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Can you be a feminist and watch Love Island?

Maebh Howell considers whether you can be a feminist and still watch Love Island.

Maebh Howell
Maebh Howell
Maebh Howell is a second year English Literature student from Christ Church. When she's not writing or editing, she loves listening to music, long dog walks, and anything medieval.

I was scrolling through the Love Island hashtag yesterday when I saw a tweet stating that you couldn’t be a feminist and watch Love Island.  Amidst the rest of the Love Island tweets, which mainly focussed on creating memes based on the latest episode, it was this tweet that halted me in my tracks. I like to consider myself as a passionate feminist; after all, I’ve read as much Simone de Beauvoir, Angela Davis, and Audre Lorde as every other self-proclaimed feminist English Literature student probably has. Yet I still revel in the yearly Love Island frenzy, which sweeps me up in all its contrived production of “reality”. Is there any way for me to reconcile my feminist morals with the drama of Love Island? Can you be a feminist and watch Love Island?

One of the main issues for me, and many others, is the sheer lack of diversity on Love Island.  The importance of diversity and intersectionality cannot be underscored in any discussion of feminism, and Love Island’s approach to this issue leaves something lacking. Jake, the first man to walk into the villa in the very first episode of this year’s series, described his type as ‘blonde’ with ‘blue eyes’ and ‘little white toes’. This preference, whilst already revealing too much about Jake’s love of feet, also ruled out three of the five girls in the initial line-up, with only Faye and Liberty fitting into the blonde, and white, category. The three remaining girls, Sharon, Shannon, and Kaz, were therefore all dismissed by Jake’s “preference”. This follows a trend within the show, in which Women of Colour, and specifically black women, find themselves side-lined by the show’s men, with Essex-based influencer Kaz Kamwi repeatedly finding the odds stacked against her. The impact of this sort of colourism is discussed further by Nessa Humayun in this article, which focusses on the harmful consequences of the show’s treatment of black women. Whilst the casting directors have certainly introduced a greater diversity of men and women, the tendency is certainly towards people with lighter-skin, with an almost alarming lack of East and South Asian male representation being pointed out by journalist Diyora Shadijanova in a now deleted tweet from 26th July, which asked “Where are the East and South Asian men???”

But the issues don’t stop there. Even more alarmingly, the show has little body diversity, and almost no LGBTQ+ representation, with the focus being on heteronormative couplings and nothing else. The show’s makers have even suggested, in this Guardian article, that LGBTQ+ contestants would introduce “logistical difficulties” for the show, something which seems to conceive of LGBTQ+ people as a complication. If anything, I agree with Yomi Adegoke’s view, that it is high time for a “gay Love Island”; surely it would make it more exciting than anything else? Other dating shows like First Dates have already made a start on introducing more LGBTQ+ representation, so why can’t Love Islandfollow suit?

Another disappointment comes with the lack of body diversity on the show. In order to gain a brief overview of people’s attitudes towards this season specifically, I conducted a short Twitter poll, which received around 149 votes.  Over 94% of people felt that Love Island did not show a diverse range of body types.  In comparison, when I asked about racial diversity on the show, just over 81% felt that the show was not racially diverse enough.  It’s obvious to me from this that others share my attitudes towards the glaring lack of body diversity on the show – it simply isn’t good enough.

Little effort has been made by the casting team to find contestants who don’t all have the same body types; in 2019, Anna Vakili was hailed as “plus-size” representation, and whilst she certainly was taller and curvier than the average Love Island contestant, she still had the flat stomach and small waist that every other woman on the show does. This attempt at plus-size representation not only fell flat, isolating truly plus-size and non-straight-size women who typically have little to no representation in the mainstream media, but it also painted an unrealistic picture of what “plus-size” is, depicting it merely as something that fitted to the male gaze of the show.  

This is not, of course, the fault of any of the contestants, but is symptomatic of a broader problem with representation in our society. As in Love Island, it is a Eurocentric beauty standard which receives the most airtime in the media, and so the fact that the casting team have pandered to this is merely indicative of a wider issue. Whilst touted as a reality show, it’s also, ultimately, a game show, with entertainment at the forefront. For the producers, having representation of different sexualities, races, and body types is not their biggest concern, but making a show that will make people watch and which will make them money is. Viewing Love Island as just a game, disconnected from any reality, is perhaps the most useful way of navigating the problems with the show. By viewing it as just a product of a society which favours representation of certain bodies over others, you can view it as just what it is, a money-making enterprise for all involved. I do believe that Love Island has a lot of issues, but these are merely a microcosm of the issues in our wider society. As a feminist, I believe that I can sit back and enjoy Love Island for what it is (rubbish, but easy-to-watch television), and then carry on being a feminist for the other twenty-three hours of my day.  

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