Kate/Chrissy Willowdean/Julie

Two new gorgeous women have come into my orb – Kate, as portrayed by Chrissy; Willowdean, as conceived by Julie. What links them is the larger side of life. Kate/Chrissy, on the show that has taken America by storm, have rightly emerged as pinup queens for many battling so hard against societal perceptions and the odorous trolls of this world. Now that her series, already scheduled for another two seasons, has commenced in Oz, hopefully she will do the same here. Willowdean/Julie Murphy does the same for a younger and arguably, even more vulnerable demographic, in the wonderfully feel good ‘Dumplin’ – a YA novel recently optioned by Disney with Jennifer Aniston on board. So where Kate is a heroine of the small screen now, hopefully Ms Willodean Dickson soon will become a big screen super-heroine. These two provide one of the upsides of what life can be for those with weight problems and the issues that often come with it – health, both mental and physical; not to mention the difficulties in finding clothing in a popular culture obsessed with the smaller sizes. What’s terrific about ‘This is Us’ on the tele, as well as ‘Dumplin’, is that, whilst the negatives are not shirked, there is proposed the definite possibility of not only keeping one’s head above water, but of finding acceptance and real happiness too.

Chrissy Metz is a marvel. Already a successful talent agent, she yearned to be that person attending auditions, not facilitating them. The 36-year old wanna-be star had already taken on some roles, most notably in ‘My Name is Earl’ and ironically, being asked to don a fat suit for ‘American Horror Story Freak Show’. But with ‘This is Us’ she has really hit the big time.

The product of the US networks has never formed a large part of my home viewing habits, at least in their free-to-air guise. Their generic shoot-em-ups and car chases simply bore me, as do the equally generic ideal types that have the major roles in them. I prefer the more realistic approach of the Brits and to a lesser extent, our own programme makers. So a new American series would be not at all on my radar, but alerted by a critic in the Age as to this being something different and of quality, Leigh and I decided to give it a burl. It’s carried by WIN and both my lovely lady and myself have been hooked on ‘This is Us’ from the get-go – and Kate is one of the many reasons why.

The actress herself, Chrissy Metz, claims to have been, once upon a time, a Kate, ‘…but now I am far removed from that.’ She was, unfortunately and predictably, bullied at school, suffering from panic attacks. Now divorced, she is dating one of the show’s crew, who was her escort during the recent awards season – including to the Golden Globe where Metz and the show both received nominations. She now finds herself in high demand for fashion shoots and whilst Chrissy M accepts who she is, her character Kate still has a way to go. During the show she looks to booking herself into a fat farm and undertaking gastric bypass surgery as solutions. Metz herself states, ‘I am on this journey to inspire people, and to encourage them. We are all deserving of happiness; so (playing Kate)…is much more than just acting…You’re changing lives and opening discussion.’

And she certainly does inspire, as does Willowdean. She, I guess, is somewhat Metz in reverse, accepting herself and her plus-sized body for most of her youthful years, until she came to the roadblock that can be boys. With the complications they bring she loses her perceived confidence and is no longer prepared to take on the world so feistily.

We’re not far into Murphy’s novel when the first of these lads enter her domain. Bo’s one of the school jocks and our Willowdean is so disbelieving at first that he could be attracted to her. She’s turned on by their ‘making out’, but completely shuts down when he tries a little fondling, deducing that her body must be a complete turn-off. It’s clearly not, but so conditioned is she to the fact that the opposite gender would only go for the school’s beautiful, slim types, she starts putting up barriers to his ardour. Somebody should whisper in her ear that there’s no rule of thumb to what young men – or men of any age for that matter – like. Curves and ampleness have just as much attraction to many. Then, to complicate matters, Bo soon has a rival for her affections. Two boys! What is going on?

Before these guys the loves of her life were Dolly Parton, whose advice she tries to live by; her recently deceased, obesity-afflicted auntie and her best mate, Ellen. But when the latter experiences sex for the first time and confides in her, Willowdean, who hasn’t opened up about her beaux, loses the plot in terms of the life she expected to continue living.

Her own mother, although clearly loving her, is nonetheless embarrassed about the daughter she calls Dumplin’. Mum’s a former winner of her small southern town’s Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant and now is running the show. When Willowdean signs up for it, with some other fellow hitherto outsiders from her school, her mother is in a bind. They have to confront their respective attitudes to each other.

It’s such a nice, nice, nice book. We know exactly how it is all going to pan out. But the fact there’s no surprises in store and that the ending is pure saccharine does not detract one iota. It is really the only way the novel can fufil what it set out to do when you think about it. To see Willowdean plough on, largely following Dolly’s advice to ‘Find out who you are and do it with purpose.’ is as inspirational a story as is Metz’s. ‘Dumplin’ is a terrific read for any age-group or gender – but especially for Murphy’s target audience.

Julie Murphy

As actress Ms Metz says in a ‘Harpers Bazaar’ interview recently, ‘There’s room for all of us now – no matter our sexuality, race, body size, gender or whatever else.’ You go girls.

‘This is Us’ on Rotten Tomatoes = https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/this_is_us/s01/

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