Summer is upon us, and that means Love Island has begun for its 5th year running and, in line with previous years, seems to be lacking in relation to body diversity. The show, which has become notable in its promotion of unrealistic body expectations, is ITV2’s most viewed programme, with an average of 3.6 million watching last year’s final. The show’s popularity is certainly not decreasing anytime soon either, with this year’s launch show receiving record viewing figures.
But the topic which has recently gained attention surrounds the type of contestants which are cast for the show, and how the producers are promoting unrealistic body expectations with the lack of diversity in the villa. This discussion has always been a key topic of criticism in previous years, along with the lack of ethnic minority representation within the show. However the latter of the two has improved with regards to this year’s line up, but there is, still, a long way left to go.
One main issue, which has attracted wide attention in the media, relates to the lack of aftercare which is made available for, and offered to, contestants once they’re catapulted to fame after leaving the show. Following the recent and tragic passing of former contestants Mike Thalassitis in March this year, and of Sophie Gradon in June last year, concerns have been raised regarding the lack of support that participants in the show receive once the show ends.
With both deaths being ruled as suicide, it has not only opened up a debate regarding Love Island but also other reality shows, with The Jeremy Kyle Show recently being suspended following the death of a contestant, who was found dead ten days after appearing on the show. This has thus raised further questions surrounding the aftercare offered to participants of shows, with particular focus being placed onto Love Island considering the two confirmed suicides in the past year.
Recent outrage surrounding the show has therefore focused on the mental health of its participants which, to some degree, has created a conversation surrounding the pressures that young people face in regards to their bodies. The host of Love Island, Caroline Flack, defended the show after the recent death of Mike Thalassis, amidst recent headlines surrounding the former contestant’s death. Flack stressed that the attention should be focused on the ‘bigger picture’, as although there is a ‘duty of care… I don’t think it’s fair to point fingers of blame.’ She went on to mention that Thalassis’ death is part of ‘a much bigger issue than just a reality TV show’, possibly drawing upon the sheer level of suicide particularly in the UK, with men being four times more likely to take their own lives than women.
Producers of the show have been urged to take more responsibility following the recent deaths, with rumours initially mentioning that bosses were set to cast a selection of ‘all body sizes’ in the series this summer, yet this has proven not to be the case. Yet again, the show has failed to cast anyone who could be considered ‘plus-sized’, furthering the expectations created for both women and men in regards to what society deems attractive.
The pressure to conform to such expectations is only furthered by shows such as Love Island; with the contestants all fitting into the ‘perfect’ summer body stereotype which is projected constantly on social media.
In an attempt to defend the show’s line-up, Love Island’s creative director, Richard Cowles, has stated that the show aims to be as ‘diverse as possible’, though clearly within limits, as he went on to say that although ‘we want to be as representative as possible’ the contestants need to ‘be attracted to one another’ for the show to work. Cowles further sought to justify the show’s lack of body diversity by mentioning ‘we’re not saying that everyone that’s in there is how you’re supposed to look’, thus implying that the show’s aim is to be entertaining, and that setting an example was not a primary focus.
Fundamentally, this approach and outlook is a damaging one, regardless whether it’s intended or not. The show has a responsibility to acknowledge the particular body type that it is continuing to normalise, and this is an issue that people need to continue to talk about. The criticisms of the show are not about simply passing blame but rather having an open conversation about the expectations that both men and women face in modern society, and how shows like Love Island can break those stereotypes and do something progressive.
One alteration by producers this year involves changes to the show’s duty of care processes, which in a statement released by ITV, prompted by the deaths of former contestants Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon, aim to provide participants with enhanced psychological support and a proactive aftercare package.
However, regardless of this, the question remains as to whether the changes to the aftercare once contestants leave the show will be enough. Ultimately, the mental health of the contestants who take part should be a top priority and, for viewers of the show, it would be nice to see some more diversity in the future.
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