Despite their names, reality TV shows like “The Bachelorette” do not showcase reality in the slightest. They present a sensationalized fairytale where a large group of men fight for the attention of a thin, conventionally attractive woman. Kate Stayman-London’s debut novel, “One to Watch,” confronts fatphobia in the media by inserting a plus-sized character into this fictionalized fairytale.
“One to Watch” follows Bea, a 30-year-old plus-size fashion blogger who lives in LA. At the beginning of the novel, she’s heartbroken and has sworn off dating forever. But when she publishes a scathing review regarding the lack of representation on the fictional reality TV show “Main Squeeze,” she receives an offer that transforms her life. The executive producer of “Main Squeeze” asks her to be the show’s first-ever plus-size star.
Bea accepts the offer, and soon she’s whirled away to set. Cameras start watching her every move as 25 men vie for her attention. Romance, intrigue and fantastical dates in foreign countries are all positives of the experience. But Bea is also forced to confront critics, drama and her own struggle with her body image while participating in the reality TV show.
Written as a compelling and complex main character, Bea experiences a multitude of internal struggles while starring on “Main Squeeze.” Early on, a few of the male contestants poke fun at her weight, and one even walks off the set completely after seeing her for the first time. While this leads to dramatic television, it also wounds Bea’s self-esteem. She spends a good portion of the show wondering if the men are even physically attracted to her at all or if they’re just there to get famous.
This doesn’t mean that Bea is self-conscious all of the time. She’s a successful woman who’s confident in the work that she does within the fashion industry. Stayman-London provides vivid details of the outfits Bea chooses to wear throughout the novel, and her passion for clothes is abundantly clear to the reader.
Bea’s blog is a place for her to showcase her love for fashion while also exposing what it’s like to be a plus-size woman in an industry oversaturated with women who are the epitome of thinness.
One striking quote from the beginning of “One to Watch” that emphasizes the struggles plus-size women face in the fashion industry is, “I want to shake designers and say, ‘Hey, do you guys hate fat women so much that you’re willing to cut out two-thirds of your potential customers? Do you really see our bodies as so unworthy of wearing your clothes?’ But the hard truth is that a lot of people in the fashion world would really prefer that I weren’t in it.”
The average woman in America is a size 16, not a size 00. Yet a majority of companies only model clothes on skinny women, and the range of plus-size clothes for most brands only extends to a size 16.
“One to Watch” exposes the inherent fatphobia in the fashion industry by using Bea as an advocate for women of any size to be included in fashion. Because no matter how much someone weighs, they still deserve to be able to dress in a way that makes them feel confident and beautiful. That’s hard to do when brands don’t even sell clothing in your size.
In the scenes where Bea is starring on “Main Squeeze,” fatphobia is examined on a micro-level. A few of the contestants call her a cow, offer to create a detailed weight-loss plan for her and even fetishize her fatness. These negative interactions are based on the assumption that Bea must hate herself and her body because she’s a size 16.
These hurtful remarks are reminiscent of the fatphobia Bea has faced from the media. One woman writes a biting article stating that Bea is promoting obesity to children by simply existing as a fat woman. Some of the comments on Bea’s blog regarding her weight are cruel; people go so far as to tell her that she’s better off dead than being fat. No matter how strong someone presents themselves, there are only so many malicious comments a person can hear about their weight before their armor starts to crack.
Throughout the filming of the show, Bea internalizes these negative assumptions and begins to doubt herself as she develops emotional attachments to the remaining contestants. She put off dating for years because of fears that no one would love her due to her weight.
The experience of starring in a reality TV show with the goal of finding the love of her life means she has to expose her insecurities and vulnerabilities. Not only does she have to reveal these anxieties to the men she meets, but she also has to provide this information to the entire audience watching her for entertainment.
However, this predicament isn’t only filled with negative experiences. Bea meets a number of men throughout shooting “Main Squeeze” who show love, affection and compassion toward her. While forming these emotional bonds, Bea realizes that it’s better to love someone and get hurt than to guard her heart to stay safe. She’s able to overcome her fear of rejection and dive into a world of uncertainty. Though challenging, this leap of faith pays off for Bea.
Another fantastic aspect of “One to Watch” is the representation Stayman-London manages to include within 417 pages. As previously mentioned, the main character, Bea, is a plus-size woman working in the fashion industry. There’s also lesbian, asexual, aromantic, POC and gender nonconforming representation. The supporting characters are given just as much depth, personality and nuance as Bea. This makes the interactions between each character authentic and exciting because each person feels so realistic.
Kate Stayman-London has a promising career as an author ahead of her. She was able to write a novel that effortlessly discusses a wide range of heavy topics. Fatphobia, body image, relationships, fear and sexuality are all subjects that she writes about in a way that exposes the concepts to readers without being forceful. She manages to weave these delicate discussions into a fun and fluffy romance. The heartfelt scenes in “One to Watch” are balanced out by all of the lighthearted, romantic scenes. It’s an entertaining novel that packs a punch, and it will leave readers breathless and desperate for more.