Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
Willowdean, sometimes called Will by her friends, is a high school student in a small Texas town that is famed for its beauty pageant. Will’s mother once won the pageant and now plays a huge part in putting on the pageant every single year. A person might think that Will entered the pageant as soon as she was able, but Will hasn’t because she is overweight. Will has friends, but she doesn’t have the life that they have, because thinner people just get more.
It’s not until the summer that Will just gets tired of all the things she’s not supposed to do because she’s fat. She starts flirting with a co-worker. She admires her aunt, who died tragically at a rather young age, and when school gets back in session, she enters the beauty pageant, along with several other girls pushed to the margins of high school society because of their physical appearance.
The pageant causes rifts in Will’s friendship with her best friend Ellen, but also with potential suitors. Will is surprised to find that a couple of guys do like her and they both vie for her attention. Meanwhile, the other girls see Will as a rolemodel. Will follow through with her pageant plan while remembering her aunt, listening to Dolly Parton, and getting the help of some Texas Dolly Parton lookalike, drag-queens.
What I liked
I think this story is sweet and I do think it is encouraging. We’re too often told by society, that if we don’t look a certain way then certain things are not in our futures. I think stories like this are helpful to show people who may not fit into society’s ideal beauty standard that you shouldn’t miss out on life just because you’re not Cindy Crawford, or whoever it is that people are idolizing these days. Nicki Minaj?
Willowdean is a likeable character in many ways.
What I didn’t like
While there are things to like about this book, there’s a lot to not like.
First of all, pageants are stupid. It’s a thing where young thin girls and their mothers spend a lot of money on makeup and clothes to see who can out-dress and out-makeup one another. It’s not all flash. I do actually know a Miss United States and she’s a very nice person and not unintelligent, in fact, she has a doctorate. She’s most definitely tall and thin though. Besides this very nice person that I know, I don’t think that pageants hold a lot of merit and I think it takes a certain amount of thinness and money to seriously compete in them, which is not something that is open to everybody. So pageants are a very exclusive thing and I generally tend to be an inclusive person.
Second of all, look here–as much as books try to make inroads for people to quit being dicks about people’s weight, it’s not happening. People still think they’re entitled to discriminate against a person because of their weight, all the while, choosing to ignore the fact that discrimination based on weight is no different from discriminating against someone for their skin color, height, disability, speech impediment, religion, race, and every other defining characteristic that you can think of. It’s not nice, hence my usage of the word dick instead of jerk. Being a dick is worse than being a jerk, so I just wanted to drive home the point how unhumanbeinglike discriminating against a person because of their weight is. People are incredibly mean about this for no good reason and I mean vicious. People get really angry about it as if someone who is sixty pounds overweight has personally offended them and their ancestors by existing.
Will’s story is nice; it’s sweet; it makes us want to champion the underdog, but seriously, when do you see society lightening up and saying, “You know what, I think I will vote for the overweight girl to be homecoming queen”?
I don’t think Will’s scenario is likely to happen. We’re making progress as a society. We have some beautiful women who are not stick thin modeling for all sorts of places, but that honestly hasn’t changed how people act. They’re still dicks. I wish with all my heart that a bunch of overweight girls would get voted prom queen and win beauty pageants, but I think we’re still a long a way off.
This story has a love triangle, which is basically true of any novel geared towards young adult girls, apparently. Look, girls, you’re not going to get into high school and find that you have two men fighting over you. It might happen, but probably not. You’re also not going to grow up and have two men vying for your attention. Usually, it’s just the one man, and sometimes not even the one man.
The hard truth of the matter is that men will overlook you, many times, if you don’t look a certain way. The good thing about that is that usually if you do find a man who genuinely seems to care for you, he actually does care for you and it’s not some superficial bullcrap that would fade away if you gained fifty pounds all of a sudden.
I want to empower young women as much as anyone else, but it still seems that society doesn’t want young women to be empowered, so in reality, you have to empower your young women, but also teach them to fight, because they’re going to have to fight for the right to be empowered in the first place. This story does this to a degree, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s definitely not a be-all end-all book for the empowerment of young women, but it is a step in the right direction.
Girl, don’t worry about being in a pageant, get yourself a degree in rocket science.
If you’re trying to empower a young woman, do you think this book would help?
Do young women need stories like this?