Sunday Reflections: On DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy, or why today I will choose to put on a bathing suit and make a memory with my daughters
If you have ever had your heartbroken because your 6-yr-old daughter came and asked you if she was fat, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.
If you have ever watched as your pre-teen daughter refused a piece of her favorite cake at her birthday party, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.
If you have ever sat outside the pool while your kids splashed and laughed because you felt too uncomfortable in your own skin to put on a bathing suit and join them in making this memory, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.
If you have ever looked up at the pictures on your wall and realized there are almost no pictures of you with your kids because you hate to have your picture taken, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.
And if you have ever thought that I should sit outside the pool because I’m too fat to join my kids, or said of course that young girl shouldn’t eat that piece of cake on her birthday, or thought that a 6-year-old should be told she is fat and should be ashamed, you should read DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy.
And then you should also read MAKING PRETTY by Corey Ann Haydu.
My preteen daughter and I read both of these books this year and it changed the way we talk with one another. I don’t tell her she is pretty, I tell her she is kind, smart, a good problem solver. I tell her that I love her. I take more pictures with my kids. I put on my bathing suit and splash in the pool.
I spent a lot of my life hating my body. I was anorexic throughout most of middle school, high school and college. I was hungry and cranky and tired, and I still hated my body even though I had the ideal body type. Now I am older and fatter. I still hate my body. But I don’t want my girls to grow up spending so much of their life and mental energy being concerned about their body. I don’t want them to miss life moments because they are too busy sitting around stewing in a cesspool of self-loathing. I have been there, I am still there, and it sucks.
But reading these books helps. Yesterday I put on my bathing suit and I swam with my girls. I splashed. I laughed. I made a memory. And I taught them that they can love themselves.
Here’s what we do to our girls:
This week ABC News reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. . .
15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly . . .
eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down . . .
25 percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize . . .
If you break my daughters with your cruel world, I will never forgive you. They are my heart laid bare for all the world to see. They deserve your love, nurture and protection. No matter what size they may be.
DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy is about a plus size girl named Willowdean who loves Dolly Parton but is ashamed of her body. Of course she is, this world tells her daily that she should be. And Willowdean happens to be the daughter of the former local beauty pageant winner who dedicates a large portion of her life each year to coaching the next generation of girls to be the next queen. Never once has she asked Willowdean if she is going to participate. Fat girls don’t get invited into beauty pageants, even if your mom is the coordinator of the pageant.
But this year, Willowdean is leading a rebellion in honor of her favorite aunt whose loss she mourns fiercely. She is going to try and do the one thing her aunt wanted to do but never felt worthy of in her memory: enter the pageant. And when Willowdean enters, a variety of other social outcasts decide to join her.
DUMPLIN’ is a book about accepting yourself, not by changing yourself, because change is never quick or easy, but by truly learning to be comfortable in your own skin and allowing yourself to feel worthy of this thing called life even when you’re not sure who you are or who you want to be.
DUMPLIN’ is about friendship, old and new. Imperfect, but worth striving for, even when it’s hard.
It’s about mothers and daughters and the tensions that can come between them when neither one of them is entirely happy with who they are or what is happening in their life.
It’s about falling in love. And out of it. And feeling worthy of love. And how you have to find a way to love yourself before you can believe that anyone else could ever truly love you.
As I said, The Tween and I both read DUMPLIN’ recently. We both LOVED this book. It’s moving and thought provoking. It really, as they say, hits you right in the feels. As a long time librarian and book reviewer, this book goes on my best of 2015 list. As a mom, it went right into my Tween’s hands because I wanted her to read it, I wanted us to talk about it, and I wanted her to be a part of Willowdean’s journey to help start her on her own journey. She’ll be 13 next month. I know she picks up on the messages both subtle and not so subtle this world sends to her about our expectations of girls. DUMPLIN’ is not only a fun and fantastic read, but it’s a great tool in the arsenal to make us think and reflect on those cultural messages so that we can tear them down and build ourselves up.
Reading this book was a sort of spiritual experience for us both. We laughed. We cried. We talked. We bonded. We made decisions about how we were going to live our lives differently because we didn’t want to miss the moments of life. Willowdean missed so many moments because she thought she wasn’t worthy of them, and I think so many of us can identify with that.
Coupled with the equally profound MAKING PRETTY by Corey Ann Haydu, DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy is a must read. Together, these two books really help us understand the ways that we build up and tear down girls. We step right into the psyche of a mind that has been honed and cultivated in a culture that says the way you look matters first and foremost; a culture that objectifies and sexualizes girls at very young ages and throughout their lifetimes; a world that demonizes girls that don’t fit conventional beauty standards; a world that crushes the spirits of girls as early as age 6, which is when my youngest child came home and asked me if she was fat because the kids at school were teasing her.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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