During the summer months, after a long day of work, viewers all over the UK would come home, switch on the TV, and observe an hour of antics in a Spanish holiday villa. 'Love Island' is an ITV reality TV program that documents roughly 6 weeks of romance. A number of single applicants are placed in a villa, and to remain in there, they have to 'couple-up' with someone regularly at re-couplings.
'Love Island' seems relatively harmless at a first glance. What could possibly be damaging about watching people trying to find the right partner? However, it could be having much more influence on our thoughts and behaviour than initially suspected. The aim of this article is to explore which areas of our lives 'Love Island' may affect, and also, if these effects are indeed negative, how we can be better equipped to counter them.
I’ll first get something out of the way - I am not trying to say that no one should watch the show. Instead, I am trying to draw attention to the effects it may have on people so that they are better suited to deal with them.
Firstly, we must address the issue of body image, the area that has drawn the most controversy towards the program. Surprise, surprise! - the contestants generally conform to the highest levels of Western beauty standards. There are some who do not quite conform to what our society typically views as beautiful, but they are definitely in the minority. Most of the boys have bulging biceps and rippling abs, and the girls very tanned skin and the sought for hourglass figure.
It may be argued that this is the case with the majority of things we see on our TV screens, so what’s the big deal?. However, what is different about 'Love Island' is the fact it is meant to represent normal people. When you see Chris Hemsworth as Thor in the cinema, for example, you are able to create a wall between yourself and that world. He is a Super Hero, a warrior, so it is understandable that he would have that body-type because he needs to be strong to do what he does.
On the other hand, 'Love Island' thrusts the supposed perfect body right into our world. The contestants are all ordinary people, from a variety of backgrounds. We have doctors, salesmen, models, personal trainers and so on. This increases our feelings of inadequacy where our bodies are concerned. Seeing “normal” people with such spectacular bodies can make you think 'Oh! They are just like me and yet they have such an amazing body. Why don't I have such a nice body?' This can cause major issues self esteem.
Secondly, the show can give you a distorted perception of how relationships come about. When watching an episode, you may notice that the topic that occupies the bulk of conversations is attraction. Do they find so and so good looking? Would they be interested in engaging in an intimate relationship with so and so? Because they are under such strict time constraints due to the re-couplings, they make almost all of their decisions based on initial attraction.
Admittedly, personality does play a role, but the nature of the development of relationships in the real world is still not accurately represented. On a date, you would discuss things like your job, your family, your hobbies. Whether or not you find the person attractive does not usually occupy much of the conversation, if it is present it at all. In real life, the aim of a date is to find out whether or not you find the person interesting, as well as attractive, and the 'interesting' element is not sufficiently represented on 'Love Island'.
Thirdly (and this one applies more generally to propaganda, social media, and other sources of entertainment), the show can actually confuse us about what we, the viewers, find attractive. Because Western beauty standards dictate what we perceive as beautiful, the supposed 'perfect body' is what we expect other people, and ourselves, to find attractive.
It is not necessarily the case that we do find these things attractive. For example, instead of a boy with a ripped body, some girls prefer someone with a more athletic physique, but because shows like 'Love Island' indirectly suggest that we should find that body attractive, working out what we are looking for in a partner can become extremely limiting and unfair on both ourselves and others.
So, how can we deal with these effects? How can we better inform ourselves so they are able to deal with such problems?
The majority of the people we see on our screens are extremely beautiful, and that is part of the reason why we actually watch the programs. 'Love Island' is no exception. It needs a cast that people will engage with. Attraction is an easy way of getting a viewer to engage with a cast member. Therefore, 'Love Island' does not just want the people in the villa to be attracted to each other, they want you to be attracted to them. This increases views, and makes people want to watch the program. Thus, these people are not ordinary at all. They have attained a standard of beauty that is very difficult to achieve. This helps us. It takes the perfect body back out of the world of the normal, and allows us again to view it as something that is the exception, rather than the norm.
Remember, that the program is called 'Love Island'. They have to reduce 24 hours of footage into a 1 hour program. The program is about exploring the development of relationships, the family and jobs that these people have is very much at the periphery of their agendas. This does not mean that these discussions about jobs and families do not occur, it is just not usually in the best interests of the producers to leave such footage in.
Moreover, whilst in the villa there is only a couple of days between each re-coupling. Contestants do not have very much time to get to know their fellow Islanders, and so initial attraction will be their main tool when searching for a partner. The lesson to take from this is that it is important to consider the structure and nature of the show when watching it. The environment is artificial, and so reality is thus going to be a bit distorted. It is important to think about such things.
Here is how to be a ThinkCitizen about Love Island. Ask questions like 'How does this environment differ from reality?'; 'How will this influence the way how I think and how I will behave?' Then you should be able to see where reality TV and reality itself diverge.
Lastly, if we are affected, by shows like this, should we limit how much of them we watch? Is it really better for us to spend so much time building up beliefs and perceptions that make us feel inadequate? What’s wrong with reality? No….not reality shows – REALITY!
I hope you all have a happy weekend.
Until next time