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Does liking ‘Love Island’ make me any less of a feminist?

Love Island would be nothing without the accompanying hordes of drama and criticism. Between accusations of sexism, racism, lack of proper mental health care and promoting body dysmorphia, it’s safe to say that the show doesn’t get a great press.

I’ve been indulging in that drama for three years now, but every time the show comes back to our screens I can’t help but feel slightly uncomfortable as I grapple with the question of whether I can truly call myself a feminist whilst simultaneously supporting a show with such abundant issues.

That question was quickly brought into the limelight again by Jameela Jamil and former-Islander Kady McDermott’s Twitter spat. It surrounded the classification of this year’s cast member Anna Vakili as the token ‘plus-sized’ contestant. Both women had fair points. Vakili is clearly not ‘plus-sized’ and it seems unlikely that the producers will ever cast someone above a size 10, but as McDermott pointed out, labelling Vakili as different to other cast members – when she has a perfectly normal body – is not helpful.

Everyone knows that reality television is not actually reality, and in defence of the producers, the rating numbers would probably drop significantly if they stopped casting exclusively ‘Instagram models’

So do the Love Island producers not have a duty to showcase more body diversity? It seems pretty clear from a moral standpoint that they do, but I imagine that, if asked, their reply would somewhat reflect the response from Victoria’s Secret on transgender models: it’s about a fantasy.

That comment was clearly completely out of line for Victoria’s Secret, but I do think that there’s some ground to it for a reality TV show. Everyone knows that reality television is not actually reality, and in defence of the producers, the rating numbers would probably drop significantly if they stopped casting exclusively ‘Instagram models’.

There is an inherent issue here in the assumption that plus-sized women (or men without six packs, for that matter) do not fit their narrow-minded definition of attractiveness. But, in fairness, that’s a much wider issue that has long proceeded Love Island – although perhaps the popularity of the show in recent years has helped to promote that message.

Undoubtedly, like most people my age, I have some pretty deep-set body insecurities, but I don’t think I’ve been watching Love Island for long enough for that to be the root-cause of the issue

Personally, watching Love Island makes me no more envious of those women’s size six, flat-stomached bodies than just scrolling through my Instagram feed. This is my inherent issue with criticisms of the show based on its lack of body diversity: it is not an issue in Love Island alone.

Undoubtedly, like most people my age, I have some pretty deep-set body insecurities, but I don’t think I’ve been watching Love Island for long enough for that to be the root-cause of the issue. The reality is that the same exact problems are prevalent across TV, film, magazines and fashion, to which I’ve been susceptible for far longer. So, even if Love Island did cast a more diverse range of people, it’s not as though that’s going to stop the problem of rising numbers of eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

In fact, there are many people who criticise Love Island for the same issues as they are quite happy to turn a blind eye to in other industries. I’m a big fan of superhero films, but I’ve never heard anyone say that I shouldn’t watch those because of their institutionalised sexism. The reality is that we are happily indulging ourselves in the entertainment of other, equally as sexist, industries without issue.

It’s not as though the show has brainwashed me into thinking that my only option for finding love is to drop two dress sizes and jet off to a villa in Mallorca to feature on a reality show

This is where my real defence of the show comes in. I like Love Island because it’s easy, guilty-pleasure entertainment. Many say that the show is vastly unintelligent, and I’m not going to claim that there’s a big life lesson to be learnt from it, but let’s be clear – Love Island is not what I go to for thought-provoking media.

I would like to think that being a student at one of the top ten universities in the country proves that I must have some level of basic intelligence. That means I have the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is being fabricated by producers looking to make money. It’s not as though the show has brainwashed me into thinking that my only option for finding love is to drop two dress sizes and jet off to a villa in Mallorca to feature on a reality show. If anything, recent years have proved that that’s definitely not the recipe for a lasting relationship. 

So, it seems to me that the answer to the question I have posed is not a simple one. Maybe you think that it’s ludicrous of me to even suggest that I could claim to enjoy the show and still call myself a feminist. But, I think it’s important to recognise that Love Island is merely symptomatic of sexism; it is not the root-cause of the issue. Personally, I think that there are far more important issues for us to dedicate our time to tackling first.

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