After eight weeks of grafting, fanny flutters and “instant connections”, Love Island 2019 has come to a surprising end. Greg O’Shea and Amber Gill stole the crown from favourites Molly-Mae Hague and Tommy Fury and, undramatically, chose to share the £50K prize money. With a winter series coming soon, we won’t have long to wait for another group of single social influencers to grace our screens and take-over our evenings. But, is Love Island really the beacon of positivity it’s painting itself to be?
As a mental health campaigner and feminist, I should hate Love Island with every fibre of my being. A show that promotes unattainable levels of perfection and selects its contestants based on their social media presence is, in theory, antithetical to everything I believe in. Yet, this series of Love Island has strengthened my feminism and improved my mental health more than any TV programme I’ve ever watched.
Before you jump down my throat and angrily cite statistics and studies at me, I realise that Love Island is far from perfect. I’m very much aware of the tragic and preventable deaths of Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon. I’m all too familiar with the self-loathing and unhealthy comparison that comes with being confronted with seemingly “perfect” bodies every day for two months. However, the girls on this year’s Love Island have radiated a degree of positivity, sisterhood and confidence that has inspired me to re-evaluate the way I view myself and the world.
My confidence was at rock-bottom seven months ago. I’d just been dumped out of the blue and was trying to muddle through my last semester at university. Having suffered with poor mental health for years, I knew the slightest rocky patch could tip me over the edge into a catatonic episode and was determined to not let this knock to my confidence be the catalyst. I threw myself into a new routine of dating, writing and running. I committed to every self-help cliche in a desperate attempt to cling onto my sanity; to an extent, it worked.
What I failed to recognise was the problematic relationship with dating that had developed after my breakup. My confidence became almost entirely predicated on what men thought of me and every situationship or rejection pulled me further into the toxic cycle of validation. I mention this because it’s important to contextualise why the women of Love Island have taught me so much this year. As a 21-year-old woman who believed that the only way to feel happy and fulfilled was if a man chose to love her, watching a group of independent-minded, self-assured and emotionally intelligent women stand up for themselves and what they believe in has been truly revolutionary.
From Maura’s incredible rejection of Tom after he joked with the boys about whether she was “all mouth or not”, to Amy’s dignified exit from the villa following Curtis’s brutal betrayal, these wonderful women have highlighted that confidence is not a trait that can be destroyed by a mendacious Mancunian model but can actually be bolstered by an inspiring Irish influencer.
Bryony Gordon wrote of how the women of her generation “grew up with Bridget Jones as a role model, who essentially told us that we should be pathetically grateful for any man who showed us attention, however dodgy or despicable that man was”. Despite being 18 years younger than Gordon, I found myself relating entirely to what she recounted. As a little girl, I would spend hours envisaging an imaginary universe where a handsome man would whisk me away. For 10 years my new year’s resolution was to “get a boyfriend”. I cringe looking back at that version of myself, so desperate for validation that any “dodgy or despicable” man would do.
The women of Love Island have proven to me that female friendships build confidence and security to a far greater and more fulfilling degree than any romantic relationship. When Jordan gaslit Anna, leaving her distraught and irate, it was the defensive wall built by Amber, Molly-Mae and Maura that protected her from the emotional tsunami coming her way. Without the support offered by the women in the villa this year, so many of the female islanders would have been left alone with the insecurities and anxieties that accompany rejection, especially in the gaze of the ruthless Twittersphere. As Dolly Alderton writes, female friendship is a “big, beautiful, ebullient force of nature” and the women of Love Island 2019 act as a wonderfully inspiring case study for this.
Romantic relationships can be exhilarating, electrifying and exciting but what I’m beginning to learn is that allowing your self-worth to be defined by a match on Bumble on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or a DM on Instagram in response to a carefully posed and filtered selfie, will never instil in you the confidence that a gutsy and empowering speech from a female friend will. In the words of Belle Hassan, “There’s seven billion people on the planet, you’re gonna base your confidence off of six?”
As women, we’re taught that extrinsic validation from men is what our worth is predicated on but if I’d grown up with the self-empowerment of Maura Higgins, the self-esteem of Amber Gill and the self-assurance of Yewande Biala making headline news, I would have begun my journey to self-love far sooner.
One day I hope that writing articles like this won’t be necessary and that seeing strong, empowered women on TV will be the norm. I hope that women are content with the love of their female friends and don’t feel the need to endlessly search for a romantic connection to validate their existence. Most of all, I hope that Love Island continues to highlight the fascinating idiosyncrasies of love and friendship and emotion; proving that there is so much more to reality TV than gaining a few thousand followers on Instagram.
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