What do you see when you look at the women of Love Island? Perfectly proportioned bodies, boobs that defy the laws of gravity, unmovable faces and permanently bee-stung lips, or bright, young things with time and money on their side? Does it even matter? Apparently so, as a new poll has found that 40% of 18- to 34-year-old female Love Island viewers feel more self-conscious about their bodies after watching.
The research, conducted by YouGov and commissioned by feminist community Level Up, also found that 30% of women have considered going on a diet as a direct result of watching the show, and one in 10 have thought about getting lip fillers. Other cosmetic procedures considered by female viewers included breast enhancement (8%) and Botox (7%).
While depressing, it’s not a surprising set of statistics. The Sun and various other tabloids have run countless stories documententing the islanders’ history of cosmetic surgery, from Jack’s unmissable veneers to Megan’s apparent £7,000 boob job, bum lift and botox. It’s no surprise that, while watching the contestants become the most famous people in the country for eight weeks, some viewers would want to emulate their success, most of which – at least in terms of being cast in the show – is down to their beauty.
And it’s not just the islanders driving the idea that cosmetic surgery will get you further in both love and life – the message is pushed in the ad breaks, too. Adverts for cosmetic surgery brands such as MYA and weight-loss aid Skinny Sprinkles have been shown to viewers watching Love Island on ITV’s catch-up service, ITV Hub. Level Up has been joined by experts across the medical industry – as well as body-positivity campaigner and actress Jameela Jamil – to call on ITV executives to ban cosmetic-surgery and diet-aid adverts from the Love Island broadcasts on the channel’s catch-up services. Hundreds of complaints have been sent to ITV bosses Laura Wootton and Rufus Radcliffe, calling for them to pull the adverts and put a stop to promotions the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) has called “damaging”.
After weeks of being ignored by ITV, campaign manager at Level Up Janey Starling added, “ITV really aren’t taking this issue seriously enough. As a broadcaster, they’re being completely irresponsible by ignoring the warnings given from the NHS, mental-health experts and nutritionists about the harmful impact of these adverts.”
Executive director of Level Up Carys Afoko added, “As a Love Island addict, I was shocked when I was bombarded with adverts for boob jobs and diet sprinkles when I watched the show on catch-up. Like many women, I regularly feel bad about how I look. The last thing I need after watching Megan and Laura looking stunning in bikinis are adverts like this.”
Usually, women’s dress sizes and body shapes are irrelevant in the wider scheme of things, but when Love Island offers one singular example of what an 'attractive' woman looks like, it’s time to talk
It’s not all bad news. The research also shows that Love Island encourages its viewers to drink more water, thanks to the islanders’ must-have water bottles, and that 18% are considering a holiday to Mallorca – great for the Spanish tourist board. On a more serious note, the programme has given us opportunities to speak on urgent topics, such as gaslighting and control within relationships. That’s not to say that the programme cannot go further.
So, what do you see when you watch Love Island? Maybe it’s the Botox and the lip fillers, but maybe you notice the girls’ sizes, too. Without body-shaming the current islanders, it’s right to question the limited view of women’s bodies the programme chooses to include. If an alien watched Love Island, they’d think women over a size 10 aren’t beautiful enough to warrant love. If they had no knowledge of the human race outside the walls of the villa, women above a size 10 don’t even exist. When recent addition Alexandra made her way into the villa, some viewers praised the casting team for finally inviting a “curvy” girl on to the show – others weren’t convinced by her perfectly proportioned shape. Usually, women’s dress sizes and body shapes are irrelevant in the wider scheme of things, but when we’re only offered one singular example of what an “attractive” woman looks like, it’s time to talk.
True, it’s quickly becoming an overused criticism of the programme that contestants aren’t diverse enough – both in body shape and race – but it’s a drum we have to keep banging, especially when 7% of female Love Island viewers have considered liposuction because of the show.
When Love Island’s current iteration began in 2015 (the show originally aired in a different format in 2005), it was a bright, sexy new take on the reality shows inundating TV at the time. Now, just three years on, the world is a very different place. We demand inclusion, for everyone, and while we understand that Love Island will never be perfect – if we’re brutally honest, the whole premise of the show is problematic – we do expect the powers that be to change what they are able to. At the very least, this starts with body positivity and diversity.
With great viewing figures comes great power, and, as the cliché goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Love Island and ITV executives must take responsibility for the effect they are having on their viewers and take steps to ensure their wellbeing. As much as ITV likes to pretend Love Island takes place in a vacuum, it doesn’t – from where we’re sitting on our sofas, criticising our bodies, Mallorca isn’t that far away.