My introduction to author Julie Murphy came in the form of the movie version of her book Dumplin’. I heard the buzz, and knew I’d have to watch it right away. As a fat woman, any story with a plus-size main character piques my interest. As a Tennessean, any movie with such a strong connection to Dolly Parton excites me. Despite the fact that Dumplin’ is intended for a younger audience– it was written as a YA novel, and I am in my thirties– if someone said, “I wrote the exact story you have always wanted to see in a movie,” it would be Dumplin’.
When I watched it, I found myself completely enthralled. We even got a puppy around that same time, and I named her Willowdean Dumplin Cloyd. The story just hit me right in my chubby little heart.
After my initial introduction to Julie Murphy via Netflix, I quickly discovered that she has written way more than just Dumplin’, including two companion novels, ‘Puddin’’ and ‘Pumpkin’. Most of her books focus on plus-size protagonists, and it’s so refreshing to see glimpses of myself in those characters.
One of Julie Murphy’s most recent projects is called If the Shoe Fits.
It’s her first novel written for an adult audience. ‘If the Shoe Fits‘ is a modern retelling of Disney’s Cinderella story with a plus-size gal as the main character, Cindy. In this book, Cindy is an aspiring shoe designer, and the only plus-size woman on a reality TV dating show. The work was commissioned by Disney, and I’ve never been more excited to read a book in my entire life. (I devoured this book in two days. I was legit sad when it was over because I wanted to follow Cindy for the rest of her life.)
Scary Mommy got the chance to sit down with Julie Murphy herself to discuss ‘If the Shoe Fits,’ why it’s important to her to write about plus-size women, and even to get her take on plus-size fashion. Here’s what she had to say.
Julie Murphy was hand-picked by Disney to reimagine one of their princesses for a modern audience, and this fat girl is so damn excited to hear it.
When Julie’s editor reached out to her to let her know that Disney was going to be releasing a series of rom-coms inspired by the classic Disney princess stories, Murphy knew right away that her first choice princess would be Cinderella.
“I have always wanted to write an adult book, and I feel like being a YA author and getting to write a Disney-inspired adult book is the perfect stepping stone into the adult world, ya know? Although Cinderella isn’t the first Disney princess, she was my first Disney princess,” Murphy explains. “I have lots of memories of sitting on my grandmother’s floor, way too close to the television, like obsessing over Cinderella’s black choker. I just remember stealing my mother’s bra straps, using them as a choker, pretending to be Cinderella.”
“Before I even chose which princess I would prefer to work with, I knew that I was going to make that princess plus-size. All of my books revolve around plus-size protagonists, and ya know, the average woman in America is over a size 14, so not only does it make personal sense for me, but it also makes global narrative sense for a modern Disney princess to reflect the modern woman,” she explains.
Cinderella was also my first Disney princess! I think something about the way she was the least likely candidate to win the prince’s heart, but he saw how special she was even when nobody else could really resonated with me as a chubby kid in the nineties when plus-size role models in media were few and far between. If a prince could love a maid, then maybe my prince was out there, too.
It is evident from the way Cindy discusses her size that an actual plus-size person wrote her experiences.
It was so refreshing to watch Cindy say the things I have said about my own body, and to use language that assures me that Cindy is aware of and involved in the fat positivity/acceptance/liberation movement that means so much to so many real-life fat girls.
“It took me so long for me to love myself enough to even consider that I could be the main character, that now that I have realized that truth, I’m like a dog with a bone. Like, ‘Make ‘em all fat! We’re making all the girls chubby!’” Murphy laughs. “All the girls are going to be plus-sized, and they’re going to have great, exciting, fun stories. It’s kind of like now that my eyes have seen the light, it’s all I can think about.”
“Kudos to Disney because they came to me for a reason. They knew what my goals are. I think this line was created with a very specific intent to rewrite the princesses for them to be more accessible to a modern audience,” Murphy shares. “Of course, there’s a spectrum of plus-size out there, but I feel like a lot of people could see the cover of ‘If the Shoe Fits’ and really see themselves reflected in Cindy’s body size and body shapes, so I think it’s more universal than the world around is would lead us to believe.”
Of course, “If the Shoe Fits” isn’t the only story that exists with a plus-size protagonist, but Julie Murphy knows there’s always room for one more talented, successful fat character on the bookshelf.
“In the romance space, there is definitely some plus-size representation. Talia Hibbert is a great example of that. Olivia Dade. Also, ‘One to Watch‘ [by Kate Stayman-London] is another reality television dating show book that also has a plus-size protagonist. So, there are those people creating those stories, but I feel like it’s such a sliver,” she says, lamenting that lists for people searching for fat positive fiction often contain the same few books and authors.
“When you go to the store and it’s like, ‘I feel like I can’t choose one because there are so many’ that’s when I’ll feel like we’ve really made a dent in this,” she admits.
The idea of being the only fat girl on a reality TV dating show makes me kind of queasy, but Julie Murphy knew exactly what she was doing choosing that setting for this fairytale.
I married my first boyfriend, so dating was never really a thing for me, but I’ve often watched those dating shows and thought about how different my experience would be.
“I think the reality television dating show was a really natural fit for the stand-in for the ball and the gowns and the clock striking midnight…all those Cinderella motifs. It really made a lot of sense to use reality TV show as a backdrop,” Murphy explains.
“Of course, there’s not a lot of actual, real examples of [plus-size contestants on reality TV dating shows] but it was easy to imagine how she might feel and what she might go through, just because it was really easy for me to think of how we treat plus-size starlets, or even how I’m sometimes treated as a plus-size creator. You’re either vilified for what you are and what you’re doing, or you’re held up to this unrealistic inspirational pedestal, ya know? There’s not a lot of in-between. So, while I might not see a lot of plus-size women on reality television dating shows, it wasn’t hard to imagine how that might unfold or what that might look like,” Julie says.
Part of the reason Cindy loves shoes and chose to design them as a career is because of the often-dismal landscape of the plus-size clothing industry.
I relate to that so hard. So does Julie Murphy.
Murphy was accepted to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles when she graduated high school, but a family financial crisis prevented her from attending. Her love for fashion runs deep, and it was born in the mall where she couldn’t find anything in her size, but she wanted to shop and find things she loves.
“I grew up in the era of the mall. The mall was so specific and influential to my generation. I was constantly strolling through all these stores with my friends from like Hollister, American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret, and there was never anything in those stores to fit me. Even as a teenager, if there was a plus-size section or a husky girl’s section or whatever it was that was the section I shopped in from the day I was born,” Murphy explains.
“While Cindy very seamlessly found shoes, I very seamlessly found hair accessories. That’s my ‘shoe,’” she admits. “I’m always at the ready with a headband, and that’s my iteration of Cindy’s shoes.”
For me, it was makeup. When I was still in the mindset that my body was less-than, I decided that I could make people look at my face instead. From the moment I was allowed to wear it, I threw myself into makeup and practiced making my face look as contoured, shaded, and enhanced as possible. Today, I am much more comfortable in my body, but I still absolutely love that half-hour before an important day when I can sit at my makeup table and transform myself. It’s a love that’s outlasted my insecurity.
Just like Cindy, Julie Murphy is fashionable AF.
She is always wearing cute, fun outfits and posting pictures on Instagram. We even have the same adorable yellow bathing suit from Old Navy, so I guess you could say we are definitely BFF material. Are you listening, Julie? We’d totally get along.
“I have an embarrassing amount of riches when it comes to clothes,” Julie admits. “I really love Universal Standard. I love a really great active company called Superfit Hero. They’re very size-inclusive. Another one I really love that deals in lots of linens and stuff is called Nettle Studios. Torrid was my very first job out of high school, so Torrid will always hold a special place in my heart. I still get tons of my basics there. Another favorite of mine is a really small indie designer out of Portland, and her company is called Copper Union.”
“It might sound vain, it might sound silly for clothing to such a thing to be so passionate about, but clothing is such an access point. It’s really hard to do the job you can’t dress for. I remember when I wasn’t writing full-time and going to interviews. It was incredibly painful to have to go into the one Lane Bryant and try to duke it out for the one blazer that wasn’t hideous, ya know? It’s something I’m really passionate about, and I think that giving people the opportunity to dress for the careers they want and the things they want just gives people more opportunities in general,” Julie shares.
Insert one zillion heart-eye emojis here. This woman totally and completely gets it.
Julie Murphy ended her conversation with Scary Mommy by teasing us with this delightful little tidbit:
“I can’t officially share who the next authors are who are going to be taking on the next two princesses, but I can tell you that you’ll be very excited.”
We already are!
‘If the Shoe Fits’ is available now wherever books are sold, and you can look forward to more books in Disney’s Meant to Be Series from other talented authors soon.