What's your opinion on Love Island? The people I work with are talking about it every single day and I tried to watch it to keep up but I felt so crappy about my body after two episodes. Am I overreacting? Do you think that the show is harmless fun or is it damaging?
Any show that only represents a one-dimensional, idealised (and largely unattainable for the majority of us) body type has the potential to be damaging. Since the start of this season of Love Island, I've seen countless posts and tweets from people body shaming themselves in comparison to the contestants, vowing to go on extreme diets, and one that summed up the problem painfully well: 'All these girls' bodies are making me never want to eat again'.
The fact is, what we see every day in the media becomes the lens through which we see ourselves. These images teach us what's considered beautiful, what the 'norm' is, what's worthy of celebration and deserving of being seen. Anyone who believes that being constantly bombarded with body types that leave 95% of us unrepresented isn't a problem needs to get their facts straight. Because there are countless studies showing that it is.
Whenever people try to brush off the effect of media ideals on our body image, I always come back to Anne Becker's study of what happened when TV was introduced in Fiji in 1995. Before the 90s Fijian beauty standards showed a preference for strong, robust bodies, and large appetites were encouraged. Dieting for weight loss just wasn't part of the cultural landscape, and eating disorders were practically unheard of.
Within three years of television shows from the UK, USA and New Zealand being broadcast on the island, 74% of the teenage girls surveyed said that they felt 'too big or fat'. And 15% of girls reported using self-induced vomiting in order to control their weight.
What we are watching matters. And in the case of Love Island, not only is body diversity being ignored, but we're being sent the message that the body types on-screen are the ones worthy of sexual attraction, romance, and falling in love. Something that diet culture already works hard enough to convince us of all the time.
The problem is that we still can't look away. Love Island is probably the most popular show on TV right now, it makes the news daily and conversations about it can be heard everywhere we go. I think part of the reason we're so glued to our screens is because we're seeing the conditioned fairytale being played out.
The bodies shown are so far from the natural variety we see in real life, but it feels natural to watch them frolicking on the beach and falling in love because it's the storyline we've always been fed. We are so conditioned by diet culture that we'll consume a hefty dose of body shame every night because we still believe that what we're seeing is the way things should be.
If you're reading this and you are a Love Island superfan, I'm not asking you to boycott the show or trying to make you feel like a bad human. But I do think it's important to be aware of the effect shows like this are having. I'm sure that if someone conducted a study of how people feel about their bodies before and after watching men shaped like Greek gods, and women shaped like the diet industry's wildest dreams playing out love stories in swimwear every single night, the results would be very clear.
Let's bear in mind that we only send the media a message about what we want to see more of by tuning into it. So if you're settling in for Love Island night after night, make sure that you're also supporting shows that deliver body diversity. Orange is the New Black is probably still the show giving us the most representative cast, including size, skin colour, age, gender, and characters that are allowed to be multi-dimensional humans. And Dietland is a new show about ditching diet culture, embracing feminism and fatness that the body positive community is really excited about.
One more time: what we're watching matters. And how we feel about ourselves after watching it matters a lot. As for me, I won't be tuning into Love Island until I see bodies like mine and beyond represented, but I won't be holding my breath.
Love & bopo,
P.S. If you like this column and want more advice like this, I wrote a whole book of it! You can find Body Positive Power here.