdonald.

“Dumplin’” was released on Netflix December 7th 2018 and its heartwarming message of self-love and confidence resonates with many today.

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