According to the tabloids, Love Island’s Megan has had £25,000 worth of plastic surgery. Over the past week, pictures of the contestant before the operations have been passed around on social media, with disbelief that this could be the same woman. Pictured before, Megan wears glasses, with a noticeably larger nose and thinner lips – “No, I’m being serious. I need numbers of Megan’s surgeon or filler lady. Can anyone help a girl out…” tweeted one fan of Megan’s somewhat dramatic surgical makeover.
Megan isn’t the only Love Island cast member who has had surgery, made known to us by the now-infamous Sun article that claimed Samira had lip fillers when in reality, she’s just black. According to the cited expert from MYA Cosmetic Surgery, the Villa is full of lip fillers, boob jobs, botox and, of course, Jack’s gleaming veneers. But the prevalence of cosmetic surgery on the show is now leaking into its surroundings – namely, the ad breaks, where the same company, MYA, has been advertising its services.
And campaigners aren’t happy. Feminist group Level Up has launched a movement to have ITV2 ban all cosmetic surgery and diet-pill ads from the Love Island breaks, joining a chorus of respected voices doing the same. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) says targeting ads at a Love Island audience is “inappropriate” and “opportunistic”, while the CEO of the NHS, Simon Stevens, has said the adverts are “playing into a set of pressures around body image”. The Mental Health Foundation has also called for a ban on the ads, dubbing their broadcast “unacceptable” in a letter to ITV’s CEO, Dame Carolyn McCall, and culture secretary Matt Hancock.
It is so cynical and exploitative to be directly targeting these adverts in the breaks of a show that already represents a very narrow standard of beauty
“This hasn’t come out of nowhere, everyone at Level Up is a huge Love Island fan,” says campaign manager Janey Starling, who is part of the group’s campaign to get the adverts banned, “but seeing these ads makes you feel like crap. When the CEO of the NHS and BAAPS said they were harmful, we thought the fact that experts were calling this out and being ignored is symptomatic of a bigger problem.” Members of Level Up began tweeting about the ads, encouraging those browsing the Love Island hashtag on Twitter – usually reserved for passing judgement on the cast and spreading memes – to ask for a ban.
Though MYA isn’t the only brand advertising during Love Island, it is one of the biggest cosmetic-surgery companies in the UK, specialising in breast enlargements and augmentations. And the company is more invested in Love Island – and its audience – than you’d think, offering specialist comments on the Islanders bodies, as we saw in the Sun article. When you visit MYA’s YouTube channel, the Love Island page comes up as a “related channel”, and, while these are generated by an algorithm rather than chosen by the channel’s operators, it does take into account things like having subscribers in common and having users frequently visit both pages. In other words, those visiting Love Island’s YouTube channel are also likely to be visiting that of MYA Cosmetic Surgery.
The Advertising Standards Authority has a history of banning plastic-surgery adverts that prey on women’s insecurities. For example, in 2016, an advert by another cosmetic-surgery company, Transform, featuring a fashion blogger promoting boob jobs, was banned because of the promise that bigger boobs would provide what every young woman dreams of: confidence. The same was guaranteed to new mothers who underwent breast enhancement surgery, in another banned advert from the same company. When MYA advertises during this particular show, the promise of confidence is exchanged for the other apparent holy grail in a woman’s life: love.
In response to Level Up’s campaign and the calls for a ban from a range of experts, MYA has insisted that it only ever wants to target adults. However, Love Island’s official demographic statistics show that viewers as young as 16 are watching the show. But it’s likely that even younger women are watching and are exposed to these ads, as shown by the amount of women who say they watch Love Island with their young daughters as a way to speak about what a healthy and – crucially – unhealthy relationship looks like. This is, of course, a good thing. But it also means that these young girls are exposed to material promoting plastic surgery, ultimately telling them that they are not good enough as they are.
When MYA advertises during Love Island, the promise of confidence is exchanged for the other apparent holy grail in a woman’s life: love
MYA insists that its advert has only been shown on ITV’s on-demand service (known as BVOD advertising), and not on traditional, linear broadcasts of Love Island. “We see Love Island as an adult-focused show with adult content,” reads a statement released in response to the backlash, “which lead to our decision to seek out BVOD advertisements in place of linear adverts as we can specifically target 18-34 women.” The company claims that its work is often misunderstood and can change the lives of its customers for the better, offering that elusive air of confidence women without cosmetic surgery must lack.
But what about the cast themselves? Surely they are walking, talking advertisements for cosmetic surgery? After all, Megan (whose surgery reportedly began at just 14) is now on to her fourth love interest of the series. “We’d never comment on an individual woman and her choice to do what she wants with her body,” says Level Up’s Starling. “The show itself is entertainment, but it is so cynical and exploitative to be directly targeting these adverts in the breaks of a show that already represents a very narrow standard of beauty.”
The show itself has also come under fire for not including a diverse range of body types within the cast, a situation not helped by the fact that dangerous weight-loss aids are also advertised throughout the ad breaks – Skinny Sprinkles, for example, were advertised during Sunday night’s breaks, along with the strapline “a gastric band in a glass”. Registered nutritionist Dr Laura Thomas warned of the dangers of Skinny Sprinkles in an Instagram post, and has since condemned the idea of advertising weight-loss aids altogether. “Love Island, while entertaining, lacks diversity in terms of bodies represented, sending the message that only one type of body is beautiful,” she explains. “Advertising diet supplements and plastic surgery is preying on the vulnerabilities and insecurities that young people have around their bodies and reinforces the message that in order to be seen as beautiful and valuable they have to conform to these narrow standards that are biogenetically difficult, if not impossible for most people.”
The counter-argument is that what a woman decides to do with her own body is entirely her business. But what if that’s not true? What if it wasn’t her decision at all, rather a trick or a psychological push by an advert she saw on TV? “That could be me,” she might think, watching happy women frolic on a beach in Ibiza, “if only I had bigger boobs.” These adverts are targeting the open-minded young girls who idolise the women they see on-screen, and it is a predatory and suspicious way to encourage them into a surgery they most likely don’t need – and, ultimately, take their money.