Love Island, Body Image and Mental Health; Can Feminists Watch This Show?

With the new series of Love Island impending, I can’t deny that I’m looking forward to eight weeks of tacky reality tv at its finest. I am not being hyperbolic when I say I enjoy trash tv! The appeal of Love Island is clear; the drama, the incredibly attractive contestants, the potential romance, the unnecessary and (clearly often scripted) dramatic outbursts. 

Although I’m 99.9999% sure that I’ll be tuning into Love Island, I’m also very uncomfortable about the fact that I’m getting excited about such a vile show – and vile is an understatement. Matt Haig posted on Instagram a couple of days ago that Love Island is a public health risk, and I can’t disagree with this statement. 

The trolling of the contestants is vile. The body shaming is vile. The manipulated drama is vile (although of course, this is what keeps the ratings so high). The lack of diversity and representation is vile. The attitude towards women is vile.

The contestants represent a body type that, for many, is unattainable. This is stating the obvious. The bigger issue is that the women are immediately judged on what they look like; there is no mention of their career, their interests, their personality – and this can be damaging for both contestants and viewers.

According to recent research carried out by YouGov, one in five adults feel shame over their body image. The issue is even more prominent amongst teenagers; over a third of teenagers feel upset about their body image. It would be incredibly naïve to blame Love Island for this, but programmes of this nature certainly don’t help the matter…

It goes without saying that Love Island isn’t exactly intellectually stimulating material. People like trashy, superficial tv, therefore it’s unsurprising that Love Island is the most successful show on ITV2. I have read numerous articles exploring how Love Island is about more than superficial factors; it’s about friendship, love, loyalty, vulnerability etc., which to an extent I agree with. I’d still argue that the overarching theme is ‘trashy escapism’, but I’m starting to think that there could be slightly more to it than that.  

The underlying question here is ‘can feminists still enjoy Love Island’; clearly, I think they can, given the fact that I would identify myself as both a feminist and a person who watches Love Island.

This may be a controversial opinion, but I think that Love Island highlights certain areas that I, as a feminist, find interesting; the importance of female friendships, an exploration of relationships (albeit forged relationships), perceived expectations in a relationship. It portrays both men and women embracing their sexuality with confidence and having open and honest discussions about their feelings.

I’m aware that this is a contradictory post. I don’t know what the answer is, and I’m happy to admit this. I’m also aware that I’m speaking from a place of privilege; I am a 28-year-old, thin, white, cis-gendered female, and I’m at a point in my life where I’m fully aware that there are far more important things than my body fat percentage. However, if I had watched the show 10 years ago, I think it would have sparked all sorts of insecurities.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this (to clarify, I’m not interested on hearing whether you think the show is trash or not – we’ve already established that ultimately, it’s garbage).

Can you be both a feminist and a fan of Love Island? How dangerous are programmes such as Love Island when it comes to body image and mental health?

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