Three Reasons Why I Won't be Recoupling With Love Island

July 11, 2019

Three Reasons Why I Won't be Recoupling With Love Island

Photograph: ITV/REX/Shutterstock

I have a confession: I've been watching Love Island.

Before watching the series this year I asked my four closest girlfriends if they'd be watching it. We had an animated discussion about the pros and cons.

The pros: it's very easy watching after a hard day's work, it's relaxing to watch something that requires zero intellectual engagement and it's nice to feel plugged into something that's being talked about across every social media channel, news platform and more for the next eight weeks. (I didn't watch Game of Thrones and felt very un-zeitgeisty). The programme itself is funny and provocative, in fact it's almost impossible to watch in silence - we're constantly either laughing out loud or groaning with horror. It's well edited and easy to get into - we very quickly find ourselves cheering for our favourite contestants and hoping they find "love". 

The cons: where to start... there are lots of problems with the programme and its impact on its audiences and contestants. But, in our discussion, we talked most about disliking Love Island for its representation of both men and women and the messages it sends about body image, relationships, self worth. For a programme so popular with young people, it has a surprisingly un-woke, heteronormative view of relationships, gender and sexuality. We wrestle with the understanding that by watching Love Island at all, we support the programme in being made year after year (and in the same way). And there'll almost certainly never be a D&B swimsuit on the show (far too much fabric).

On balance our group was divided, some would watch and some wouldn't. 

I decided to watch it this year. However, I've felt frustrated since the off (mostly with myself) and so I've decided, to borrow some Love Island lingo, that I won't be recoupling with the programme again. Here's why.


1. It's not just that there's a lack of body size diversity...

No-one who watches Love Island would claim that the show is trying to be diverse. Even the Creative Director, Richard Cowles, admitted that contestant diversity is "not at the front of our mind" and clearly nothing about the show purports to be a platform for diversity or tackling prejudice in our society. However, it's the implicit message - that having a more diverse range of contestants would be compromising on their "attractiveness" - that really bothers me. 

"We want to be as representative as possible but we also want them to be attracted to one another" Cowles says, as if no-one in the history of the world has ever fancied anyone bigger than a size 8. 

Implicit in Cowles' comments is a belief system (one that's also upheld by fashion brands and advertising companies across the world) that we have to be slim, very slim in fact, to be attractive or aspirational. My thoughts: what a load of bollocks.


2. But where are the different body shapes?

I recently asked our Instagram followers how Love Island made them feel about their bodies. 50% said that watching the programme made them feel more anxious about their body size and 60% said that the programme made them feel more conscious or anxious about their body shape. 

Because it's not just that all the contestants are incredibly slim. Every contestant also has the same shape: the women are slim with big busts, small waists and pert bottoms, and, for the most part, wear very long, straight hair. Where contestants don't naturally have this shape many have paid to physically alter their bodies (hello bum implants!). And if that's not enough, the contestants are also taken out of the villa on a fortnightly basis to keep up this hyper-perfect body image through additional spray tanning, waxing, nail painting, hair extensions etc. 

Of course I believe in an individuals' right to maintain or change their body as they wish (whether that's dyeing your hair or getting your boobs done): you do you, as the kids these days say. But wouldn't it be nice to see, amongst the 30 or so women who trot through an 8-week series, a range of body shapes and some diversity in their size, race, hair styling?

And what's more - we're crying out for it. When asked, more than 90% of our followers said "yes - absolutely" that they would like to see more diversity in Love Island. In fact, if the cast was more diverse - across race, culture, shape, size, disability, educational background - couldn't it be more interesting? I love the idea of watching real, authentic relationships develop between real, relatable people. 


3. Despite our protestations, we're buying into these messages.

I'm very guilty of protesting that I watch the show ironically. That I'm laughing at the show, not with the show. But I'm conscious that in watching the show at all, I am buying into a set of messages and values that go against everything else I believe in and work for. 

It's not just that I worry about the body conscious 16 year olds who might watch this programme and really believe that "Love" will only be found if you have a flat stomach and wear your bikini bottoms up your bum (why on earth do they do that?) It's that I believe that any adult, male or female, is also being indoctrinated (yes, indoctrinated) by the programme. Subtly and subconsciously, our expectations about body image, beauty and self worth are shifting (the rise in lip filler treatments in the last 18 months is surely evidence alone of this). 

In the last few years I've worked hard to stop supporting brands whose values don't align with mine. I buy from brands who tell me where their clothes are made, I buy vegetables that don't come wrapped in plastic and I drink at coffee shops that reward my reusable cup. I know I'm not alone in this - we're all waking up to the realisation that a brand's purpose and values is as important as their products. 

So why have I not extended these same principles to my TV viewing? Watching Love Island is totally at odds with this. The programme's purpose, values? Entertainment, of course. But at what cost? It's audiences' (and contestants') mental health, self-worth, body image apparently. I don't like that my young nieces watch this programme, so why on earth am I happy to watch it myself? 


And finally, there's just not enough swimming for me... 

It kills me, all that chatting and peacocking next to that beautiful pool of water glistening under the Majorcan sun. No-one seems to get in the pool at all - although I appreciate their swimwear is highly unlikely to stay on during a dive or a tumble turn...

Watching Love Island makes me desperately want to go for a swim. So you know what, next year, I think I'll just do that instead.