I loveLove Island. I would go so far as to say I’m obsessed with it. Every night at 9pm I am faithfully sat in front of the TV, tub of Ben & Jerry’s in hand (okay, maybe not every night), pj’s on, cat curled up in my lap. But this year, when the contestants started to parade out, I couldn’t help but feel an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu. Petite, tiny waists, big boobs, long hair, conventionally gorgeous. Where was the diversity? The representation of different body types? No wonder no many of us feel so desperately unconfident with the way we look.
It’s frustrating. With recent and significant advancements in the body positive moment, I thought we were finally past this. Shops like Asos and Misguided have pledged their allegiance to the movement by increasing the body diversity of their models and no longer airbrushing stretch marks; “plus size” women are gaining more visibility than ever in fashion and media (although we still have a long, long way to go); we are finally being told the truth about the harmful effects of dieting; the Health At Every Size movement is gaining more traction than ever and earlier this year the hashtag #gainingweightiscool spread like wildfire across Instagram, with both women and men celebrating their weight gain in all its beautiful, wobbly glory.
But this just feels like a huge step backwards. I’m not saying these women aren’t beautiful, or don’t deserve to be on the show – of course they do and I’m sure they’ve got great personalities underneath the boobs and the abs and the long, lean legs. But by only showing one type of body, the typical perfect ‘bikini body ready’ ideal, we are putting out a dangerous message, particularly to young, vulnerable girls. We are telling them that to be attractive and accepted by society, this is the type of body we should be striving for. We are telling them that toned and fit = sexy and successful and that any body outside of this is unacceptable. We are telling them that their own natural, soft bodies aren’t, and never will be, good enough.
Research has shown that this current body ideal is achievable in less than 5% of the population. The average dress size in the UK is a size 16 and let’s be honest, most of us have rolls when we sit down, legs that rub together when we walk, those annoying little bits of fat that hang over our bikini/bra strap, bodies that are decorated with blemishes and cellulite and stretch marks. Yet to the 3.4million viewers watching the show, a large proportion of which are young girls, we don’t see these beautifully human attributes on any of these bodies, so we start to think that maybe there’s something wrong with us. And with research showing that 40.7% of 16-year-old girls have some form of disordered eating, 80% of us are unhappy with the way we look, 34% of girls as young as five are restricting their intake and more than two thirds of women and girls cite the unrealistic standards of beauty in the media as a main driver of being unsatisfied with their appearance, we clearly need to do more.
And body image is not just a woman’s issue. Muscle dysmorphia, a condition where its sufferers are consumed with the idea that they are not big/muscley enough, is on the rise in young men. TV shows like Love Island can’t be helping, although this year’s male contestants do slightly better in the body diversity area than the females (I’m looking at you, Jack). What we need, for both men and women, are body positive role models in a diverse range of body types that we can actually relate to for once. Maybe then we can start to foster a healthy relationship with our bodies, accept that the perfect body doesn’t actually exist and learn to celebrate body diversity in all its human beauty.
Come on, Love Island, you can do better.