Dumplin’ and the Power of Authenticity

Dumplin’ takes us through this journey as Will learns to understand and accept her imperfect self, before displaying courageous vulnerability in showing herself to the world.

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Netflix’s new film, Dumplin’, starring Danielle Macdonald and Jennifer Aniston, is based on the book by Julie Murphy.

The book-to-movie adaptation follows Willowdean, the daughter of a Texan beauty queen who has been lovingly nicknamed “Dumplin’” by her mother.

Will is an insightful, strong-minded young adult who struggles with being an overweight woman in a body-obsessed world. The endearing story focuses on Will and her friends infiltrating a beauty pageant with the hopes of promoting body-positive messages, learning self-love through lessons at a drag bar, tons of Dolly Parton music, and revolutionary messages of vulnerability.  

The Will we meet at the start of the movie is brave, but protected.  

She has learned to build walls to manage her conflicted feelings towards her mother and the beauty pageant world her mother is a part of. She’s mourning the loss of her aunt who spoke openly against pageants and feels lost without her support. She feels self-conscious about a potential relationship with a coworker and worried about losing her friend to the body-obsessed world.  Will is strong and brave but still uncertain. She wonders what her place is in the world, who she is, and where she fits in.

Once Will has entered the beauty pageant (mostly out of spite for her mother), she’s faced with the enormity of her decision. She watches her fellow contestants blend into the pageant world seamlessly.

“Will is strong and brave but still uncertain. She wonders what her place is in the world, who she is, and where she fits in.”

And for a moment, Will is faced with the same question we all must answer: What does it mean to fit in?  How can we adapt to the environments around us to feel as though we belong?

But there’s a strong difference between fitting in and belonging.  

“Fitting in” requires us to adapt, to change parts of who we are, to downplay or highlight our specific traits so we become more desirable to the people or world we’re trying to be a part of.  Fitting in requires sacrifice. It asks that we give part of ourselves away to be accepted.

Willowdean isn’t interested in fitting in.  She’s learned rebelliousness and revolution, so she questions why she should have to sacrifice anything.  But Will still struggles to belong. Belonging is terrifying—it asks us to connect genuinely and authentically with others, vulnerably showing our strengths and weaknesses and asking to be accepted nonetheless. Will doesn’t want to fit in, but she feels scared to face the vulnerability required to belong.

“Willowdean isn’t interested in fitting in.”

In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown writes, “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” 

Dumplin’ takes us through this journey as Will learns to understand and accept her imperfect self, before displaying courageous vulnerability in showing herself to the world.  

Over time, the walls she used to protect herself from others’ criticisms transform into the stage she shines on.

It’s terrifying and exciting all at once, but it’s only through this journey that Will learns what it means to belong wholeheartedly. Dumplin’ is a movie about authenticity.  It shows the journey of a young woman learning to accept herself and seek belonging in a world that demands fitting in.  

It’s a lesson we could all learn, empowering ourselves to choose courageous vulnerability. We don’t have to settle for fitting in. Instead, we can bravely and authentically express who we are and seek the belonging we deserve.

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