Authors: Kate Stayman-London
INSTAGRAM DIRECT MESSAGE EXCHANGE,
Hey Bea, this is Lauren Mathers, the new executive producer at Main Squeeze. I’d love to meet and talk more about your piece. Can we have coffee? Where in town are you?
Hi, Lauren. Well, this is unexpected! I’m in Echo Park.
Of COURSE you are! I’m in Venice.
Ha, a world away. Would a phone call be easier?
No, I’d really love to see you in person. Let’s meet in the middle—drinks by the pool at the Standard in WeHo? How’s tomorrow at 3?
Sure, that works. See you then.
Ever since the Fourth of July, Bea felt like opening her eyes each morning was some kind of emotional slot machine: 5
., awake. Flip. A pressing, horrific dread: Ray’s arms, his smell, already present. No. Can’t start the day like this—pull the lever again. Another twenty minutes of sleep, maybe forty. Flip. Okay, this is better, just another day, just Tuesday. I can live with this. Let’s go.
She went through this exercise every morning for months, the wish and foreboding of it mingling each night before bed. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe it will be the same.
What drove Bea truly insane was her total lack of control in the whole scenario. No matter how good a day she had, how productive she was or how many friends she saw or how much she cried in therapy, there was no apparent correlation to how she would feel when she woke up the next morning. Or twenty minutes after that.
There were a few weeks during the height of her
post going viral when she was so inundated with texts and DMs and emails and press requests that her frazzled, cluttered existence almost didn’t leave room for him. During those weeks, she wouldn’t wake up thinking about him; instead, he’d snake into her consciousness later, always buzzing at the periphery, waiting for a few minutes between calls or an unmoving lane of traffic to strike.
Bea knew that pining after him was fruitless. One drunken, sloppy kiss five years ago; one perfect, awful night six months ago. He wasn’t the love of her life—he wasn’t even returning her texts. So why the hell couldn’t she move on?
Bea dragged herself out of bed and ran through her calendar for the day—more or less empty since L.A. was slow to get back to the grind after the holidays. Nothing until her meeting at the Standard at three.
Lauren Mathers. How totally strange.
When her post blew up, Bea vaguely expected—okay, fantasized—that someone from
would reach out to her, maybe invite her to consult on the show, participate in some way? But the show’s producers had refused to acknowledge Bea’s post at all, not even with a bland press statement. Their strategy had been to ride out the criticism in silence—and it had worked, more or less. Bea’s post was only a story for a couple of weeks; there’d been a subsequent bout of thinkpieces debating the impact of the lack of body diversity in pop culture, but then those died out too.
So it was incomprehensible to Bea why the new executive producer of
would be reaching out now that her post was all but forgotten. Bea had emailed her agent, Olivia, immediately after Lauren DMed her, but Olivia couldn’t dig up any dirt from her sources at ABS, so Bea was going into this meeting essentially blind.
It’s probably just a get-to-know-you,
Olivia had emailed
, to make you less inclined to drag them through the mud again when the new season starts in March. Which reminds me—we should DEF get you booked on some morning shows around the premiere. Maybe some late shows too. You’re funny, right?
Figuring out what to wear to drinks at the Standard was a futile endeavor. That particular part of town was the epicenter of L.A.’s looks-obsessed culture, where everyone was either an aspiring movie star or aspiring to sleep with one—people who couldn’t possibly fathom that Bea could be proud of her body. But Bea was determined to go to the meeting in a bold, dare-you-to-look-away style, so after an hour of weighing options, she settled on one of her favorite looks: lavender coveralls with a playful snake pattern from Nooworks, cinched with a top-stitched taupe corset belt to suggest a more defined waist, decadent cognac booties with a stacked wooden heel, all topped off with her favorite Tom Ford aviators and oversized rose-gold hoop earrings studded with rhinestones.
She arrived ten minutes early, but Lauren was already waiting—she rose from their table and rushed to greet Bea as soon as she walked out onto the pool deck.
“Bea! So great to meet you.” Lauren’s voice matched her appearance: rich, sharp, and deliberate. Rail thin in skinny jeans, a silk tank, a hunter-green blazer, and sky-high mules, Lauren looked every inch the moneyed Yale grad Bea had Insta-stalked earlier that day. Her glossy auburn hair was thick and straight, her skin creamy and freckled, her hazel eyes vividly alert—it was instantly apparent to Bea that this was a woman who missed nothing.
“Lauren, hey.” Bea smiled, instinctively patting down her own wild waves (made more ungovernable by her universal insistence on driving with the top down on her clunky vintage Saab convertible, which was avocado green and affectionately nicknamed Kermit the Car).
“So you’re early to everything too?” Lauren asked as they got seated at a table overlooking the pool and the sprawling Hollywood hills beyond. “Not the way people roll in this city.”
“Not usually,” Bea admitted, “but traffic was nonexistent. I love L.A. from Christmas to Sundance.”
“Oh God, same!” Lauren laughed. “The only thing better is Coachella—it’s like every asshole in the city gets raptured and you can park wherever you want. Hey!” She turned to the waitress Bea hadn’t seen approach. “Can we get some chips and guac, and maybe some of those good off-menu summer rolls? And I put in an order for two French 75s with the bartender—are those coming?”
“Yep! Let me grab them for you.”
Lauren handed their unopened menus to the waitress, who bounced off without bothering to engage with Bea at all. Bea turned to Lauren, her suspicion rising.
“So you know my favorite drink?” Bea asked.
“Bea, I think you’re going to find I know an unnerving amount about you.”
“And why is that?” Bea asked, unable to quash her curiosity. A delicious smile spread across Lauren’s face.
“What would you say,” she said slowly, turning the words over in her mouth, “if I told you that you’re my pick to be the next Main Squeeze?”
“French 75s!” The waitress was back, depositing their drinks. Lauren lifted hers to clink glasses with Bea, but Bea couldn’t think, let alone move.
“Okay,” Lauren said gently, “I’m seeing now that maybe I should have worked up to that a little better. But fuck, Bea, isn’t this exciting? You’re going to change the face of reality television.”
“So …” Bea’s throat felt dry. “You’re saying …”
Lauren put down her drink and leaned in. “I’m saying, I want you to be the next star of
. I want to handpick twenty-five men to compete for your attention, and I want you to get engaged to one of them on television. I want to transform the way America sees plus-size women. I want to explode your career and change your life.”
At this, Bea burst out laughing. “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, but just—
A busboy dropped off their appetizers, and Lauren helped herself to some guac, as if this were a totally normal drinks meeting and not the most absurd conversation Bea had ever had.
“Bea, your piece was absolutely spot-on. Everything you said about the way the show totally ignores women who don’t subscribe to one specific hyperfeminine beauty standard, about how we systematically erase every kind of diversity. The guys who used to run the show, the guys I worked for? They
you. And you know what? I fucking hated them. I hated how smug and callous they were about women, how they think we’re such idiots that we’ll swallow their garbage version of Cinderella year after year, that we can’t possibly want more for ourselves—or expect more of the men we fall in love with. Beauty queen, wife, mother. As if that’s the totality of everything we could ever want to be.”
“So it’s true you staged a coup?” Bea asked. Lauren leaned back in her chair, a satisfied smirk twitching on her lips.
“I wouldn’t say ‘coup.’”
“What would you say?”
“I’d say that I’ve been overseeing the day-to-day operations of
for the past four seasons. That I’ve made myself indispensable—and that the cast, the crew, and the network all work with me a lot more than they work with certain men whose primary roles at the show have devolved into acting like pigs and cashing huge checks.”
“And you convinced the network that it was worth losing the pigs to save themselves the checks.”
Lauren tapped her nose—bingo.
“So why rock the boat?” Bea asked. “If you’re finally running the show, why not just go with the old blueprint and keep your job secure?”
“First of all, the old blueprint isn’t working—last season was our lowest-rated finale in five years. Second, what’s the point of putting me in charge if I’m just going to execute someone else’s regressive vision? I told the network that I’m going to shake things up and deliver higher ratings, and I’m working on a lot of exciting ways to do that.”
“Such as?” Bea prompted.
“Eradicating spoilers, for one.”
“What? How can you humanly contain them?” Bea was extremely skeptical—ever since the advent of cell-phone cameras, the twists and turns of every season of
were captured by rabid fans and spread across the Internet well before they ever made it to television.
“By changing up our shooting schedule. Instead of filming the whole season in advance and then airing it afterward, we’re going to kick things off with a live premiere, and then film our episodes on a nearly real-time schedule: The dates we shoot each week will air the following Monday.”
“Holy shit.” Bea was genuinely impressed. “Is that even possible?”
“Sure! There are British reality shows that air new episodes every
—it won’t be easy, but I know our editing unit can turn around an episode per week no problem. Getting rid of spoilers is one half of my strategy—casting you is the other. America has never seen anyone like you lead a show like this. We’re going to be right in the middle of the zeitgeist and send our ratings through the roof.”
“Even if that’s a sound strategy, why would you choose me? I’m sure the fact that I have a built-in fan base is a plus, but why not cast someone who hasn’t, you know, openly vilified the show? Don’t you think people will see me as some kind of fame-seeking hypocrite if I do this?”
“The fact that you have a lot of followers is huge for us,” Lauren admitted. “But Bea, your piece is the
I want to cast you. You wrote about why you watch the show in the first place—how much you connect with all these silly people risking looking like idiots on national television because they really do want to find love. You felt let down by the fact that the show was saying that not a single one of those silly idiots could look remotely like you. If you come on the show, it’s a chance to prove that you—and, by extension, millions of women who look like you—
find love. And that you deserve the spotlight as much as any other woman.”
Bea picked up her French 75 and took a deep drink, letting the fizzy, astringent liquid prickle down her throat.
“Can I ask you a question?” Lauren gazed at Bea with her piercing eyes. “Bea, why
you do this?”
“Being a fat woman in the public eye isn’t exactly a cakewalk,” Bea replied. “I got a taste of massive trolling when my piece went viral.”
“I read about the SlimFast shakes.” Lauren scowled. “Fucking disgusting.”