So, another series of Love Island has finished, and we can once again gaze into the mirror and appear to be the only ones to realise that there is no template for perfection, regardless of what the producers appear to be perpetuating.
Love Island is yet another example of how the 21st century is still dragging its heels when it comes to inclusion. This year, once again we have seen little in the way of diversity on the series and of course no disability at all. I know the show is aimed at a certain demographic, but the show, like most of the media around us, appears to be terrified of showing disabled people topless, shirtless and engaging in acts of passion. Disabled people are a proud, body beautiful lot who model, love, laugh and pout, (believe me, I’ve seen it). In the community I move within, I see plenty of people rightly proud of their bodies. Some gained through sport and some because they look at themselves and think, yeah, I love what I see, I’m sexy, deal with it world, I want to show it.
Television shows like Love Island are a staple of an industry which now finds itself struggling to find its place in the modern Netflix era. We are force-fed reality drudge which is cheap to produce, unimaginative and which does not reflect a huge portion of its audience. Instead of embracing disabled talent which thrives in the shadows, it instead offers the viewer a constant vision of its view of physical perfection, instilling in the audience that if you are not like us, you are not welcome. The harm this continues to do to the viewing public is disregarded in the argument that it is entertainment only. That is a short-sighted example of not thinking outside the box, or indeed respecting or testing your audience. The show is popular, no doubt of that, but think what it would achieve if it really was about universal love.
The statement issued from the producers is hardly an answer, more like a politician’s non-response to criticism. The spokesperson states that: “We always strive to reflect the age, experiences and diversity of our audience.” It may in fact surprise them to know the show has a broadening demographic made of not just pre-30 buff sun worshippers, indeed school children are not immune to the antics on offer. To say it is merely entertainment is correct, but it should come with a health warning that the image it projects of the human body is just one image. It may not intend to perpetuate the myth of physical greatness, but the subconscious mental health damage it does continues to grow.
Imagine a wheelchair participant. Imagine an amputee model (there are so many) strutting around the cast. Proud and exuding self-confidence and banter. Imagine someone signing their way around the island, giving sun tanned “I love yous” in Makaton. Love Island is a show capable of so much more, if it wasn’t like most television in that it is terrified of trusting its audience. Disabled people are no different to anyone else, and this is what the media needs to realise.
Love Island is not alone in its guilt of bad representation. Television in general has a lot of stereotypes to rid itself of. I sit with my daughter, a proud, fashionable, body confident teen in a wheelchair and we still see, every day, the overweight person as the comedy fall guy, especially in advertising, the disabled youngsters stuck with a stereotype of constantly being in need, and the woman still doing the washing while a suited husband goes off to work. Before you shoot me down, yes, change is afoot. Disability, colour and strong female characters are appearing, but how long do we have to wait until this is the norm and we look beyond age, race, ability and gender and just see people?
The age and intelligence of the audience for reality shows may surprise the producers if they did their homework. I know plenty of disabled people who enjoy their shows, but would, as consumers of the industry, be happier if they could see a reflection of their lives within it. It’s not too late ITV2, no doubt a new series of Love Island is being commissioned as we speak. So, I dare you to embrace all communities in your planning and boardroom chats, because disabled people, indeed all people regardless of how they look or live would feel more body confident if you, as the biggest influencers on the planet, reflected their beauty and society in general.