Love Island: Normalising Stereotypes And Offensive Actions Or Just Lighthearted Drama?

 

 

This year I finally caved and joined the suncream and cocktails filled bandwagon that is the Love Island viewing demographic, after spending the past two years disregarding it as ‘Big Brother in bikinis’. Since leaving school last year there has been a teen-drama sized hole left in my heart, which while briefly fixed by another of my latest obsessions, Made In Chelsea, has been reopened in its absence. So, true to its name Love Island stepped in and quenched my thirst for a touch of gossip and scandals and I sure do love it – pun entirely intended. But like many shows, this is certainly one that comes with an abundance of problems attached to it – something addressed within an inciteful post I recently read by Lucy Moon similarly regarding the complications that come with the programme, which I encourage you to read here. I really do enjoy watching Love Island, that’s undeniable, but nevertheless through my conversations with others and the growing negative reports across the media regarding the show’s unethical treatments of its contestants, it has become apparent that the producers and creators of Love Island are willing to directly, and indirectly, attack The Villa’s occupants mental health for the sake of views.

 

Looks Are Everything

The average dress size for the UK woman in 2017 was a size 16 – with a woman’s waistline being an average of 34 inches and bra size a 36DD. That is very clearly not represented within Love Island and I mean, it’s TV I get it, people like looking at idealised, model bodies but do I think viewers would enjoy a little more diversity also? Absolutely. By only presenting a very limited range of body sizes the show holds the potential to influence viewers perceptions of what it takes to be deemed attractive in society, which is something I certainly have begun to experience firsthand due to viewing the programme. Since I began watching Love Island several weeks ago, I also began working out. Not because I gained weight, not because I wanted to tone up for myself, but because after seeing sunkissed flat stomachs and cellulite-free thighs night after night, I felt like I needed to. That’s not in anyway to suggest that I hold the female contestants responsible for this. Regardless of whether they have achieved their figures naturally, through fitness or surgery, they indisputably are all insanely gorgeous and I am in no way criticising them for wearing bikinis and crop tops most days, because one: if I had their bodies I would do exactly the same and two: it’s bloody hot out there. But, I do hold accountable whoever it is behind the scenes who decided this is the only female body shape they wanted to present on the show. People enjoy shows like this because, yes, it is entertaining to watch the complexities of people’s romantic and friendly relationships play out on-screen while tucked up in bed with a cup of tea and some Jammie Dodgers. I get it. But is that not still achievable while physically presenting a range of body types? Most definitely.

I actually started re-watching older seasons of Love Island with my boyfriend once I was utterly and shamelessly hooked on season three to get in some extra drama while waiting for new episodes and this was when the lack of equal female physical representation on the show really hit home for me. In season one a contestant named Lauren Richardson entered the villa on the first day and was the only girl to have no boys step forward to announce their attraction to her and watching this I was flabbergasted. Compared to the other girls Lauren did have a softer face, a bit more of a curve to her legs and less prominent cleavage but that in no way took away from her attractiveness, if anything I thought it made her positively stand out against the other girls. Yet she wasn’t chosen. Not only does this feeds into the perception that, girls, if you can’t fit into a ‘perfectly proportioned’ Barbie sized box, guys won’t bat an eyelid in your direction, but moreover a matter far worse than that is the effect this would have had on Lauren herself. Later in the episode, Lauren not only apologised to the boy she chose to pair up with, Jordan, stating “unfortunately you’ve got me” but within 24 hours Jordan essentially ‘swapped her out’ for another girl – leading to her crying in the diary room and stating “I feel like the ugly duckling in the whole group”.

This problem has consequently similarly arisen in season three with Samira, who viewers saw emotionally break down due to the guys showing very little romantic interest in her, which drastically knocked her confidence. Certainly, when regarding Samira’s conversation with Megan about her insecurities viewers were provided with extreme examples of girls on opposite ends of a spectrum – with Samira feeling hopeless and distressed by the lack of male attention she had gained while on the show and Megan who had spent an alleged £25,000 on procedures in an attempt to prevent feeling that way. While Megan, and the other girls, did reassure Samira that she is indeed attractive and loveable, with Megan going even further to highlight that the features men find attractive in her are fake, I worry that the show had already tangled itself too greatly within a web that suggested you either feel self-conscious or physically change, providing few other options. The fact that Megan found herself within a mindset which drove her to lip fillers and a potential boob job to ‘better’ her appearance is a heartbreaking concept, made far worse by the fact that she is consistently presented as the primary male interest within the villa – with all six new male contestants being utterly besotted by her within a matter of seconds. To no fault of Megan’s, the show presents her as an idealised Barbie-bodied Goddess and anyone that does not reach this pedestal of beauty is just lucky to get a second glance.

 

Distressing Content

Anyone who has heard of Love Island, whether that’s from the hip teens in front of you in the line at Starbucks or from your grandma asking why reruns of Deal Or No Deal have been replaced by this ‘youth show’ will probably have also heard of Dani and Jack. Britain’s new national treasure and if I have anything to do with it the next in line to the throne, sorry Charles. The relationship Dani and Jack have developed over their time in the Villa together has been something truly heartwarming to watch, I would even go as far to say that they were something familiar and comforting to return to in episodes when placed in contrast to Alex’s failed attempts to woo girls and Laura’s rocky relationships with well .. basically everyone. So the producer’s decision to directly attempt to damage their relationship was something that very sharply stung my affection for the show, as it did many other viewers. By bringing in Jack’s ex-girlfriend a line was crossed, but then by showing Dani an edited video of Jack’s reaction to her arrival .. that line was obliterated. The ground parted, the line crumbled down to the depths of the Earth’s core and for what? For extra views? For a greater level of entertainment? Neither of those reasonings justified the complete and utter lack of regard producers and creators of the show gave when concerning the colossal impact this would take on Dani’s mental state. Even prior to this stunt being pulled Dani was in a visible state of distress and paranoia, but beyond this the immense toll the video took on her was heartwrenching to watch, particularly when she stated, “as soon as I’m happy with someone something happens to me, it’s like I’m not allowed to be happy”. I understand that this is reality TV, I even admitted that I watch this show myself for the dramatic aspects of it, but this wasn’t a moment where I wanted to pull out the popcorn and crank up the volume, it made me want to stop watching. The producers’ actions here failed to meet the entertainment mark entirely, instead showing the catastrophic impact manipulation can have on contestants, particularly when affecting their mental well-being to such a degree that Ofcom received over 650 complaints addressing the unnecessary distress inflicted upon Dani. Ultimately through doing this not only did the show tarnish its own reputation but furthermore pulled back the veil that distorted the reality behind its inner workings, which I am now struggling to decide whether I would’ve preferred to remain in the dark or not.

 

The Umbrella Effect

Okay, so after looking this term up according to Wikipedia, the Medical Dictionary and several videos on Youtube it has become apparent that I am indeed using it incorrectly – but I like it so we’re rolling with it. Within Love Island, it’s become clear to me that when any metaphorical bad weather appears which negatively influences viewer’s opinions of the cast, large groups of them are crammed under one umbrella and judged as a whole, aka. ‘The Umbrella Effect’. Ultimately, this has led to stereotypes being applied to large members of the cast so frequently that it has begun to normalise them. For instance, up until the point of his elimination, Adam was presented as a man who prioritised self-interests and encouraged the affection of female contestants with very little intention of reciprocating any emotional investment into them. While within the villa he entered intimate relationships with Kendall, Rosie, Zara and Daryl, all of which he left in varying states of disarray. Yep four girls, in five weeks. Personally, due to this, I viewed Adam as emanating an ‘I couldn’t care less’ attitude which he confirmed after Daryl stated that “I don’t think you give a f**k” by simply replying “I don’t”. On its own this paints a poor picture of Adam’s character, however, his dismissive and ignorant treatments of Rosie, all done with a smirk on his lips, condemned him to the status of a manipulative, cold-hearted man with little regard for his actions being deemed as mentally abusive.

Of course, I can’t disregard the fact that his outward treatments of the Villa’s residents did improve significantly while he was with Zara, showing a positive change in his character. Also, it should be recognised that at the end of the day there is a £50,000 prize on the line and this is reality TV, so not everything is entirely real. But what concerned me throughout all of this was how Adam’s actions, much like Wes and Josh’s after they also left their own couples, were generalised across all men and drastically blown out of proportion by many viewers across social media. For instance, I read one Twitter user  (who will remain anonymous) regard that “Adam is the classic example of a boy calling the girl a ‘psycho’ when really he’s the d**khead cracking on with every girl going”, which while this is a valid statement further fuels the idea that, ultimately ‘all men will treat you in this way girls so prepare yourselves’, which fortunately just isn’t the case. Besides the brief glimpses that the show gives viewers of Jack’s affectionate treatment of Dani, the majority of its male contestants are presented as uncaring towards their partners and at times it simply feels as though the show is rooting for you to take a disliking to them just to sprinkle some extra drama into episodes. Granted, I am only speaking from my personal experience with boys which has been almost entirely positive so I may be wrong in saying this but I truly don’t believe the vast majority of the men on this planet are blood-sucking, demonic, self-absorbed figures who view women as their sexual possessions, I just don’t buy it, but unfortunately that is what Love Island has chosen to pitch to viewers.

Something else that has become increasingly apparent to me while watching the show is how older generations view its female contestants, which I certainly don’t hold Love Island responsible for but wanted to address because it’s a crazy, stupid stigma. Okay, so, when I was discussing this show with my mother and grandmother, who I hope don’t mind me pointing out that they are both over the forty-year age bracket, both made passing comments which resulted in me taking a pretty sharp intake of breath, to say the least. They questioned whether “they [were] all slappers because they look like it”, swiftly categorising all women on the show as “tarts” without having ever seen an episode. Neither of them meant it in a malicious or cruel manner, but simply because these girls wore bikinis and shared passing kisses with boys they assumed that they were promiscuous floozies only there for a quick trip to the bedroom, which is entirely unjustified. While Love Island does show slithers of intimate interactions it is actually a show which handles this very tastefully, which might I add these intimate interactions have only just begun to crank up in frequency now in week six, these people haven’t been at it like rabbits since day one. Moreover, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the women embrace their figures, particularly when Rosie and Megan had their semi-nude photoshoot because it was handled with a degree of professionalism in terms of what was shown to viewers. So in this sense, I guess while to an outsider it may appear as though Love Island is a show for slappers and sex the reality of it doesn’t negatively play into stereotypes in this instance.

 

A Hopefully Informative Rant?

If you’ve made it this far, congrats. I’m very aware that this post was more on the rant-style so I apologise if you came for an informative, hard-hitting journalist piece this week, but I did want to address this topic, so fingers crossed that’s okay with you? Regardless of my own personal issues with the show, I will still be watching it because at the end of the day I enjoy pool-side TV gossip just as much as the next person. Drawbacks in a programme like Love Island are inevitable and there are always going to be bumps along the road to its improvement but all I can hope for is that it returns next year taking into account issues raised by the public this season. So, for now, I’m going to catch up on last nights episode, slip on some shades and pretend I’m in Mallorca.

Happy reading,

-E

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