We’ve all heard the disapproving haughty slurs from those who could not possibly bring themselves to waste a second of their precious time on Earth watching Love Island and who judge us mere plebs for doing so:
“Imagine having an IQ low enough to enjoy Love Island.”
“How could anybody watch this glorified STI clinic?”
“I don’t know what’s worse – actually wanting to be on the show or being stupid enough to watch it.”
Whilst these pompous self-aggrandisers may have the basis of an argument when it comes to the general intellect of the contestants appearing on the show (do I need to remind you of series four’s Hayley asking whether Brexit is something to do with trees, or of series five’s Casa Amor gang of Jordan, Joanna and Belle struggling to locate the countries where one might find Edinburgh, Rome and Barcelona), one cannot and should not underestimate the engaging qualities of the show which grip swathes of the nation night after night for months – a feat not to be scoffed at and an achievement only a very limited number of programmes can boast.
Social commentators, watching the show’s success exceed all expectation series after series, have pondered the question why we are so keen to watch these contestants, with their average backgrounds, predictable beauty, often lower than average intellects and roaring hunger for fame without any body of work to show for it, as they mug each other off, do bits and pie their old melt to go full factor 50 with the newest villa bev. This question even reached the lofty pages of the broadsheets in the summer of 2019 when it was revealed that more youngsters had applied for Love Island than they had for Oxford or Cambridge that year.
There are so many answers to this question: the fact that it is representative of a tranche of current British society not yet portrayed widely elsewhere in British media; it’s the product of this age of social media and self promotion; it reflects modern dating habits where we have more options at our finger tips than ever before…and so on.
But a big reason which is rarely discussed is the feel-good factor – a reason which only dawned on me this weekend as I caught up with the series’s latest episodes.
I’m not afraid to say I’m a pretty intellectual person and goddammit, I watch Love Island. I have a breadth of knowledge sufficiently vast to not only discuss the dangers of the narcissism encouraged by the show, but also recount the ancient Greek myth which serves as the origin of the word ‘narcissism’*. And whilst the routine pieing and head-turning doesn’t hold a mirror up to my own dating habits or exhibit anything to which I can really relate on an engaging level, it does noticeably give me a new-found confidence which manifests itself if a multitude of ways.
Last summer when the show was on, I found myself overhauling my wardrobe and including shades so bright you needed sunglasses just to admire them. I’m in a job where I’m required to dress quite frumpish, and up to last summer the sepia tones, baggy unflattering shapes and cardigans which were precisely the opposite of eye-catching had begun to seep into my casual weekend-wear. In my pre-work days, I was never afraid of trying a new pattern or flashing a bit of skin where necessary, but those days had passed as professional commitments came knocking and I was lucky if I had time to wash my hair, let alone style it (I went through a hazardous volume of dry shampoo). But whilst watching the fifth series of Love Island, I really began to reflect on which version of myself I was projecting to the world in all my browns and greys. There on my screen were girls my age, clad in skin tight fluorescent green whilst I was going out on a Saturday night in a figure-hiding top and midi skirt. I was never going to go so far as to wear pvc to my local, but seeing these girls unapologetically illuminating the Mallorcan skyline on a nightly basis with their choice of eye-popping hues really inspired me to start dressing my age.
I even started wearing strip lashes for the first time in my twenty five years and, although they took me a few practises to get right, I began to love the way I looked. I twinned these with some false nails (stick ons – I wasn’t quite ready to commit to acrylics) and felt so fierce that I actually began initiating conversations with boys I fancied, instead of just ignoring them and quietly hoping that they’ll somehow telepathically get the hint and start talking to me. It was the best I’ve felt in my whole adult life about myself and my appearance.
This confidence lasted for months after the end of series five, however the darkness of the winter months had begun to take their toll on me. I was carrying some “holiday weight” (to quote Ross Geller) and only saw greasy hair and puffy under-eyes whenever I subjected myself to a glimpse in the mirror. I put off dates with guys I’d been chatting to, on the basis that I didn’t want them to see me like this, but had little to no motivation to do anything about my dull appearance. Then, like thousands of others who rushed to their nearest screen last Monday night, I tuned into the first episode of the latest series of Love Island. Almost instantly, my own self confidence began to return. The more I’ve watched, the more this has continued, so much so that this weekend I saw a photo someone had taken of me and actually thought to myself “damn girl” – I did not verbally say this out loud…my family would have roasted me so hard I’d currently be writing this as a crisp pile of ash. But I, for the first time in weeks, saw myself as someone who may actually be attractive and I personally do not believe that to be a bad thing. I’m no more of a narcissist than anybody else (we’re all guilty of it in some form) but I actually feel confident in who I am and the way I look. Do I see the Islanders’ enviable midriffs and legs and wish I too was that svelte? Of course I do! But I’m also seeing the appeal in what I have to offer, and that is undeniably down to the energy projected from ‘the Villa’…via the ITV Hub.
Sure, there is the danger that seeing just this one body type which is rarely achievable if you live a normal life with responsibilities, whether they be familial, educational or professional, could be harmful to impressionable viewers who might be left feeling inadequate with their own appearance. Fortunately for me, my reality watching the show is the flip side of the coin. I see the Islanders’ confidence and feed off of it. It doesn’t make me feel that I have to look like them – it makes me want to show off that I look like me. So sit down all you Love Island haters, we all know you secretly love to hate it.
*Narcissus was a very attractive young man who showed nothing but disdain for his throng of admirers but found himself falling in love with what he thought was a man lying in the water facing up at him. Turns out, it was just his own reflection all along. Very narcissistic indeed.