Reality Jane - By Shannon Nering

To Josh and my mom.

Today, and only for a day, I planned to make a seven-year-old girl named Madeline my best friend.

She was adorable—a sweet young thing with a mother genuinely worried about her health. Barely through kinder-garten and already considered obese, Madeline loved to eat. And it showed. She was undeniably fat.

Normally, growing up a wheat-fed prairie girl, I could relate. But at this particular juncture, I was the skinniest I had ever been, like Twiggy skinny minus the purple pea coat. The Fix Your Life show “Airplane Diet” had done the trick—I was nearing starvation.

Genius, really. I was completely denied access to food because my directing career had me air-bound 22/6, squeezed into economy class, tummy grumbling, praying for a pretzel. I did, however, get to indulge in bottomless cups of chicory-roasted coffee, brewed in the sky’s finest tap water, served up in a totally anti-eco Styrofoam cup. Nervously chewing the rim provided a stress-busting burst of foamy Polystyrene in my mouth. Always fun after my morning fondle by airport security (which I was strangely beginning to enjoy, and probably the real reason I declined the Rapiscan), en route to produce the next great talk show vignette about yet another American family in crisis.

Ah, the glamorous life!

But this was precisely what I’d signed on for. I was reality TV’s current “It Girl,” at my peak, a star producer on the legendary Fix Your Life talk show with Ricky Dean. My life was like a tampon commercial: She can do it all! Rushing around in trendy clothes and a sensible haircut, commuting daily with a laptop in my clutch, able to leap tall buildings while capturing America’s problems one glue-’em-to-the-tube interview at a time—my generation’s Diane Sawyer and everything I ever wanted to be.

Today, they told me my job was simple: Get a seven-year-old girl to unveil her greatest fear on national television—that her mommy didn’t love her—because she was fat. Somewhere deep in my Canadian prairie girl soul, this didn’t seem right. But that girl was lost. I was a producer on a mission.

Job one: build trust.

Job two: make her my friend—my best friend.

Job three: make her talk.

As I sat on the carpet with Mr. Teddy in hand, little Madeline waddled into the room, her lips in a pout. My cameraman and soundman stood poised to record. All eyes were on this young girl as she sat down on the corner of the rug surrounded by mega-watt lights, foreboding metal tripods, and overlapping cable—her living room morphed into a bonafide television studio. Folding her knees into her chest, she looked utterly helpless.

I quickly reviewed the notes from my senior producer:

She must say, “My mommy likes my cousin better than me because she’s skinny.” Preferably crying (see notes from pre-interview). Have her say it to camera! CALL ME if she doesn’t.

“Now Madeline, this won’t be hard.” I had gotten good at lying. I had also gotten good at getting what I needed. “I just want to ask you a few questions about your mom and you and why your mom is worried about you. Do you know why we’re here?”

“Yes,” she mumbled, hugging her dinosaur.

“Then you know we’re here to help. And you’re going to be on national TV, and it’s going to be a really great experience,” I said, nearly choking as I droned the party line.

“Okay,” she burbled.

I motioned to my cameraman to make sure he was rolling. “Let’s start with your favorite foods. What are they?”

“Broccoli, carrots. . .” she rattled off while looking down at her dinosaur. We had a perfectly framed shot of her forehead.

“Please look up, sweetie.” I gently nudged her chin upwards so I could see her eyes. “You’re so pretty,” I gushed. “We don’t want to hide that pretty face of yours. Now, broccoli? Really?” I said in my most syrupy voice. “I like those foods too, sometimes, but I also really like chocolate and cookies. How ‘bout you?”


“What? I can’t hear you. Just a little louder.” I felt my eyebrows climbing up my forehead as I forced my face into a silly grimace, like Elmo or Barney, or a birthday clown gone wrong.

Still nothing.

“Can you say it in a sentence? You know, like, ‘My. . . favorite. . . sweets. . . are. . . ’” I rolled my hands as if that might help.

“My sweets chocolate.”

“No, you need to say ‘favorite’ in a sentence, and then give me a list.” My eyes were so wide and hopeful that my eyebrows