Shrill, Dumplin’, and the Road to Body Positivity

June 22, 2019

Millions of people are overweight. No, it might not be the healthiest, but it’s the way they are, and there’s nothing wrong with that. People are finally starting to accept that—to be proud of it, even—but it’s far from an easy road.

 

 Photo: JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

 

Body positivity and acceptance is a two-steps-forward, one-step-back deal. Every time a big girl comes into the spotlight—actresses, singers, writers, TV personalities—there are thousands of people to pour out admiration and affection on her. But there’s also no shortage of trolls.

 

When Hasbro released new Barbie Dolls of varying body types, most people were thrilled that children could finally play with dolls that looked like them, but there were also plenty of commenters ready to find flaws. In Hulu’s Barbie documentary Tiny Shoulders, Hasbro employees encountered massive opposition from consumers. Some commented that giving your child a curvy Barbie is essentially calling them fat. Others said it promotes an unhealthy lifestyle because girls shouldn’t be taught that it’s okay to be overweight.

 

Hulu recently came out with a new show called Shrill. The first season consists of six half-hour episodes that follow aspiring writer Annie, played by Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant. The show’s tagline sums it up perfectly: “A woman on a mission to change her life, not her weight.” Aren’t we all?

 

The fourth episode centers around a body-positive pool party at which women of all sizes find a safe space to have summertime fun. It’s one of the most poignant scenes in recent memory. Annie has been plus-sized all her life, and she’s never been totally comfortable in her own skin. Now, among her plus-sized peers, she feels safe enough to let loose and have some summer fun, i.e., wear a bathing suit in public.

 

Everyone has worried about their “beach body” at one time or another; no one is immune to insecurity. Plus-sized girls are particularly susceptible to it. We’re all surrounded by magazine articles, television ads, and YouTube videos promising to slim you down enough to hop in the pool without being ashamed.

 

Annie gets the courage to jump in the pool, to dance around, even to eat in front of other people. That’s a big deal. This scene from Shrill emphasizes the fact that no one should be ashamed to eat their favorite foods or to have fun in public. That should go without saying.

 

Women of all sizes should be allowed to sip milkshakes and dance along to “Mr. Brightside” without getting the stink eye from strangers. It’s absurd that some women won’t even dance in public because they are so afraid of being judged. Some are actually underweight, but are still afraid of putting their “flaws” on display.

 

Fat phobia is so ingrained in women’s minds that it has negative effects on everyone, not just those who pack on extra pounds. Everybody is worried about looking good and achieving this unattainable image of perfection. You can drive yourself mad chasing after it.

 

Netflix’s original film Dumplin’ tells the story of a plus-sized teen taking on the pageant industry. Her svelte mother (Jennifer Aniston) is a former pageant queen, and her peers are always shocked to learn that her daughter is big. Pageantry is her passion. It permeates every part of her life, and therefore, her daughter’s.

 

Willowdean (aka Dumplin’) grew up watching girls being praised for their sparkling teeth and narrow waists. She and a handful of friends sign up for a pageant to make a statement.

 

The most important line in the movie comes from Willowdean’s best friend since childhood, “I never thought of you as fat.”

 

It’s hard to express the feelings that those words evoke.

 

First impressions are generally based on appearance. No one wants to be remembered as that fat girl, and it’s something girls worry about with everyone—neighbors, teachers, employers, and even—or perhaps especially—their mothers. It hurts the most when it comes from people who know and love you. Dumplin’ and Shrill both address this feeling of familial disappointment with incredible accuracy.

 

Some people are big, some people are small, some people are somewhere in between. That’s just the way it is. No one should be ashamed to eat their favorite foods or to have fun in public. No one should be grateful that people are willing to look past their physical “flaws”.


There is nothing wrong with the way you look. You have no reason to be embarrassed about who you are. I know it's easier said than done, but you really do have to love yourself first. Go for a swim, dance around, eat a french fry. Body-shamers be damned. Do something that makes you happy.

 

Mary Buschmann majored in Government and Classical History at Hamilton College in upstate New York. She has been involved various news and creative writing publications in both high school and college. She particularly enjoys writing human interest pieces. Mary is an aspiring author working on her first novel, The Swan.

 

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