Love Island 2023 kicked off a few weeks ago. And here they all are - dressed half naked: not a small boob, round tum, curvy bottom or wonky tooth in sight... Where is the 'reality' here..?
I have to say that I have a love/hate relationship with ITV's Love Island. In fact, despite the programme now running for nine whole seasons, up until more recently I'd probably only seen a handful of episodes.
In all honesty, the reason I tend to watch it is because I've been forced to by my mother! However, I can't deny, those behavioural scientists behind the TV whose job it is to get you hooked... well damn - you worked your magic on me. Last season, there I was - with my mum - religiously watching everything: who would pi*s off who, and who would spark another debate that night... It was glorious!
For a long time, I believed that Love Island was - in a nutshell - basically a bunch of TV executives putting a load of emotional, unstable and desperate-for-fame wannabes in a house simply to embarrass their parents - like a goldfish bowl of poor mental health with the public staring right in.
And if I'm being truly honest, I'm still not completely sure whether this opinion has changed. I mean, I cringe for the contestants, I at times cringe for their parents - from snogging the face off multiple contestants, to wearing lingerie/skimpy shorts and canoodling under the covers on live TV - I mean, shouldn't you just go on 'Only Fans' and get paid for viewers to watch that?(!)
Of course, Love Island has had more than its fair share of scandal and tragedy. From the overwhelmingly sad demise and subsequent death of Caroline Flack, to multiple previous contestants ending their lives. You do start to wonder whether this is a show that we really all need in our lives.
I mean, I get it. Most young people now aspire to be famous; to be influencers. My nephew once told me (when he was 5...) that he wanted to be a YouTube star, so I recognise it's becoming the dream for many kids. 'Easy' money, right..? But, should this come at the cost of parading around in your knickers with your boobs or pecks out, or getting your nips sucked live on TV (damn, I feel for this girl..!)? Even the show's promo pictures have them all dressed half naked - not a small boob, round tum, curvy bottom or wonky tooth in sight. It's like The Barbie and Ken Movie take two - but with multiple Barbie and Kens!
The show in its entirety is dreadfully narcissistic, and in my opinion encourages young people to behave quite terribly towards one another. Is this really a good way to entertain? It's also not at all realistic - this is not how people fall in love in the real world.
In the real world, we do not have to compete in a line with a number of others for the affections of our 'mate', for example. Yes - this may happen behind closed doors, thanks to online dating, but it's not as 'in your face' (or beamed to thousands of viewers...) and therefore doesn't cause the same amount of harm and hurt.
For example, I doubt I will ever be popping down to the local pub to join a queue of pals in the hope of snogging all of my girlfriends' fellas just to see if I can entice one of them away - because 'I'm just going for what I want - because 'I need to think of myself' (unless that's your kink of course..)! I mean, they call this reality TV, but it's far from reality. It forces contestants to demonstrate a huge amount of selfishness, and forces behaviours and scenarios that simply do not happen in real life.
Take the most recent 'game', whereby all the girls had to kiss all the men? First of all, surely this game has been included, simply because sex sells - right? Tbh, I felt it was rather derogatory towards the women - sexualising them in a way which I believe was completely unnecessary. BUT, and it's a big BUT - regardless of what you sign up for, or what you think you're letting yourself in for - if indeed you have fallen in love - then watching, or just knowing that your partner has just kissed all your mates so passionately that they all loved it, may cause some upset and hurt. That's real.
Instead, the programme showcased the person who was upset as a 'bad' person, that his upset was a bad characteristic because it was 'just a game', with comments about his reaction as actually giving someone the 'ick'. I'm sorry, but I'm not sure how 'proud' I'd be either, if the person I was in love with 'won' the competition - like, I'm absolutely not going to be happy, not many people would be, unless of course you are in a polyamorous relationship (if so, fill your boots) - but maybe I'm old fashioned and believe that it's kind of disrespectful to give the best parts of you to others.
Also, I believe love is more important than a game, or winning. In time of course, this couple actually went on to showcase some emotional intelligence - showing that, as individuals - they are indeed very respectful. This further tells me, that the game changes you - makes you do things you wouldn't necessarily do on the outside - and maybe you do them because you think you have to, or as other past Islanders have reported, because you are told to.
The producers of the show are of course genius orchestrators of drama. So, with games like this, the premise surely must to be to cause not only conflict, but viewer conversation which of course affect ratings. Again, whilst I know the Love lslanders apparently are supported, and know exactly what they sign up for, in reality - I feel this show is emotionally very difficult, and can destroy people both inside and out.
Lastly, I'm also sorry to shatter the illusion - but most people's bodies do not look like a chiseled whippet, and most people don't expect you to be wandering around half naked either looking like a demi-God, or rolling in foam for kicks. On that note, most people when holidaying in the sun - at their best look far less glamourous.
So, just like pornography is making young people so worried about rough sex (so much so that they are abstaining...) what is the message that Love Island is actually projecting when it comes to our bodies, our behaviour, and how we dating and have relationships?
Short term, I'm sure that - for the contestants - the attention and the validation can bring about some relief to their low self esteem. Of course, there is no denying that some of this attention is positive - with many of the contestants coming away with lucrative business opportunities, partnerships with popular brands and thousands of new followers on social media.
However, for many, most of the attention will be in the form of online abuse and trolling from viewers.
Over time, I can only see immense psychological damage. I'm also sure that despite their need for fame, all of the contestants are good people. But, isn't this show and society just simply taking advantage of their underlying anxieties?