It’s happening. As of Monday night, Love Island will have officially returned to our TV screens, for what is now the fifth season of the reality TV show.
And mental health charity the Mental Health Foundation has an important message about the potential negative impact on the mental health of viewers and contestants — both of Love Island and of reality TV more broadly.
“Millions of people enjoy Love Island for a whole range of reasons,” said Dr. Antonis Kousoulis, from the Mental Health Foundation, in a statement. “Our concern is how the programme projects body images that are not diverse, largely unrealistic, and presented as aspirational.”
The foundation released data on Monday to coincide with the launch of the new Love Island series — showing that almost a quarter (24%) of people aged 18 to 24 said reality TV makes them worry about their body image.
Meanwhile, 23% of those 18-to-24-year-olds questioned — as part of a YouGov survey of 4,505 adults in the UK — said they had experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings because of concerns related to their body image.
Around 15% said they had self-harmed because of concern about their body image, while 34% said images used in advertising and promotion on social media made them worry about their body image.
“Our research clearly shows that a large number of young people say reality TV has a negative impact on how they feel about their bodies,” Kousoulis added, highlighting that concern about body image is linked to anxiety, depression, and feelings of shame and disgust.
The announcement of the cast for the new series sparked discussions around body positivity and body image last week, when critics voiced concern that the lineup showed little diversity.
The producers of Love Island think this slim woman counts as their new token “plus size” contestant? Are they drunk? pic.twitter.com/sam4AqzzQw— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) May 28, 2019
Presenter and activist Jameela Jamil shared images of Anna Vakili, a 28-year-old pharmacist from London, who will be featuring in the latest Love Island season, commenting: “The producers of Love Island think this slim woman counts as their new token ‘plus size’ contestant? Are they drunk?”
Kousoulis said in his statement on Monday that the foundation had hoped had also hoped the show’s producers would “choose a more representative range of contestants for the new series, bearing in mind the likely impact on their predominantly young audience.”
“This lack of diversity is further feeding unhealthy advertising and media coverage,” Kousoulis continued. “Love Island has issued mental health aftercare guidelines for contestants, but they must also take into consideration the potential damage being done to viewers.”
A spokesperson for ITV said: “When casting for Love Island, we always strive to reflect the age, experiences, and diversity of our audience and this year is no exception with a cross section of different personalities and backgrounds in the villa.”
Nevertheless, the Mental Health Foundation has warned that the show “could leave thousands of young adults feeling worried about their own bodies.”
As a result, the foundation is calling on ITV to:
- Work alongside the Advertising Standards Authority to vet all advertising shown during the show’s airtime, particularly those from “high risk industries” like cosmetic surgery, weight loss products, and fashion.
- Clearly publish details of the psychological support and be consistent in providing that support to contestants
- Take care that the final edited cuts included in the show are “free of language that is shaming, discriminatory, or triggering in regards to mental health”
Love Island has also faced criticism in the past around the mental health support on offer for previous contestants, after two former contestants died by suicide.
In March this year, series three contestant Mike Thalassitis was found dead aged 26; following the death of former contestant Sophie Gradon in June 2018, aged 32.
Their deaths sparked a much-needed conversation about the psychological effects of the instant fame faced by many reality TV stars.
Since 1986, roughly 38 people are believed to have died by suicide following appearances on reality TV shows, according to a report by the Sun on Sunday — including The Bachelor, Hell’s Kitchen, and Wife Swap.
It has prompted calls for social media users to think more closely about what they’re posting on social media in response to the show — particularly with regards to how they respond to the contestants.
People on Twitter 2 weeks ago: ‘There should be more support for the cast of Love Island after the show for their mental health’— ri@ (@riasmyth_) May 28, 2019
People on Twitter today: ‘Everyone on this year’s Love Island is ugly and looks like shit craic’
In 2018, Love Island was the most tweeted about TV show of the year, with 6 million tweets posted over the summer, according to the Telegraph. And already, this year’s contestants have been described as a “gobby bitch” and “ugly”, among other derogatory comments.
Former Love Island contestant Rachel Fenton shared a post on Monday, entitled “How to enjoy Love Island” and including points like:
- Appreciate another girls’ beauty without finding flaws in your own. She is beautiful, but so are you. Nobody compares to you.
- Islanders aren’t just islanders. They are real people with real feelings — just like me, you & your best friend. Think before you type.
If you're based in the UK and want to talk to someone about your mental health or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Samaritans for free at any time, from any phone, on 116 123. You can find international resources here.