I think most people will agree with me when I say everybody knows being a celebrity in the public eye is all glitz and glamour, right? Living the dream, some might say. Or is it more of a nightmare?
There’s good and bad to all aspects of life but when your entire life is in the public eye sometimes there’s a dark side that nobody seems to want to talk about – and I’m going to share with you how the dark side can have an impact on your mental health. This is my story, my reality of social media and of life after reality TV.
When I got the call from Love Island and was told I had made it through to the show, I was kind of nervous but also happy and excited. It came at a time where I had just come out of a very draining relationship and I was in a bit of a state of limbo, not knowing what direction I wanted to go in life or what I wanted to do. Being told I was going to take part in one of the UK’s biggest reality shows was a bit of a confidence boost at the time and it felt like this could be a golden opportunity for me – and besides, who wouldn’t want a free holiday with the chance of making a nice bit of money too?
Once it sunk in that I would be appearing on one of the UK’s most watched reality shows, my insecurities started to weigh on my mind. What if people don’t like me? Will people think I’m fat? Will I look okay in a bikini? I have always been paranoid about my body and not very body confident. My insecurities with my body started when I was very young and lead to me battling with eating disorders throughout my years at school, which I would eventually overcome – but those insecurities never really went away.
Now you would think I, having had such a distorted view of my body, would surely be a little reluctant to appear on such a big show that airs to millions, especially when most of the time I’d be wearing not much more than just a bikini? Well yes, I was very reluctant, but something told me to just go with it – like I said, there was not much else going for me at the time.
Love Island offer a ‘psych test’ prior to being accepted on the show, which to me felt like a formality. It didn’t really consist of much more than a few questions like ‘are you, or have you ever been, suicidal?’, ‘have you ever been clinically depressed?’ I answered away, told them what they wanted to hear, and I passed.
Looking back, there should be more in-depth psychological evaluation before you are even considered to appear on these kinds of shows. Had there been a more in-depth evaluation, they may have picked up on my battles with eating disorders, or perhaps given me some advice on dealing with any insecurities or concerns I had going onto the island.
There is very little advice given on what life may be like coming out of the show, and some contestants are put through to the qualifying rounds without actually knowing if they are strong enough to deal with the unknown post-Love Island world, or even if in fact the show is what they should be doing at their current stage in life.
I eventually put my insecurities aside and, thinking I was ready to handle life in the public eye, I was now excited to begin my Love Island journey. I look back at what my priorities were at that point in my life and how none of it really mattered or was really that important – I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve gone through some pretty life-changing events since then which have opened my eyes and made me realise what is really important to me, but it’s safe to say the person I am today is far from the insecure naïve girl that appeared on your TV screens back in 2015.
My time on the show was a mixed bag of emotions – some highs, some lows, sometimes I would forget the whole nation was watching and really did just feel like I was on a holiday with friends. But once I left the show, I realised my life would never be the same again.
I remember logging into my social media accounts and seeing I had suddenly gained almost a million followers. Messages from fans were filling my inbox, so-called friends I hadn’t spoken to in years were reaching out to me, guys were sliding into my DMs, and something else I never thought would happen – strangers stopping me in the street asking for selfies. It was all so overwhelming, I was on a euphoric high and thought the world was now my oyster. I was taking full advantage of what came with my new ‘celebrity’ status and embracing a life filled with parties, booze, late nights, being papped – basically living a life I totally couldn’t afford. And I don’t just mean financially.
It wasn’t long before things started to take a bit of a turn and this dream lifestyle I was leading soon started to look more like a nightmare. I mean, nobody told me about the endless trolling and online bullying I would victim to. I didn’t sign up for that. The novelty of being papped soon wore off, and I quickly realised all those career opportunities I thought I would get by appearing on reality TV were nowhere to be seen. The small jobs I did get here and there soon dried up, along with the money.
Soon things started to turn dark for me. All those insecurities I already had about myself were amplified thanks to the nasty unjustified comments from online trolls, who were at times so cruel and outright heartless. Many of the comments were about my appearance, which made me start to question every aspect of my body, and my paranoia went into overdrive.
The other aspect of my new life I found hard to deal with was trusting the people I had around me. It felt like every other day I would read stories online about my life and would be baffled as to where all this information was coming from, so I would question everybody’s motive – pushing those that were close away and isolating myself.
After a while, with no real friends to turn to, my confidence diminished rather rapidly and, to make things worse, I had surrounded myself with people that were just no good for me in any way. Looking back, these new ‘friends’ didn’t hold any real friendship values, they were just about wanting to get into exclusive events, be seen with a reality TV star and use being in the same social circles as the likes of myself and others to somehow elevate their social status.
The online comments about my body eventually resorted in me turning to surgery, against advice from my representatives. I hate to say it but the trolls really started to get into my head to the point where I believed I was not good enough and needed to change the person I was looking at in the mirror – I thought I was too ‘ugly’ to be famous. I now know it was at this point I should have reached out for help, and should have known surgery was not the answer.
This is all just a snippet of my experience and I firmly believe anybody taking part in reality TV shows like Love Island should be given more support before and after the show. Coping with instant fame and all the bullshit that comes with it can be overwhelming and hard to deal with, especially when there’s no real support in place to help you deal with it all.
Now, I have an amazing manager who offers me support and direction as I continue learning to cope with living a public life. But please remember, while you may see people like me smiling for the camera, sometimes that smile is hiding a deep sadness behind.
Always remember to be kind.
Malin Andersson is a mental health advocate and former Love Island contestant