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Love Island criticised as new figures reveal impact of reality TV on body image

'A large number of young people say reality TV has a negative impact on how they feel about their own bodies'

Sabrina Barr
Monday 03 June 2019 06:21 BST
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Love island unveils contestants for it's fifth series

Love Island has been condemned by a mental health charity for the negative impact the reality television show can have on viewers who feel insecure about their bodies.

On Monday 3 June, the new series of Love Island is due to air on ITV.

The programme has been criticised on several occasions over the years for its lack of body diversity, with producers predominantly opting to cast contestants of a similar, slim physique.

Ahead of the release of the new series, the Mental Health Foundation conducted research investigating the relationship between reality television and body image.

According to a survey of 4,505 adults carried out by YouGov, almost one in four people aged between 18 to 24 say that watching reality television makes them feel worried about their bodies.

Almost a quarter of the 18 to 24-year-olds surveyed said they have experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings due to the way they feel about their bodies, while 15 per cent said they have deliberately hurt themselves due to concerns they have about their physiques.

Furthermore, 34 per cent said that images used in advertising campaigns and promotional social media pictures makes them feel worried about their bodies.

Dr Antonis Kousoulis, director of England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation, explained why the lack of body diversity on Love Island can be detrimental for avid viewers of the show.

"Millions of people enjoy Love Island for a whole range of reasons. Our concern is how the programme projects body images that are not diverse, largely unrealistic and presented as aspirational," Dr Kousoulis said.

"Our research clearly shows that a large number of young people say reality TV has a negative impact on how they feel about their own bodies. Concern about body image is linked to anxiety, depression and feelings of shame and disgust."

Dr Kousoulis continued, stating that the mental health charity had hoped the Love Island producers would choose a "more representative range of contestants" for the new series.

"This lack of diversity is further feeding unhealthy advertising and media coverage," Dr Kousoulis added. "Love Island has issued mental health aftercare guidelines for contestants but they must also take into consideration the potential damage being done to viewers."

Last year, the Mental Health Foundation was one of 17 complainants which contacted the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over cosmetic surgery advertisements aired during episodes of Love Island, which they argued "exploited young women's insecurities" and "trivialised" breast enhancement surgery.

The ASA ruled the commercials for MYA Cosmetic Surgery "irresponsible" and "harmful", a decision which the Mental Health Foundation described as a "watershed moment".

Dr Kousoulis explained that television can play a "powerful role" for raising awareness about mental health issues and combatting the stigmas that surround the subject.

"This was clearly demonstrated during this year's Mental Health Awareness Week, when broadcasters, including ITV, were at the forefront of bringing useful information and advice to the nation," he stated.

"But it is not acceptable to keep allowing the aspects of television that have the potential to harm people's mental health to go unchecked."

Following on from the release of its research, the Mental Health Foundation is calling on ITV to work with the ASA to carefully assess the advertisements chosen to air during episodes, to be consistent in its psychological support of contestants and to ensure that final edited cuts of Love Island are "free of language that is shaming, discriminatory, or triggering in regards to mental health".

Dr Kousoulis has written directly to the chief executive of ITV regarding these requests.

He has also spoken to the chair of the DCMS Parliamentary Inquiry into reality television, asking that they pay greater attention to the impact reality television can have on its viewers.

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In response to the criticism Love Island has received over its casting, an ITV spokesperson 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."

While attending a recent press conference in Spain, Richard Cowles, creative director of ITV Studios Entertainment, said that while the competition tries to be "as representative and diverse as possible", the producers of the show want the Islanders "to be attracted to one another", seemingly implying that contestants of different body types would not be.

“We're saying here's a group of people that we want to watch for eight weeks, and we want to watch them fall in love,” Cowles added. “That's not at the front of our mind, but we do want to be as diverse as possible.”

For all the latest news on Love Island, click here.

For confidential support on mental health call Samaritans free from any phone, at any time, on 116 123 (UK & RoI) or email jo@samaritans.org. In the US call 1-800-273-TALK or chat online

Love Island returns to ITV2 on Monday 3 June at 9pm

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