Does Love Island’s toxic and misogynistic atmosphere give you the “ick”?
Organised misogyny and ultra-fast fashion consumption don’t particularly scream “Gen Z.” The wildly popular ITV 2 reality show, Love Island, however, is known for both its misogyny, and its penchant for putting contestants on track to nab highly-paid deals with fast-fashion giants. With millions of viewers tuning in to Love Island nightly for eight whole weeks, it calls into question if we as a society have truly outgrown the controversial programme, or if consumer consciousness should be “dumped from the island” between 9-10 pm on weekdays to scratch our collective itch for toxic television.
The show is premised on themes of love: the atmosphere of the villa (and the producers behind the scenes) play cupid for the contestants, who enter into serious, often dramatic, relationships during the eight week course of the programme. One would assume, then, that the show should be a portrayal of affection, devotion, and thus respect (albeit with the needed drama to create entertaining reality TV). However, the show’s portrayal of love can be unsettling, and often external organisations have voiced their concerns. For instance, in 2022, regulatory authority Ofcom received complaints regarding the misogyny displayed by male contestants on the show, and Women’s Aid highlighted that the show portrayed coercive control and bullying. While male contestants on the show are often rightfully criticised for their misogynistic behaviour, the real blame lies predominantly in the hands of the producers of the show. Love Island endorses a system of casual misogyny: seeing “regular” women degraded and mistreated on a programme, to then have the story framed as a flawed romance, for the purposes of entertainment, sends the wrong message to viewers out there in similar situations.
The indisputable lack of representation amongst contestants, season upon season, is another issue which makes me question how much longer this programme can run for. Over 100,000 people apply to Love Island annually, and yet, most contestants selected for the show fit into a very specific kind of beauty ideal. As beautiful men and women alike are continuously cut from the running because they don’t fit this ideal, we should ask ourselves if, as a society, we have succeeded in leaving behind the outdated, unhealthy beauty standards we claim to have ditched for a body-positive position many years ago.
When discussing the show’s toxicity within society, it is imperative not to forget its impact on the environment. Love Island’s recent collaboration with second-hand fashion vendor, Ebay, was an attempt to revive their reputation that for years had been tainted by partnerships with huge fast fashion companies like I Saw It First, Pretty Little Thing, and Boohoo. Although there is no doubt that this is a step in the right direction for the show’s carbon footprint, it doesn’t do much to associate the show with sustainability. Love Island will always be associated with fast fashion because every time a season ends, its contestants enter into a new competition: the competition for some of the biggest fast fashion deals the world can offer. Reality shows like Love Island create influencers that go on to sign six-figure deals with the devil in polyester clothing once their time on the show comes to an end. Most of all, however, discussions of Love Island on social media encapsulate some of the most toxic parts of our society. We crave content that we can discuss, but these discussions sometimes turn harmful, and many contestants have been bullied online. This show has been associated with three suicides, of two past contestants, Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis, and the former host, Caroline Flack. Reality TV adheres to our craving for content and drama to a dangerous degree. Ultimately the repercussions of the show go beyond a light-hearted Twitter post about who should be punished for breaking whose heart that evening. Hiding behind bright screens, Love Island exemplifies some of society’s darkest corners.