Love Island: let down or let it go?

I’ve been thinking about this over the last day or two, ever since the Love Island line up was announced earlier in the week. Even if you’ve no idea the relevance of “I’ve got a text!” to this conversation, the chances are that you will still have heard the chatter surrounding the line up and ITV’s promises to diversify the cast’s bodies in order to step away from the stereotypical ideal of beauty that the show has become synonymous with. Have they delivered on this promise?

No, of course they haven’t.

The thing for me is that I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it all. Surprised? No, absolutely not. Disappointed? I guess… but then I didn’t really think that the producers of the show were going to seize the opportunity to give prime time tv slots to someone with a body shape like mine or a body that didn’t fit the stereotypical ‘desirable’ narrative, I didn’t expect Love Island to be ground breaking or impactful because that is just not what it is… so why be disappointed?

I feel really torn with Love Island. As a show, I actually enjoy it. I enjoy texting my friends and getting into chats about the show, laughing at the memes (the kind hearted ones, I’m not here for the media vitriol that spews around the show, a whole other blog post there though), switching off and enjoying a bit of mindless tv in the background, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the show is deeply problematic. It is. The producers have come out with a number of phrases over the past years, from saying that they don’t want to have contestants on the show whose bodies aren’t ‘aspirational’ (wtf?) and they don’t feel that they could have representation for the LGBTQ+ community because it’s too much of a ‘logistical nightmare’ (again, wtf, spin off anyone?!) Yet, I still enjoy it.

The whole premise of the show is problematic too – you don’t find love by lining up a bunch of people, choosing one on looks alone and then competing in challenges and getting to swap out a *human being* every week. These aren’t girls and boys as they always referred to, but women and men, all of whom have made a decision to go on a tv show with the intention of becoming more famous than before. Yet, I still enjoy it.

Whilst I often think that actions speak louder than words and the most sensible thing to do with a show that is so problematic would be to switch it off, never allow it to pollute my screen again and encourage everyone around me to do the same… I can’t help looking at the other side of the coin and thinking… should I? I enjoy this, it’s a bit of escapism, a very ‘not-real’ world that somewhat combines a game show with a holiday romance vibe that is all tongue in cheek, something light and trivial in what has been a year filled with heavy, weighted conversations and personal difficulties. It doesn’t affect my personal body image and it doesn’t affect my mental health, so should I feel bad for enjoying and watching along? Is there a point here where we have to say we can only allow Love Island to affect us so much, where we have to say I am accountable for what I watch and how it makes me feel, so if it is damaging to me, I’m going to switch it off? Is it possible to take the light and fluffy escapism of a trivial tv show whilst also acknowledging and challenging what is not appropriate? Don’t we do that with TV shows like Friends that are so loved but have a lot of problematic content?

Then comes the impact that the show has on young people who are impressionable and absolutely viewing. Where do we sit there? I know I won’t allow my eldest (10) to watch but that there have been people at his school watching in previous years. I make a point of telling my kids that different bodies are beautiful, that every body is a good body and not just the ones we see on the TV screens (and it’s not just Love Island is it?) I have a few friends with teenagers that watch and they have had mixed feedback, some of the girls have felt like their self esteem has been hit by the show, whereas others have felt that they don’t view it deeply enough, that it’s like a soap character and doesn’t really matter.

I’ll be honest, I don’t have all the answers to those questions and I think they are complex at best. What I do know, is that we can’t stop the show going ahead – love it or not, it’s on air. We can control whether we watch it, and if you find Love Island upsetting or distressing because you feel you’re being told your body isn’t desirable enough to be included, that you don’t fit the mould of ‘good looking’ or ‘hot’, switch off. Step away.

As Em Clarkson rightly said in her instagram post here: Love Love Island all you want, but not at the expense of loving yourself.

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