By Eleanor McKie
On the snowy morning of Monday, 24th February, the country awoke to the beginning of another Love Island hiatus. The day was bleak, dreary and a thousand miles away from the idyllic paradise of the South African villa. Love Island Twitter trends ceased alongside Ian Stirling’s puns, making the cold winter nights much less bearable.
Undoubtedly, there is a Love Island phenomenon. Whether we love the drama, the gorgeous people, or just the hopeless romantics, the nationwide Love Island addiction is undeniable. We indulge in the fake, immoral reality television that creates so many insecurities within all of us. The show makes little effort to curb its exaltation of perfect body stereotypes.
Of course, after the recent passing of former host Caroline Flack, we must ask ourselves: is it really worth it?
Love Island is not the first TV show to cause problems. Reality TV has been a key source of insecurities and social anxiety long before Kim Kardashian lost her diamond earring in the ocean. However, when we decide to watch KUWTK, we get what it says on the tin: raw, uncut Kardashian drama. When we watch First Dates we see a whole array of spectacles from adorable to downright awkward. When we watch Naked Attraction, well, you literally get the full picture.
On Love Island, we don’t see normal people with normal jobs making mistakes any of us would if we were aware that we were on TV and being watched by millions. Instead, we see social media influencers and E-list celebrities vying perhaps to win love, but more importantly a platform to promote their personal ‘brand’. The notion that Love Island is a genuine competition to find love is simply false – people that make it on the show aren’t excited to find ‘the one’, they’re excited to be famous. More importantly, they’re excited to cash in on this fame.
Although there are successful couples, most contestants wind up with clothing deals and becoming the face of some protein brand; neither situations really seem a ‘happily ever after’. The original essence of the show was seeing average Joe’s and the girl next door genuinely vying for someone’s attention instead of the social media stars now vying for a clothing deal with Boohoo. Some people are still playing for love (moment of appreciation for Amy Hart’s glow-up) but it seems to be the exception rather than the norm.
However, we can’t think of Love Island without a little thought to the negative impact it has. For starters, its all about appearances. More often than not, the contestants have gone under the knife – or at least had lip injections. Although this isn’t mentioned explicitly, it’s obvious if you delve deep enough into their socials. Twins Jess and Eve have gone from pretty, pale gingers to tanned, structured blondes. Meghan Barton-Hanson’s new look has been valued at £25,000. And don’t even get me started on the veneers – look up the process, I dare you. The point is, that we don’t see people we can really relate to – instead, normalizing these perfect body stereotypes makes us question our own appearances.
If anyone reading has ever felt bad that they don’t have Jess’ lips or Maura’s toned torso (potentially boobs, butt and tummy done) then don’t worry. They wouldn’t have had work done if they hadn’t been insecure too. Obviously, I support people feeling confident in their own skin, but it’s important to remember its not as natural as it may seem. Plus, there are some contestants who are role models. Camilla Thurlow, who clears landmines for the HALO Trust and Malin Andersson, has shown us how to get back on our feet regardless of what life throws at us.
Most importantly, there is the elephant in the room: the emotional and mental impact on the contestants themselves. There have now been four suicides by people with strong affiliation to the show – contestants, partners, and now the presenter. Although Caroline Flack’s death was tragic and not intrinsically linked to her involvement with the show, it is clear that the platform the show places you on is a very dangerous place. On a television show like that, you are an exhibit. Your thoughts, your emotions and even your body are exposed. The public fixation on you doesn’t end when you get off the plane back home, it just gets more intense. There is therapy now for contestants, but it doesn’t stop the unwanted attention and the cyber trolls.
I suppose my argument is that we need a break from the show, perhaps indefinitely. Certainly, we don’t need this twice a year for six weeks at a time. We look at Love Island and we see what we think we should strive for – but, more often than not, such goals are unrealistic and unattainable. They present a toxic idealism for consumers. For contestants and those involved with the show, it presents a stalking spotlight that is extremely psychologically challenging, and it has now, in one way or another, contributed to the suicides of four people.
Maybe what we need to do is go back to our roots in terms of what dating and love is all about. Not a holiday villa filled with testosterone, surgery and perfect body stereotypes – just two people, alone, without an audience.