Kate Stayman-London's debut novel One to Watch falls neatly within the bounds of "women's fiction," focusing on Bea's character arc as she's propelled from her popular plus-size fashion blog to the role of first-ever plus-size star on a Bachelorette-esque dating show.
Stayman-London breaks up the narrative with snippets from different media: transcripts of a podcast focused on the show, a group chat of fans who have a pool going and tweets. It's in some of those tweets that we get our first real bad tastes of fatphobia and if you're not prepared for it and/or not in the right headspace, it'll hurt a lot. Readers with a history of disordered eating (*waves*) should check their mental health before picking this up.
Overall, One to Watch straddles the line between fat-positivity and internalized and experienced fatphobia. Bea is insistent from the start that if she's going to go on this show, the men vying for her affections need to be a much more diverse group than in the past. She uses her platform to fight for fat people, specifically citing facts about health, the fashion industry, etc. She also refuses to wear a swimsuit on screen the first time they shove it at her because she knows she'll be treated horribly by the media and viewers after. That was relatable - sometimes you really just don't feel like dealing with it. It's not that you feel ugly in the suit, it's just that you don't have the energy to deal with anonymous cruelty. In that way, One to Watch does not pretend that fatphobia is magically "fixed" or that having this groundbreaking season of the show is somehow changing hearts and minds. (But sometimes you just want to read a story in which a character is fat and doesn't have to deal with this.) Some of the men on the show are clearly anti-fatness and it's a combination of men who are planted there as antagonists by the producer and men who are just genuinely shitty.
However, there are also four men who treat Bea like the attractive woman she is. Here comes the internalized fatphobia - at times she doesn't believe these buff, handsome men are interested in her and not the money and Instagram followers they'll get out of it. There's one love interest in particular that seems destined from the start to be her HEA and eventually I was tired of reading about her dates with the other men because of that. Among other things, that romantic arc convinced me that this is not a genre romance. A capital-R Romance would not have one of the main characters dating so many other people up until the 90% mark. Romance readers who do not like their characters being physically intimate with non-endgame characters will not enjoy this book.
I'd recommend One to Watch for readers who want more fat-positivity in their life and can tolerate a bunch of fatphobia to get to the HEA. Readers who enjoy the dramatics of The Bachelorette may also enjoy this. I liked it a lot, but I expect it to be a hard read for some.
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Content Warnings: fatphobia, internet trolling/abuse including rape threats, "kill yourself," etc. (these are really only on page once to illustrate a point), cheating, lying (producer)
Suzanne borrowed this audiobook from her library.