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How watching Love Island influences British women’s body image

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Moya Crockett
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As new research reveals the show’s impact on women’s feelings about their appearance, feminist campaigners are increasing pressure on ITV to drop ads for cosmetic surgery. 

If you’re a Love Island fan, you’ve likely noticed that the show’s ad breaks are peppered with commercials for plastic surgery and diet products. And if you’re like a significant number of other women, those ads – combined with the narrow beauty ideals depicted in Love Island itself – are likely to leave you feeling… kind of bad about yourself.

That’s the conclusion of new research by YouGov, which revealed that 40% of women aged 18-34 feel more self-conscious about their body and appearance after watching Love Island. Thirty percent of female Love Island fans had considered going on a diet to lose weight after watching the reality series, 22% felt the show had made them more likely to get their teeth whitened, and more than 10% had contemplated getting lip fillers.

The research was commissioned by feminist organisation Level Up, which is currently campaigning to get ITV to drop ads for plastic surgery and diet products from Love Island breaks.

Level Up’s executive director Carys Afoko is a Love Island fan herself, but describes ITV’s decision to sell ad space to cosmetic surgery and diet companies as “downright irresponsible”.

“It’s time ITV execs put viewers mental health above the bottom line and dropped cosmetic surgery and diet ads from next year’s show,” she says. 

Afoko she is concerned about how ads for cosmetic surgery could be affecting women’s body image – particularly when Love Island itself promotes a very specific, and often surgically enhanced, image of womanhood.

“As a Love Island addict I was shocked when I was bombarded with adverts for boob jobs and diet sprinkles when I watched the show on catch-up,” she says. “Like many women I regularly feel bad about how I look. The last thing I need after watching Megan and Laura looking stunning in bikinis are adverts like this.”

Level Up launched its campaign earlier this month, and appealed to the public to contact ITV to let them know how they felt about seeing ads for cosmetic surgery and diet companies during Love Island breaks. 

A spokeswoman for the group says that thousands of Level Up’s supporters have since contacted the broadcaster, including a man who believes that adverts for diet products could “trigger a relapse for his anorexic daughter”.

But in a statement to Stylist.co.uk, a spokesperson for ITV rejected the idea that its ads were irresponsible. “ITV takes its responsibility to viewers very seriously and ensures adverts broadcast during our programmes adhere to The UK Code of Broadcast Advertising’s rules on the content and scheduling of advertising,” the spokesperson said.  

This season of Love Island has prompted many conversations about the show’s limited depiction of different kinds of bodies. In a Stylist cover story, Tanya Gold also made the connection between the reality series’ bodily aesthetic and its promotion of plastic surgery. 

“Today’s ideal for women seems to be a combination of both thin and fat, which is almost impossible to achieve without surgery, and there is something very sinister and self-hating about that, something connected to the absurd reach advertising has today,” Gold wrote.

“It is as if nothing about women’s bodies can ever be good enough – and why would that be? Large breasts and a thigh gap? To be both thin and fat is a near-impossible ideal, but there is money in impossible ideals – which is why they are invented and sold to women who should be more comfortable with themselves.”

Writing for Stylist.co.uk, meanwhile, Danielle Dash questioned the treatment of Samira, the only black woman in the Love Island villa. “Men will pine after a Megan or a Laura before ever considering a Samira, because that’s what they’ve been taught to do,” she wrote.

The women of Level Up know their campaign won’t be able to dismantle the reductive beauty ideals that Love Island represents on its own. But they hope their new research will convince ITV executives, at least, that they have an ethical responsibility to drop plastic surgery ads from the show.

“ITV really aren’t taking this issue seriously enough,” says Janey Starling, Level Up’s campaign manager. “As a broadcaster they’re being completely irresponsible by ignoring the warnings given from the NHS, mental health experts and nutritionists about the harmful impact of these adverts.

“It’s evident that the advertising bosses at ITV really couldn’t care less about women’s wellbeing.”

Main image: ITV

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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