I actually began writing this post over a month ago but a lot has happened since then: trips away, working on other projects and finishing my final uni assignment – so I’ve only gotten round to posting it now. I contemplated whether I should even upload today’s post at all but I feel like the topic is something quite a few of you may resonate with, so with that being said, let’s get into it.
As Summer in the UK approaches, we enter that time of year when the well-known reality show Love Island returns to our tv screens. As with many reality tv shows, Love Island spikes a lot of controversies. This year, the first ever ‘plus size’ contestant will enter the villa but Love Island creators seem to have their own definition of ‘plus-size’ and that’s a big bum, big boobs and nothing above a size 12 – so not at all an accurate representation of plus-sized bodies.
I’ll openly admit, I’m not a fan of the show as I feel it promotes an unhealthy message to its audience, many of whom, are young people. I feel there is a huge amount of judgement within the show, one example of this is when the contestants have to pick a partner out of a lineup which let’s be honest, is based solely on appearance. I realise we judge people on looks all the time, take dating sites, for example, you don’t swipe right unless you like what you see, right? Online dating probably isn’t much better for our mental health but I guess the difference here is that the person being rejected isn’t stood in a lineup on live tv.
Much of the controversy surrounding the show is due to its lack of diversity within its lineup. Throughout the series, we’ve seen luscious hair, perky boobs, peachy bums, glowing tans, perfect teeth and a whole lot of abs… aaand not really much else. So it’s pretty obvious which body type is favoured in the villa. Of course, every body is a real body and real bodies can be toned and in good shape, but that isn’t the only body type there is. It’s equally as okay to have a stomach with rolls, legs and a bum with cellulite and boobs that aren’t the same size but we’re yet to see any of that on the show.
Despite having only watched a few episodes, it was enough to heighten my anxiety and insecurities about how I look. As I watched the show, I found it extremely difficult not to compare myself to the doll-like contestants. I realise this is something that I personally need to work on and having suffered from poor body image my whole life, this is something I experience often and I can’t blame Love Island for this; however, I can’t help but feel that the show isn’t beneficial for the mental health of its viewers or contestants. I only managed to watch a few episodes before the show started to affect my own mental health, so I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for contestants living in the competitive and pressurised environment of the Love Island villa.
On the other hand, I realise that for some people, trash tv can be an escape which is perfectly okay – everyone has their own way of practising self-care. However, I definitely think the show does a lot more harm than good. For instance, the highest proportion of Love Island’s viewers are aged between 16 – 24 and with the show attracting such a young audience, I find it deeply concerning knowing that many young people will grow up with extremely high standards for their own appearance. As a result, these young people may go on to develop unrealistic expectations for themselves and potentially develop body image problems.
From the age of thirteen, I was consumed by Body Dysmorphic Disorder (also known as BDD) which is a type of anxiety disorder related to body image; for anyone not familiar with the disorder, you can read about it here. I hated the way I looked. I wanted to be anyone but myself; I compared my body to countless celebrities, Insta-famous influencers, and even my peers. I analysed every imperfection I could find and set myself unachievable goals, which had a devastating effect on my mental health and when I was sixteen, that manifested in disordered eating. Even though Love Island wasn’t quite as popular back then and I wasn’t exposed to its unrealistic standards of ‘beauty’, I was still affected by unrealistic standards portrayed in the media, so I know all too well the detrimental effects it can have.
One tv show sixteen-year-old me definitely could have benefited from is Naked Beach. If you’re not familiar with the show, it involves a group of body-conscious contestants being sent abroad to spend time with a group of body-confident individuals of all shapes and sizes. The aim of the trip is for the contestants to become more confident in how they look and love their bodies, and eventually, get naked down at the beach.
When I first watched the show, I found it refreshing to see normal, beautiful and confident bodies being represented on our tv screens; I actually felt more confident in my own appearance simply by watching people love and celebrate the body they’re in! Teenage me desperately needed this kind of representation and I feel it’s so important for young people today. The show reinforces the message that beauty comes in ALL shapes and sizes and I feel it’s a message that should be shared more often in the media – which does seem to be happening slowly.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve struggled with poor body image for years but fast-forward three years, I’ve ditched the weighing scales and numbers are a thing of the past; I have a great bum (yes, I really did just say that), an alright pair of boobs (my chest has never been an area I’ve felt overly confident with so even just saying that is huge progress) and I’ve never felt better! Yes, I still have days where thoughts caused by my BDD become overwhelming but that’s to be expected. Mentally, I’m doing okay, great even; but right now I know young girls who are starving themselves because they genuinely believe they’re overweight. This needs to change.
The purpose of this post isn’t to blame all mental health problems on Love Island or its contestants, the point is that we need to do more to represent ALL body types in the media. I’m not saying that removing shows like Love Island from our tv screens will stop mental illnesses from happening because it won’t – but whilst these shows are accessible to such a young audience, they can certainly contribute to the development of mental health problems.
Self-love is incredibly important and it’s something everyone should be able to experience and feel but that isn’t going to happen unless what we define as beautiful becomes more inclusive. I will always feel that shows like Love Island are dangerous and toxic to the mental health of viewers and contestants but I also realise that for some, these shows are a much-needed escape from life’s troubles. I’m not entirely sure what the solution is but I hope sharing my thoughts on the matter has made a thought-provoking read which may even influence a change of some kind, hopefully.