Suffolk Love Island star on how the show can become more body positive
- Credit: Owen Vincent
The ever-changing weather might suggest otherwise, but we are well into summer.
As restrictions begin to ease even further as part of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, things look to be getting back to normal.
We can meet friends and family again, places are reopening, major events can take place - and Love Island is back on our screens after a year out.
A staple of British summertime viewing, the ITV2 show is one the nation’s most popular reality television shows, and has been in its current format since 2015.
With seven series to its name, the programme however hasn’t come without its controversies - and regularly draws the ire of critics in its portrayal of relationships, and body image especially.
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A recent survey conducted by youth news site The Tab found that out of the 5,807 respondents who took part, a whopping 83% said the show ‘doesn’t show enough body diversity’.
“The bombardment of an idealised body image on our screens and in the media does have an impact on increasing body dissatisfaction," explains Kitty Wallace, head of operations at Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation.
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Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation is a charity that aims to raise awareness around body dysmorphic disorder, as well educate the public and reduce the stigma that surrounds it.
But what exactly is body dysmorphic disorder?
Often shortened to BDD, body dysmorphic disorder is an anxiety disorder that is characterised by a preoccupation with one or more perceived defects or flaws in appearance.
These perceived flaws are sometimes noticeable, but are usually a normal variation or are not as prominent as the sufferer believes.
First diagnosed in 1891, BDD has become more common in recent years, and according to the charity, can affects all genders equally.
It is thought around one in 50 suffer from the disorder.
“Sufferers tend to repeatedly check on how bad their flaw is. Often, they will check obsessively in mirrors and reflective surfaces, attempt to camouflage or alter the perceived defect, and avoid public or social situations, or triggers that increase distress. Sometimes people may avoid looking in mirrors altogether as they find this too distressing.
“People may at times be housebound, or have needless cosmetic and dermatological treatments,” she adds.
Particularly common ‘worry areas’ for BDD sufferers include the skin, hair, nose, eyes, chin, and teeth. However, any part of the body can become a focus of concern.
Often, BBD can be seen in those who suffer from other disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and exercise addiction.
With such a focus on mental health and wellbeing in the current era, how can shows such as Love Island, which tend to feature typically beautiful people series after series, help reduce the risk of viewers developing disorders such as BBD?
“In terms of Love Island, we would recommend that viewers exercise caution and are mindful of performing BDD behaviours such as ‘comparison-making’, which fuels negative feelings about our own appearance," Kitty adds.
One former show contestant agrees, and is fully on board with the idea of making reality TV a more inclusive and representative watch for all.
Twenty-four-year-old Ched Uzor, from Bury St Edmunds, was on the show in 2019 during its winter season.
He thinks Love Island can do more to include all body shapes and sizes - and that its producers have a duty to ensure the average viewer is more represented onscreen.
“We need more natural and normal looking people in there, so there’s less pressure for both the viewers and contestants themselves. That’s what I wanted to see this year,” he says.
“I feel the change has to come from Love Island and the casting team first though, and then a more diverse range of people will apply and start to embrace who they are.”
However, on the other hand, Ched can also see how we end up with a raft of conventionally-attractive contestants, year in and year out, due to the pressures of society and self-perception.
“The show, especially in recent years, has generally featured people who are shredded and toned. So people who get cast no doubt feel they have to look a certain way and become what they think is ‘camera-ready’ before they go on the show. It’s a double-edged sword and never-ending cycle.”
Just 20 years ago, programmes such as Big Brother encapsulated audiences up and down the country thanks largely to the casting of contestants who came from all walks of life – with no two looking the same (with the exception of series eight runners-up Sam and Amanda Marchant who were identical twins).
Ched adds that while he didn’t necessarily experience self-esteem issues himself during his time on the show, he does sometimes fall foul to comparing himself to others – and has to remind himself not to.
“Even when I go to the gym, I still sometimes think ‘why can’t I be as muscly at this guy, or that guy?’ But there are people out there who probably think the same about me. We all do it, but we all need to accept that as long as we’re happy and healthy, it doesn’t matter how we look. You shouldn’t compare yourself to others – no one can be you, and you can’t be anyone else.”
Ched, who placed fourth on his series, went on to praise Love Island for both its on-set and after show mental health care – something which people may not know goes on behind the scenes.
“I was given a lot of support – we’re all offered it. Funnily enough, my therapy and support ended just last month, so you’re supported for well over a year after you leave the show.
“Even when you’re on the show, there’s people who will come in and check on everyone - and you have the chance to talk to a therapist every week.
“You’re offered more than enough support, but I feel more people need to take it. Often, people think there’s something wrong with them if they turn to therapy or ask for help, but there’s nothing wrong with you. It can only better you and your overall wellbeing.”
If you feel you are struggling with BDD, or any other anxiety disorder, the best course of action is to contact your local GP who will be able to refer you to a specialist service.
Alternatively, visit the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation for more information on body dysmorphia disorder.