Does Love Island have a negative effect on viewers’ body image? By Melissa Chaplin
The television event of the summer begins tonight. At 9pm on ITV, millions of viewers will tune in to watch oiled, sleek singletons compete for one another’s affections. Ah, modern romance. Although tremendously popular, (last year’s season premier was watched by almost 3 million people), the show has attracted criticism on a variety of fronts. One issue in particular that has been highlighted is that of the unrealistic beauty standards portrayed in the show.
It’s no secret that the contestants are people who put a lot of thought and effort into their appearance. It is, after all, part of the job. Many previous contestants have been personal trainers, dancers, or beauticians. These jobs set them up well to the unflinching gaze of the camera while they perform unflattering (and often oddly food-centric) challenges. These are individuals with intense grooming and exercise regimens, who have spent time preparing for what they undoubtedly hope will be the beginning of a celebrity career.
But does seeing those toned abs and surgically enhanced buttocks have a negative impact on the body image of the viewers at home? Research by the Mental Health Foundation would suggest that yes, it does. Their 2019 survey revealed that 24% reported experiencing issues around body image relating to reality shows.
Perhaps even more concerning are reports of individuals spending tens of thousands on plastic surgery prior to entering the villa, or in some cases merely in the hope of securing a coveted place on the show. Actress and activist Jameela Jamil has criticised the casting team for this year, noting that contestant Anna Vakili, who has a curvier figure than most of the female entrants, is not enough by way of body diversity. Love Island’s showrunners also made the disturbing comment that the show is cast so homogenously because ‘We want them [the entrants] to be attracted to one another’, as if anything about the manufactured environment were conducive to the formation of actual relationships.
Concerns about mental health and reality television extend beyond the viewers, as increasingly there is an awareness of the duty of care reality shows have towards their contestants. Following suicides of former Love Island and Jeremy Kyle participants, this year’s show will be under more scrutiny than ever before. Nevertheless, in the interests of full disclosure, I must admit I will definitely be tuning in.