I sympathise with Nas from Love Island – as a South Asian Take Me Out contestant, I was overlooked too

Even on reality TV, the desexualisation of certain men seems inescapable

Meera Sharma
Saturday 01 February 2020 12:33
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As the nation’s current go-to cure for dispelling the winter blues, the latest season of Love Island has also won applause from Britain’s South Asian community, thanks to the introduction of buff builder Nas “National Treasure” Majeed.

The handsome 23-year-old Londoner is the third contestant out of 166 in the show’s history of South Asian origin – being of both Caribbean and Pakistani descent.

Sadly, his inclusion seems to be little more than diversity box-ticking from the show’s producers. So far, the show (and his fellow Islanders) have stuck too rigidly to outdated stereotypes with regards to Nas, squandering what could have been a golden opportunity to move forward with representation.

My time on Take Me Out mirrored the experiences of many South Asians who are often overlooked when featured alongside their white counterparts in the dating world. During season 11, I had my light turned off numerous times, never making it to the Isle of Fernando’s. The Eurocentric beauty standards which dominate the mainstream media played a big role in my lack of luck when it came to finding love.

From the outset on Love Island, most of this year’s crop of starry-eyed beauties explicitly expressed a desire to find someone “dark and handsome”. Nas, who was one of the last remaining singletons on the show for some time, should have been a top choice. But his continual rejection seems to point to something more worrying: on reality shows like these, people don’t really mean “dark and handsome”, they mean “tanned and caucasian”.

The contestants’ aversion to Nas isn’t exactly unsurprising to those in the know. For, unlike his fellow white Islanders, who usually only have to worry about looking good and having cracking banter, Nas has the weight of decades’ worth of media shaping to contend with.

The Cultivation Theory put forward by George Gerbner in 1975, suggests that exposure to media, over a long period, subtly cultivates viewers’ perceptions of reality. And the shaping effect the media has had on perceptions of South Asians has been decidedly one-note since we first graced Britain’s screens.

Characters such as Kevin Gnapoor (Mean Girls) or Raj (Big Bang Theory) and films such as Four Lions, Britz, Ae Fond Kiss, notably written by white people, continually reinforce the idea that South Asian guys are nerdy, repressed by their families and destined to be recruited by a terrorist organisation.

It’s no wonder US dating website OKCupid reports that Asian men get fewer matches than other members. Clearly, a man who lists himself on a dating website can’t be romantically repressed, but if that’s the dominant image portrayed by the media, it’s no wonder that they would be skipped over, just like Nas is in the villa.

Love Island could have shown the nation that South Asian men have more to offer than Raj and Kevin. Instead, it frequently sets up Nas as a “best friend” or “brother” to the girls in the villa, rather than a potential partner, with editing portraying him as a hapless and desexualised lad, more likely to be seen getting his hair braided than cracking on with his “alpha male” compadres.

We see his funny and compassionate side, but he is rarely seen assuming the role of a desirable male. There is no escaping this narrative either, as it is not confined to the show, but continues in ITV’s social media coverage – with Nas’s life in the friend zone heavily chronicled night after night.

Over in the US, things are pleasingly more progressive. The likes of Dev Patel, Riz Ahmed and Hasan Minhaj are rising stars that provide a diverse representation of South Asian men; demonstrating that they can be tall, dark, handsome, witty and equally… desirable.

With the introduction of new contestant Demi to the villa this week, Nas’s luck might be about to change, especially as she has expressed an interest in him. But the words that Demi chose to describe Nas during her date with him should be noted. Differing wildly from her description of love rival Finn, who she called “handsome”, she referred to Nas as “lovely” and “nice”. The preferences of the Islanders may seem irrelevant, but they often speak to wider social biases that are shaped by their media consumption. Hopefully, ITV will use this storyline to move away from the tired narrative of Nas being the “sauceless”, desexualised friend to the girls in the villa. Shock horror... South Asian men can be heartthrobs too.

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