Premium

Love Island isn't giving teenage girls body anxiety issues - stop patronising us

Love Island has been blamed for placing pressure on teenagers - but Emily disagrees
Love Island has been blamed for placing pressure on teenagers - 'curvy' contestant Anna, pictured Credit: ITV

My name is Emily. I am 17 years-old, and I am addicted to Love Island. Until last year, the idea of watching scantily-clad young adults pretend to fall in love for £50,000 was laughable. I spent my school days banded together with other like-minded teenagers, feeling self-righteous that we didn’t watch it. 

Then lots of people I knew began saying words like “grafting” (Love Island speak for flirting) and comparing the show to real situations at school. I realised there might be more to it than I'd thought. I decided to watch one episode - and couldn’t stop.

This year, I was one of the 3.3 million viewers of Love Island’s opening episode. It’s now the most popular TV show for 16 to 25 year-olds. And it knows its audience. 

Iain Stirling feels like your sarcastic mate. Amber is the brutally honest but loyal friend every girl needs. And the villa is every teenager’s dream hideaway. We feel genuinely connected to the Islanders. Amid climate change fears and exam stress, Love Island is a daily dose of sugar in a bitter world

But not everyone agrees. Love Island is increasingly being labelled as the cause of the body image pressures that young Generation Z women like me face – and I completely disagree. 

Look, it’s not ideal. For a show with a huge influence and a young audience, the body image issues cannot be ignored. I certainly think Love Island can and should do better. Are Anna’s curvy body and Curtis’s lack of abs really the best that producers can do for body diversity? 

According to Girlguiding’s 2018 ‘Girls Attitudes Survey’, over half of  11-24-year-olds said they felt ashamed of the way they looked, because they weren’t like girls in the media. As Love Island dominates the news all summer, it is easy for us to assume these scantily-clad, toned people must be the "ideal". 

Girlguiding also found that  more than half of girls (52 per cent) aged 11 to 21 have been on a diet. And almost a third (30 per cent) would consider cosmetic procedures like lip fillers and Botox to feel better about themselves.

Girls just leaving primary school are beginning to plan how they can edit their faces with plastic, before they have even begun to grow into their bodies. And I hear friends comment negatively on their appearance a lot. Some get up at 5am to do their make-up and end up dozing off at school. There's little doubt that we are under more pressure than ever to look good.

Emily Jenkins is a Girlguiding advocate

That said, I will still stand up for Love Island.  You can't blame a single TV show for a problem caused by an entire industry.

You can decide to not watch it – just like I used to. But teenagers like me cannot avoid huge billboards sporting half-naked, retouched women, or adverts displaying people sexily eating ice-cream. Instagram influencers bombard my feed with their apparently ‘perfect’ lives, before trying to sell me their products - the only way to "be like them". 

So I don’t think the women in Love Island should be blamed for body image pressures. They have felt the pressure as much as anyone else. Last year’s contestant Megan Barton Hanson reportedly spent £25,000 on plastic surgery before entering the villa. 

My friends and I agreed that her cosmetic work was a waste. We may not feel confident all the time in how we look, but teenagers are not as easily influenced as people think. 

And while adults seem to believe that Love Island is warping the teenage brain - from making us judge people purely on appearance to slathering on make-up. - it is actually bringing us together. We have something to talk about and everyone has an opinion. It unites us and bonds us. How can that be a bad thing?

When we see models who go red in the face when they laugh, it shows us that they’re real. We see people go through the trials and tribulations of love up close. We are shown that good looks do not protect you from heartache or humiliation. It’s a good lesson to learn

I have personally felt more body image pressure watching normal adverts on TV than a whole season of Love Island.  So let teenagers enjoy it in peace. We’ve got enough to worry about.