In the three years since Love Island as we know it first swept the nation, phrases like “Where’s your head at?”, “on paper” and “a bit of me” have pretty much become as intrinsic to the show as being conventionally attractive, straight and no bigger than a size 10 (only if you’re a woman, of course). But few phrases betray as much as the typical response to the most common phrase of the series: “What’s your type?”
When the question was put to Ellie, one of the newer contestants to enter the Majorca villa in the most recent episode of the show, for example, her response was: “My type is mixed-race.”
Just days before, Georgia, another contestant on the show, had a nigh-on identical response to the same question during a conversation with Josh, one of two mixed-race boys on the so-called Island. She said, “Mixed-race guys, someone has a bit about them, bit edgy, I like tattoos and I like someone a bit older. That’s my usual type.”
Though seemingly harmless to anyone who either doesn’t understand, or have to deal with, being fetishised because of their race, a number of viewers – namely black people and other people of colour – immediately called out the issue, calling it yet another example of the skewed racial politics on Love Island.
Tune into any season of the ITV2 reality series and the racial dynamics are almost identical. In what many have interpreted as an unspoken rule, there are rarely more than three people of colour in the villa at one time and, if you’re black – especially if you’re dark-skinned and a woman – your chances of having a successful Love Island fling tend to be much slimmer than they are for white contestants. Unless, of course, you’re a mixed-race man.
The contestants’ preferences reveal much more about the deep-seated effects of racism in people’s approach to finding a partner – particularly when they’re already considered conventionally attractive themselves
Neither Georgia nor Ellie have expanded on their dating criteria on Love Island – where “dark” means brown hair or olive, white skin – but their reasoning is clear: mixed-race men fulfil age-old fantasies of blackness and hypermasculinity, of inherent sexual superiority, but with an essential caveat – this way, they’re not too black.
Last season, Marcel – a dark-skinned contestant of former Blazin’ Squad glory – was famously unpopular with the girls, until his would-be partner Gabby entered the villa on day seven. And this year, after more than two weeks, Samira, the only woman of colour and black girl on the show, has yet to have anyone show any real interest in her – a reminder that successful relationships for black girls in Love Island are strictly reserved for racially ambiguous women, as with season three’s Montana.
It’s no secret that the prerequisites for dating many of the Love Island contestants are, more often than not, superficial and based entirely on looks alone. But, more than that, they appear to be fundamentally tied to European beauty ideals. And that’s largely because of the make-up of the contestants on the show, who betray their limited perceptions of what constitutes an attractive person each episode.
Even Wes, one of two mixed-race men on the show, seems to have – much like every other man on Love Island at the moment – an alarmingly restrictive approach to the type of person that he would consider an ideal partner. In a conversation with his current partner, Laura, on Monday’s episode of Love Island, the notorious lover of “blondes” with “blue eyes” said there was a “50% chance” someone would be his type on the show – either blonde or brunette.
Without so much as uttering a few vague descriptors, it was immediately clear what he meant. There was a 50% chance that a new white woman in the villa would be his type, anyone with looks that deviated from the blonde/brunette binary – ie most women of colour – would be lucky to get a look-in.
But – aside from glaring issues where casting is concerned – this isn’t just a Love Island issue. The sentiment that blackness is only hot when it bears relation to whiteness in some capacity is evident in everyday life, thanks to the prevalence of white supremacy, as writer Bolu Babalola summed up on Twitter.
Just as it’s sparked conversations about body-image issues among men, what constitutes a healthy relationship and sexist double standards, the contestants’ preferences reveal much more about the deep-seated effects of racism in people’s approach to finding a partner – particularly when they’re already considered conventionally attractive themselves. As the social experiment continues, it’s likely that we’ll see questionable interactions like these for weeks to come.