I recently had the unfortunate experience of watching the “reality” show “Love Island Australia”. For those of you lucky enough not to have seen it, the premise is this: young, thin, spray-tanned women with truckloads of makeup and plastic surgery go to a Spanish villa to cavort with equally spray tanned, muscle-bound, hairless young men. Everyone has unnaturally white teeth. These people rarely eat and spend most of their time either working out (usually clad in bikinis/skimpy shorts), having sex with each other, looking in mirrors, or sunbaking. Their pairings appear to be entirely based on their appraisals of the others’ ‘hotness’, and the whole thing feels really quite pervy.
It’s not an intellectual show. Here is an actual conversation between 2 of the Australian contestants:
Girl in red bikini: “Would you ever cheat on a girlfriend?”
Boy in tight black shorts: “No of course not, I’m a misogynist”.
Unwittingly, boy in tight black shorts had actually correctly identified himself, but sadly the girls in the house didn’t know the meaning of either the term ‘misogyny’ or ‘monogomy’, and so the delicious irony of the moment was lost.
It’s fair to say that this show personifies everything that’s wrong with our culture right now, and I literally despaired for the future of humanity while watching. Particularly as it rated quite well here in Australia. So I was pretty horrified when I saw this headline from the UK – “Love Island’s ‘aspirational’ cast could help tackle childhood obesity crisis, boss says”
- Mean. Come. On.
What’s next – Playboy bunnies curing cancer?
The article begins with ITV executive Paul Mortimer outing himself as a horrible person who thinks that the so-called ‘beautiful people’ are more deserving of love than the rest of us –
“We make no excuses that people more beautiful than us are entitled to go into a villa for eight weeks and find love.”
So this shows that he’s generally a dick. But THEN he said this:
“There’s also another conversation going on about childhood obesity. If you want to look like the guys on Love Island you have to work out.”*
Now call me cynical, but I have seriously had a gutful of people justifying their harmful actions by springing the ‘won’t someone think of the children’ line. Lines like these are intended to make us stop critically analysing whatever bullshit we’re being fed, to ignite the flames of WE MUST DO SOMETHING ANYTHING PLEASE STOP ASKING QUESTIONS.
In this instance, Paul is deflecting attention away from the horrendous sexualised stereotypes portrayed on Love Island (and the ads for plastic surgery which pepper the breaks), and successfully dodging relevant critiques of the show from actual concerned health professionals.
Paul’s audacious gaslighting demonstrates classic diet culture abuse tactics. One article like this seems ludicrous, but thousands of bullshit articles along these lines accumulate in our thinking, creating a narrative which sticks inside our heads – ‘the obesity crisis’ – ‘won’t someone think of the children.’ Narratives repeated over and over again become beliefs, unquestioned foundations from which can spring awful ‘initiatives’.
Displaying thin/fit ideal bodies on television will do diddly squat to change the body weight of our children. If this was a thing, since the advent of television, our society would’ve become globally THINNER, not larger!
Science shows us that exposure to the thin ideal makes us hate our bodies. In Fiji, television wasn’t introduced until 1995. Before that time, eating disorders and body dissatisfaction were very rare. Researchers surveyed adolescent girls’ attitudes and behaviours about their bodies over the first 3 years following the introduction of tv. By 1998, the rate of self-induced vomiting to control weight had increased from 3% in 1995 to 15%. 29% of girls scored highly on a test of eating-disorder risk, compared with 13% just three years before. And a staggering 69% of girls reported that they were dieting in 1998, compared to almost no-one in 1995. This statistic about dieting might make Mr ITV happy, but it obviously hasn’t ‘worked’: Fijian people are still large.
Love Island is not aspirational to anyone, let alone our children. The characters are symbolic of a relentless harm which is drip fed to us on a daily basis, infecting our relationship with our incredible, diverse, wonderful human bodies.
Take care, and think about the bullshit, not the children!
* Let’s just ignore the fact that in the UK, this show is aired at 9pm and viewers are warned of “strong language and adult content”. So presumably this show can tackle the childhood obesity crisis without actually being viewed by children?!