There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. And that’s wrong. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.
I read a lot of Young Adult literature. I love it, and some of it is more well-written than adult books. I have never read one that is so body positive, with a character that not only has an amazing attitude but isn’t afraid to stand up for herself, as Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. Murphy is now going to be an auto-buy author for me, and I ordered all of her books after reading this. Dumplin’ is what I want all YA books to be: funny, insightful, honest, and entertaining.
Willowdean Dickson (nicknamed Dumplin’ by her mother) is the daughter of a former beauty queen and pageant winner. She is also fat, outspoken, and proud. She’s happy with her body and her life (for the most part), and she goes through life with her best friend, Ellen. When a new boy named Bo starts working at the same place Willowdean works, she is immediately attracted to him. Surprising to her? He likes her back. For the first time, Will doesn’t feel so confident, and wonders why he would like her. To gain back her confidence and prove to herself (and everyone else . . . and her mom) that she is worthy of everything good in her life, she decides to enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant. Everyone is shocked that someone who is not a typical pageant contestant would even enter, but Will inspires a movement that changes the view of everyone in the town. And, more importantly, reasserts her faith in herself.
The plot in Dumplin’ is so good, but it’s the characters who I really love. Willowdean is so real. Her characters doesn’t feel forced at all. Everything she says and every action she takes feels like exactly the right thing for her character. All I really want to do is find the adult version of her and be friends with her. I love that she doesn’t shrink into the background and basically says, “screw you” to all the jerks in the novel by doing the least expected think of all: entering the pageant. She does it unapologetically and not as a joke or with the goal of making a huge deal about it: she does it for herself.
And we can just talk about body positivity for a minute or ten? In my experience, there are very few novels that portray actual overweight characters in a positive way. They are usually quiet or mean, and are always side characters. Here we have an overweight main character who is proud of herself, happy with herself, and doesn’t spend the majority of the novel lamenting her size. Yes, she’s real, and while she is comfortable and confident in her body, she’s also ashamed at times. Everyone can relate to that feeling, no matter what size they are. But she doesn’t let it get in the way and doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on it. This is all about confidence, and how much we can actually accomplish in our lives if we stop getting in our damn ways with negative thoughts. I am here. For. It.
If you love YA, or if you’re not sure you love YA, or if you have a middle grade to high schooler in your house, please get Dumplin’ (and the sequel, Puddin’, which should be arriving at my house soon) and read it. Have your kids read it. It’s entertaining and fun, but it’s also an important commentary on how girls are “supposed” to see themselves in public, and how they should see themselves. How we all should see each other: as human beings capable of accomplishing anything we want to do. Size is not important here, just heart.