By Gemma Tuson
Don’t get me wrong, I started watching this years Love Island because, like others, I had stumbled across it last year near to the end of the series, and wished I’d watched it from the beginning. So this year it has been well and truly on my radar and I can boast (ahem) that I have watched every single episode to date.
Unlike Big Brother, Love Island generally gives you the warm, fuzzy, feel-good factor, mixed with lots of laughs and the occasional tears. There are definitely moments of explosive drama, similar to BB, but the make-ups always outweigh the break-ups.
As time has gone on more and more of my friends and acquaintances have come out of the Love Island closet and have confessed to watching it too, and once we have discovered our connection in the ‘guilty pleasure’ club, it has opened up hours of chat and discussion.
So what’s the problem, I hear you ask?
Up until a couple of weeks into the show, I naively thought that it was only adults that were watching it. That was until one evening, while I was running a girls-group, the girls started singing ‘Crossroads’ by The Blazin’ Squad. Knowing that the majority of them weren’t even born in 2002, when the song was released, I asked them how on earth they all knew the song. Their response… from Love Island of course!
I think I managed to keep a straight face, but inside I was a little shocked to hear that these girls, who were 13, 14 and 15 were enjoying watching the same programme as I was! It was my guilty pleasure, but they were more than happy to talk openly about it, and it wasn’t long before I found out that a large number of young people I knew were watching it too.
I work in a secondary school, so I’m not stupid, I know full well what young people talk about, but knowing that they were investing so much time and commitment into this show really saddened me.
Why? Because as fun and gripping as the show is, it’s extremely flawed when it comes to painting the right picture about body image and relationships, for our young people.
For starters, every person in there, or has ever been on there, has 0% fat on their body. The largest female (and when I say large, I mean the biggest dress size) didn’t own any cellulite, and absolutely nothing on her body wobbled!
The only male on the show that didn’t have muscles to flex was still slim and relatively toned. They made an issue out of him not working out in the gym and soon became a project for the other guys.
The minute I started watching this ridiculously addictive programme, through the eyes of a teenager, I saw the harsh reality of it, warts and all. The stereotypical images, the toned, perfect bodies, the cosmetic enhancement and the ‘scenes of adult nature and sexual content’…. And boy was there plenty of that!
If it hadn’t been for the makers of the programme shaking it up every once in a while, and making the contestants play silly games, then it wouldn’t have been as graphic as it was, but the show clearly took advantage of the excitable, bikini clad islanders.
Games where they had to perform numerous sexual positions, smother each others bodies in various food, lotions and liquids, and pole dance before answering questions to win points, were all activities amongst the ‘organised fun’.
By the end of the series there were couples that genuinely had strong feelings for one another, but these were all accompanied with many ups and downs along the way.
A couple who were instantly attracted to each other from day one, were Marcel and Gabby. Marcel was totally smitten by Gabby, but being with each other 24/7 meant that they still managed to hit a rocky patch near the end of their time there. In one of the episodes Gabby became quite upset, as she had started to feel insecure about herself around the other girls. Gabby was a Personal Trainer, with the most amazingly toned body, and she was a natural beauty. She was one of the few girls in there that apparently hadn’t been enhanced, and this was why she felt insecure this particular day. Gabby had started to feel inferior to the other girls, and questioned weather she needed to have a breast enlargement when she came out of the Love Island villa. Thankfully Marcel was quick to reassure her, but it was so sad to see her battle this insecurity, and made me wonder how many viewers felt the same way too. Watching the contestants walk around in their swimming gear for the majority of the show made it very difficult not to compare my own body to theirs, and I’m a secure adult. I can’t imagine how a young person, with major body hang-ups, would have felt watching the programme 6 nights a week for 7 weeks.
Coupling up meant that the contestants had to share beds with the opposite sex, and after a day parading around in the sun with most of their flesh on show, meant that when the lights were turned off in the evening, hands would naturally start to wander. The majority of the couples who remained together for more than a week, did end up having sex with each other on screen. At first you could excuse them, because after all the show is called ‘Love Island’, and falling in love is the aim of the game after all, but ‘REALITY CHECK’, when did it become acceptable to have sex on TV? This show is aired at 9pm, so of course young people are still awake, and as fun as having sex is, it isn’t something that they should have access to on our television screens. What on earth are we teaching them, when people’s first time being intimate with each other is also being viewed by millions of strangers?
Kudos to those couples that decided to wait to have sex until they were out of the villa, and keep their intimate moments private.
Alarm bells also rang when a slightly heated conversation broke out between the Love Islanders, after Olivia had said she could see herself having sex with Mike. Olivia was coupled up with Chris and the pair had endured many weeks of being on, then off, then back on again. Their relationship was volatile, but they always ended up being drawn back to each other like magnets. Chris was hurt that Olivia had said she would have sex with Mike and her reply was ‘What is your problem? There is no correlation between sex and love.’
UGHHHH. Okay, so we know that a large percentage of the population probably agree with this statement, and having loveless sex is counted as ‘normal’, but throw-away statements like this just normalizes it even further. And why should we normalize it? Sex and love SHOULD go hand in hand. That’s how it was designed to be, and that’s how we get the best out of it. Any teenager asking questions and making decisions about their life could quite easily be swayed by a comment like that. It’s hard enough being a young person today, but being a young person who is making a stand against the ‘norm’ could feel even more ‘different’ and pressured by the world’s views.
A keen favourite was Camilla (who incidentally came second with her partner Jamie in monday night’s final). Cam was a very sweet, private, well-educated girl, who the nation couldn’t help but love. She was an important part of the group and many people turned to for help and support.
On one early episode Cam was working out in the outdoor gym area with the other girls. They were all wearing their bikinis, whilst Camilla was wearing her shorts and a vest top. The boys were sat over the other side of the garden watching the girls, and were all passing comment on their physique. One of the lads commented on how Camilla was covered up and how she had respect for herself. Another commented that she was perfect ‘wife material’, unlike the girls they were coupled up with. But when it later came to recoupling, no one choose Camilla. Again, this left me wondering what sort of impact this kind of comment had on a young viewer. Love Island + Wife material = 'No thanks'?!
So what can we do about programmes like Love Island? Well the obvious response is don’t watch them, but then we really can’t stop young people watching these programmes anymore. They can access them on iplayer, the internet, phones and social media. There’s always the opportunity to view it secretly, so my suggestion is not to say ‘No’.
A friend of mine have two gorgeous teenage girls, and after they had found out their friends were watching Love Island, they asked my friend if they could watch it too. My friend sat and chatted through the pros and cons of the programme, then gave her girls the choice as to wether they still wanted to watch it or not. They choose to not watch it. I love that my friend trusted them to make the decision, and that they had decided what was ultimately best for them at this time.
Another friend of mine has watched the whole series with her teenage boys. It’s probably been awkward at times for all involved, but it’s allowed conversation to flow, and they’ve been able to be open and honest about the different situations.
I definitely think conversation is key, and I’m happy I am able to chat to the young people I work with about it. Maybe you don’t want to invest so much of your precious time into a show like that, and rightly so, but reading up on them, and finding out what other people think about them, is important for anyone living with, or working with, teenagers.
Love Island has now finished for this year, and I’m sure it will be even more popular next year. It’s definitely not going to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for a long time yet, as all the contestants have social media accounts that we can follow, so in some ways it’s only just the beginning of their story.
Let’s check in with our young people and see that there isn’t a Love Island shaped hole left in their lives, and that the impact of the show hasn’t been a damaging one. You never know you may be surprised, like me, that some of them have a very mature view of the whole thing.
Gemma is the creator of the Be Loved resource. She has worked with young people for over 10 years doing various creative workshops all over the UK. For the past 2 years she has also been working in schools as a mentor, allowing young people the space to chat through issues one on one. She loves drinking tea, cooking and all things craft related. Her heart is to see young people reach their full potential and be set free from any issues, or circumstances, that can hold them back.
Gemma has been married to Mark for 13 years and they have two gorgeous children.