The Love Island effect

The "perfect" bodies and edited relationships can have a profound effect on how we feel

31st July 2018

Every single decade, since the dawn of the 20th century until now, has revered and promoted a particular version of the “perfect woman”.

The roaring twenties took the stage with the famous rubber girdle, designed to hide any form of femininity — such as breasts, hips or a defined waist — and impose a thin and fragile figure. Three decades later, during the fifties, the curvy Marilyn Monroe-ideal advocated for the opposite: boobs and hips a-plenty. The contemporaneous “perfect woman” model, you might argue, is a combination of the above — a lean but curvy body.

But, what happens when women don’t naturally own these physical traits? Well, often, they don’t feel comfortable or confident in their bodies, and opt to alter their appearance. This is exactly what reality TV show Love Island, which ended last night, demonstrates — women must, by any means necessary, tick a series of boxes, such as “full lips” and “tiny waist” in order to be considered beautiful.

It’s a well-known secret that Love Island is scripted, but there is little acknowledgement of just how much it is constructed; how much of the reality of it is hidden from the public. Like, for example, how you’ll probably only see a few seconds of the female contestants prepping themselves in front of a mirror, before a date, whereas the final “perfect” results will get the majority of screentime.

After seeing a few episodes of the show, I started to actually consider plastic surgery in ways I haven’t before

Shot after shot of flawless looking women hanging by the pool, with no clue as to how much make-up they’re wearing can have an enormous effect on female fans, most of whom probably wouldn’t be wearing at, at all, in that situation. While viewers aren’t stupid and it’s clear that many of the girls in the villa have had cosmetic surgery — we’ve lapped up rumours about Megan’s £25,000 makeover and Laura’s boob job — many women still can’t help but view them as perfect goddesses whose beauty they wish to obtain or cannot compete with.

A recent poll by the BBC reveals astonishing details about the effect that Love Island has on women’s body image. After watching just a couple of episodes of the ITV show, 11% of those aged 18-34 are more likely to consider getting lip fillers, 30% want to go on a diet to lose weight and 40% feel self-conscious about their bodies.

Holly, 22, says Love Island promotes self-obsession and image-consciousness, and that in our current social climate, over-exposure to this type of unattainable and unnatural “perfection”, often leads to issues such as anxiety and eating disorders.

It’s made me consider lip fillers, at the least

“After seeing a few episodes of the show, I started to actually consider plastic surgery in ways I haven’t before,” she goes on to admit. “Megan gets so much crap for her pre-surgery pictures, but now she’s had her lips, nose and boobs done, and everyone thinks she looks incredible. It’s made me consider lip fillers, at the least.”

Rebecca, 22, believes that casting women of all shapes and sizes is a vital adjustment in order to prevent audiences — especially women — from internalising the belief that there’s one perfect body type to aspire to.

“They should make more of an effort to bring in people of all shapes, sizes and skin colours, and people with disabilities — people from all backgrounds, who are perhaps unlike those we are used to primarily seeing in the media.”

She believes that, while there is no hard-and-fast rule regarding how people respond — psychologically and emotionally — to the show, some women are at risk of developing self-esteem problems.

“Most of my friends who watch Love Island are confident in how they look and understand that their appearance doesn’t define their worth. Therefore, they just find it entertaining and aren’t affected by what the women look like, as they’re only focusing on the social aspect of the show.

“This, I imagine, is not the case for many women — especially young girls who, mainly due to social media, are often led to believe that appearance is more important than brains.”

Adam Cox, a Harley Street hypnotherapist, explains that when the contestants of a reality TV show are perceived to have attractive bodies, some viewers start to have feelings of dissatisfaction about their own.

A dangerous belief is that if someone is single for a long period of time then something’s wrong with them

“The reason that people compare themselves with other people often comes from belief systems. When someone culturally considered attractive shows up, it’s natural for women to contrast what is different between themselves and the so-called attractive person.

Love Island
The islanders all have a very similar look 📸  ITV Studios

“Another dangerous belief is that if someone is single for a long period of time, then something’s wrong with them. On a show like Love Island, where the premise is finding a partner, it’s natural for single people to compare themselves to those who are finding partners or relationships, and ask the question, ‘Why am I alone?’ A show with many slim people will only amplify the belief that there’s a correaltion.”

The unrealistic body expectations are just one of the concerns viewers have regarding the show, as it can also have severe consequences on fans’ love lives. After watching Love Island, some viewers start to feel insecure and inadequate in their relationships. They may subconsciously imitate islanders’ make-up, dress style or attitude, as that is what they believe their partners are looking for.

Cox believes that shows like Love Island can have two outcomes: they can either tear a long-term couple apart or bring them closer together.

“Watching Love Island can create dissatisfaction between partners if the viewer perceives other men/women to be more physically attractive. Reality TV also thrives on gossip and drama, which may subconsciously encourage arguments or drama within relationships.

The first step for increasing self-confidence is self-acceptance

“Alternatively, if a couple watches the show together, it can lead to shared beliefs about what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship. These agreed boundaries can help avoid problems in relationships.”

Although it’s easier said than done, Cox insists that practising self-love and self-improvement is the first step towards escaping a negative or dissatisfied mentality, as a result of reality TV.

Once you take full responsibility for who you are then you can work on taking small steps to do things that would improve confidence

“The first step for increasing confidence is self-acceptance. Once you take full responsibility for who you are, you can work on taking small steps to do things that will improve confidence.

love island
It’s not clear how long contestants have spent on their appearance before they’re relaxing by the pool 📸 ITV Studios

“This will be directly related to your values. If you value a slim or muscular physique, then going to the gym will boost confidence. If you value strong friendships, then spending more time with friends and making new friends will take your confidence to a whole new level.”

But, changes have to happen on both ends. The audience must understand that when it comes to reality TV, it doesn’t necessarily do what it says on the can — slapping the word “reality” on it doesn’t mean it’s actually real. The cameras don’t roll 24/7, scenes are carefully selected and edited, and contestants often do their utmost to alter or enhance their features, with the likes of hours of make-up or extensive surgery — which may not always be obvious to the viewer.

Awareness of these things is key if we want to prevent damage to people’s mental health and relationships. However, it’s on the producers of these shows to make the effort to accurately reflect our society and the wide range of body types, sizes and skin tones that actually exist in it. Until then, reality TV isn’t real at all, but the damage it inflicts on young women is.

31st July 2018