The January blues may be in full swing here in Ireland, but over on ITV2, love is in the air with the arrival of the very first winter season of Love Island. Although you cannot fault the extremely popular reality show on its entertainment value, it has come under scrutiny time and time again for its lack of body diversity, lack of racial representation and heteronormativity, and this season is no exception.
When the cast was announced a few weeks ago, the array of toned and buff bods did not come as a shock to most of us but was somewhat of a disappointment. This is not the first time that ITV has been criticised for the lack of body diversity of the contestants. In fact, the creative director of ITV Studios Entertainment Richard Cowles responded to similar complaints last year by saying, “Yes we want to be as representative as possible but we also want [the contestants] to be attracted to one another.” He also said that the cast was “a group of people we want to watch for eight weeks.” By insinuating that viewers would not want to watch different body types on their screens, Cowles and ITV are perpetuating the idea that there is only one acceptable body type, and that anything outside of that is both unacceptable and unattractive.
funny how everyone was screaming at the love island producers to chuck in some diversity but the most unique thing they could do was give us two blonde twins lmao #LoveIsIand
— ella (@EllaaHamlin) January 19, 2020
This season, in spite of the lack of body diversity, certain contestants have still been the butt of a joke due to their physical appearance. While body image is something we usually consider a women’s issue, in the Love Island villa it would appear that men suffer scrutiny as much, if not more so, than women.
In the first episode, after the girls have introduced themselves and are enjoying a glass of champagne, they chat about what their “type” is. One thing the girls can all agree on is that they prefer a tall “manly man”. As the show has progressed, we have seen Nas suffer as a result of his height. His original partner, Siannise complained that he was too short and his height was the subject of ridicule in a game the islanders played on Sunday the 19th’s episode. In a game where islanders had to guess the answer to questions about their partners, Jess had to guess Nas’s greatest fear. Her answer, “heights,” was an obvious source of laughter. Being a good sport, he has taken the teasing on the chin. However, as viewers we cannot help but think, ‘if a woman got this much flak for her physical appearance, would we be more outraged?’
— Mahi (@Mah1ve) January 19, 2020
ITV has also been accused of lack of representation when it comes to race. The cast has undoubtedly become more racially diverse as the seasons have gone on, but this has allowed for latent racial prejudices to be played out on our screens. The producers have been accused of giving black women very little air time, an issue that was pointed out in the cases of both Samira from the 2018 cast and Yewande from last year’s cast. The absence of Yewande from our screens became so blatant last year that it prompted the use of the Twitter hashtag #whereisyewande. A similar case could also be made for this season’s Leanne. While her partner Mike seems to be one of the cast’s principal characters, Leanne is fading into the background. Fans may defend the show by saying that perhaps these contestants’ storylines just aren’t as interesting, but others would argue that there is a pattern emerging.
There is also a strong argument for the problem of the fetishization of contestants of colour and of mixed race in the show. This first came to light in the 2018 series, when both Georgia Steel and Ellie Brown said their type was “mixed race.” This resulted in frustration and it was explained that claiming to be attracted to mixed race people is incredibly reductive as it assumes that all mixed race people look alike – an assumption that could not be more wrong. In this season the comparisons between Asian contestant Nas and Disney’s Aladdin have provoked some backlash. Perhaps this is only the case because his first partner, Siannise, compared herself to Jasmine. In any case, the debate surrounding the ways we view the contestants (and of course how they view each other) according to their appearance continues.
The most glaringly obvious way in which Love Island has missed the memo in terms of representation is in its extremely heteronormative format. The entire concept of the show is based on heterosexuality. The idea is akin to a glamorous Lisdoonvarna – a group of attractive twenty-somethings lounging around a villa in swimwear figuring out who they fancy the most, that person being of the opposite sex of course. The only departure from this heteronormative format was in 2016, when two bisexual women had a brief fling. Writing for the Guardian, Fay Schopen has argued that if Love Island is supposed to be reality TV, surely it should reflect reality more accurately.
Seriously, where's the LGBT Love Islands? Do ITV hate ratings?
— jacob richardson (@jjarichardson) January 19, 2020
This sentiment can be applied to the show in general. The appeal of Love Island lies in the gritty moments of authenticity. As members of the audience, we love to see our own dating woes played out before our eyes. We relish the moments of pure love and mourn the moments of pure heartbreak. The fact that the cast members are presented to us as real, normal people allows us to share in their joy and their anguish in a way we can’t with scripted television.
The body type, race and sexuality of the islanders do not (or at least should not) impact our connection with them, and Love Island producers are greatly underestimating their viewership if they believe that to be the case.
Photo by ITV
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