Love Island – More than meets the eye… literally.

When people think about reality TV shows, they usually judge them based on toxic beauty standards that the media promotes. However, this article delves into the underlying issues of self-love and self-acceptance that the contestants have to face when put under the spotlight.

Many of us will have slumped into a heap on the sofa at the same time religiously, six days a week for the past two months. As dozens of scantily clad men and women conforming to what may be considered modern day ‘beauty ideals’ sunbathed themselves and dabbled in and out of various love prospects afore our tired eyes, we saw each and every islanders’ “best” and “worst” bits and these weren’t limited to our TV or Laptop screens. No, in our world that is obsessed with social media platforms, we saw headlines springing up on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter…the lot.

Amidst all this chaos and conformity, we were told that variety and boy diversity were showcased on 2019’s Love Island. That, after the tragic deaths of two previous contestants, each islander would be provided with a strong psychological team and after-care program following their time in the villa.

It sounds like a pretty sweet deal; Sun, Sex, Love, Money, Fame etc… and I can guarantee there will be at least one guy or gal on your street, in your social circle or even in your family (maybe even yourself) who will have made the passing comment, ‘I’m gonna apply next year’. You’ll laugh, make jokes, say ‘oh yeah? you’ll do sweet' or ‘Do it, you look so good, you can defo get through' but, my question is, if you really did decide to apply and were “fortunate” enough to get through: is it possible to succeed on a program like Love Island, if you don’t love yourself for who you are first?

Self-love and self-acceptance are something which I myself have never been truly capable of. For me, the ability to see past my own faults and love all the little bits and bobs about myself - things which I know are not perfect, whether they be personality traits or physical attributes – is foreign.  Part of me envies those whose confidence and love for who they are, unashamedly and unapologetically, enables them to live unaffected by haters, rude judgemental comments or the hubbub of media backlash which comes from airing every minute of every day of your life (including attempts to find “love” ) for 8 weeks on air. It takes a bold, brave and confident soul to do that and that is perhaps what goes unnoticed amongst the flurry of photos and aesthetic attention that the islanders get. 

We are told from a young age that “Love is blind” - and yes, we do also now have a dating show for that as well I believe. But that aside, as a heterosexual female, I am constantly told to give guys a chance for their personalities and to not go on looks alone. Trust me, I know personality is so important. In fact, I get on better with guys than girls in general as I find them more direct and easier to get along with. However, just because the majority of my friends are men, it doesn’t mean I am very successful with them in a romantic sense. This is because, often, my overly-friendly nature can lead to me accidentally being “friend-zoned” before I have a chance to see whether there is the potential for something “more” to blossom between us. This in turn has led to some somewhat crushing conversations where I have been asked to wingwoman, ‘put-in-a-good-word’ or strike up a conversation with a girl whom they are far more physically attracted to and want to get to know.

As you can imagine, this does nothing for my self-esteem and on an ‘off day’, I’ll take this as direct personal criticism, even though the poor bugger probably didn’t mean to hurt my feelings at all.  ‘Don’t take it personally’, ‘It’s not you, it’s me’, ‘there’s nothing wrong with you, I just think we work better as friends’ – I have heard the lot. Trust me when I say that no matter what/which way you put it, I will assume there’s something wrong with me which is infuriatingly frustrating for those around me who love me and can see that I’m taking it far too personally. The opinions of other people shouldn’t affect me so greatly. I wish they didn’t, and I’m not saying that I create an image of myself based on other people’s perceptions of me… But, it does have a significant impact on the way in which I view who I am. 

I am aware, of course, that this is not an isolated issue. It does seem to affect many of my friends and family who have experienced break-ups, heartache or rejection. I think it’s a trait which many of us possess -  the feeling that we are not good enough if someone chooses not to reciprocate our feelings. But it’s something that we have to learn to realise isn’t actually due to our own doing. It can be a combination of things and most certainly isn’t due to looks alone.

I don’t blame other people for being unable to love myself, that’s my problem and it is far more deep-rooted than surface insecurities. However, certain things obviously don’t help this and my automatic response to rejection is self-criticism. If I was able to be confident in who I am – “warts and all” – life would be so much simpler. But the reality is far more complex than that and it is why I struggle to comprehend the level of bravery, self-awareness and confidence which reality TV stars seem to possess. 

This isn’t me glorifying them or saying they are a whole bunch of extraordinary individuals whom we should look up to as great pariahs of our time. Absolutely not. But I do think that there should be a certain level of respect for those who do feel able to put themselves out there to an extent which so many of us couldn’t even comprehend. Sometimes it is important to celebrate confidence and not drill into children and teenagers especially that confidence means “cockiness” or “self-righteousness”. It can, but it doesn’t have to. Yes, there is a fine line between the two, but if people were less quick to jump to its negative connotations and instead celebrate or congratulate kids for bravery, rather than out-of-place formidability, then we may have a very different general attitude towards the term ‘confidence’ in today’s youth culture. 

There is, of course, the other side of this which is a lot of incredibly smug, supercilious and complacent teens and many of the Love Island critics who take this stance towards the islanders’ body confidence. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of course, I just thought I would highlight that there are two sides to every popular opinion and sometimes one maybe entertained less than another. 

And so, I will conclude with my proposition that, in order to apply for a show like Love Island, one must certainly have a strength and fortitude of character that provides them with a resilience to external criticism. Even if they are genuinely good people, the likelihood that the media or “trolls” will twist their actions and manipulate them into something very different to the truth is a certainty. Though we cannot truly know the bikini bodies lounging on our screens, there is one thing which we (the body-conscious and nervous proportion of the population whom I speak on behalf of) must respect them for: their confidence in who they are and their decision to put themselves out there in a way which many of us could never possibly even contemplate doing.