The YA Novel 'Dumplin' Changed How I Feel About Being Fat

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times, “Karis, if you would only lose some weight, guys would be so into you!” It’s one of the (many) reasons people who care about me give to convince me to lose weight, which is part of why Julie Murphy's book Dumplin' resonated with me so profoundly.

And I’ll be the first to admit it: I do need to lose weight. I’m technically obese. My knees and back hurt and would be so grateful to carry around less weight. I eat a touch too much junk food. So for health reasons, I need to lose weight.

I’ve always believed people when they said I needed to lose weight to get a guy. And then…and then I read Dumplin'.

Published by Julie Murphy in September 2015, Dumplin’ is a young adult novel about a fat girl named Willowdean. In that, it’s already unique — most protagonists are thin and willowy, not curvy and/or pudgy. It becomes even more unique when you find out it contains a love story with a hot, straight-sized boy named Bo, a beauty pageant, and, perhaps most surprisingly, no Biggest Loser-type weight loss.

What’s that, you ask? A fat girl who finds love, enters a beauty pageant (infamous for their swimsuit competitions and emphasis on having a perfect body), and doesn’t lose the weight? That’s positively revolutionary.

And revolutionary it was to my life. The romance between Willowdean and Bo is one that has stayed with me more than a month after finishing the book — and not just because it’s fraught with tension, miscommunication, heartbreak, and some beautiful moments.

What’s that, you ask? A fat girl who finds love, enters a beauty pageant... and doesn’t lose the weight? That’s positively revolutionary.

It sticks with me because Willowdean is fat and Bo is hot (and straight sized). And like I said above, I’m fat. And I’ve been told by myself and others that this means no hot man could ever love me. Once, after reading an article I wrote about my single-hood, a strange guy from India sent me a Facebook message to tell me, “I think the problem is your fatness — Go hit gym, and become as slim as you can! A lot of boys will have crush or would accept you.”

Thanks, internet stranger. That’s exactly what I needed at 6 a.m. on a cold January morning: to know that not only am I not desired by men, I’m not even accepted by them, simply because of my size.

If that message made me feel anything other than amusement at his poor grammar, it was sorrow. And hurt. It made feel like I’m really, really ugly. Ugly and undesirable and doomed to a life forever alone.

But Dumplin’ didn't make me feel that way. I know it’s fiction; it’s not a true-life story, yet there is something so empowering about the way Julie Murphy chose to write her character — the way she chose to write a book about a fat girl finding love.

Here’s the thing: the book is about so much more than that. There's the afore-mentioned beauty pageant and a gang of unlikely contestants whose their blossoming friendship will warm your heart in a truly incredible way. There's a tense mother-daughter relationship whose arc over the course of the book is quite amazing. And there's a best friendship that has some growing pains, because what friendship doesn't experience stress and drama, especially at this point in life (going into senior year of high school)?

But Dumplin’ didn't make me feel that way. I know it’s fiction; it’s not a true-life story, yet there is something so empowering about the way Julie Murphy chose to write her character — the way she chose to write a book about a fat girl finding love.

But what sticks with me the most in this book is, of course, the romance. Because that's something I long for. And I've spent many years hating myself because of my body, assuming everybody else feels the same way.

And maybe I don't need to do that anymore. Because I think what attracts Bo to Willowdean isn't her looks or her shape, it's her personality and her confidence. Willowdean is a cool girl. I'd like to be her friend. And that's because her size is not what defines her.

My size is not what defines me.

That's what I got out of Dumplin'. That size is just a number, just one aspect of my self — there's so much more to me than that.

Images: Karis Rogerson