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Feminists are calling for an end to Love Island’s plastic surgery ads

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Moya Crockett
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Viewers, the NHS and even plastic surgeons are calling on ITV2 to scrap the plastic surgery ads in Love Island breaks. We spoke to the feminist organisation behind the #LoveIslandAds campaign. 

If you’re an avid fan of Love Island, like millions of people around the UK, you’ll likely to have spotted a disconcerting trend. No, not Alex’s sunburn or the use of the word “sort”: a trend in the ads. During breaks in the hit ITV2 dating show, viewers are regularly shown adverts for beauty products and fashion brands – as well as plastic surgery and diet products.

Now, a feminist action group is calling on ITV2 to drop diet and plastic surgery commercials from Love Island ad breaks. Level Up – the organisation behind a recent campaign to get men featured in The Sun’s ‘Bust of Britain’ cleavage competition – is asking Love Island viewers who dislike being bombarded with diet and surgery ads to voice their disapproval on social media, using the hashtag #LoveIslandAds. They hope that with enough public pressure, the channel will reconsider its advertising choices.

The advertising is “very targeted”, Level Up’s Janey Starling tells stylist.co.uk

“There’s been an editorial decision here,” she says. “It’s no coincidence that there’s a TV show centred on women walking around in bikinis with perfect bodies, and then in the ad break it conveniently tells you exactly how to get a body like that – if you’re willing to pay.”

It’s not just feminists who are unhappy with the ads being shown during Love Island. Level Up’s campaign comes shortly after Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, warned that the images were “playing into a set of pressures around body image” that harm young women.

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has also written to ITV CEO Dame Carolyn McCall and the culture secretary Matt Hancock, describing the adverts as “unacceptable” and demanding they be pulled.

“Strategically placing cosmetic surgery adverts during programmes that target young adults and paint a false picture of perfection is not only patronising but is adding to young people’s insecurities and contributing to distress among vulnerable people,” the charity stated in a letter

Starling says that Level Up’s staff had been concerned about the advertising in Love Island since the series began, but were inspired to launch the #LoveIslandAds campaign after hearing the concerns of medical bodies and mental health organisations.

“Everybody’s hooked on Love Island and we’re no different,” she says. “But as we’ve been following it, we’ve had this nagging sense of: nah, this isn’t cool, come on.

“As a woman, you get so used to this kind of thing in bikini body-shaming season that you almost just roll your eyes,” she continues. “But when the NHS came out against it and said it was harmful, and then even the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons said it was inappropriate, we thought, no, actually, this is ridiculous.”

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) has called for a full ban on advertising for plastic surgery, with former president and plastic surgeon Douglas George telling the BBC it was “inappropriate” and “opportunistic” to show such ads to under-18s. 

According to the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, Love Island is watched by 175,000 people under the age of 15 – and over 10% (22,000) of this group are children aged seven or under.

Level Up is concerned about the effect of the ads on young women and girls, but also on adult women. Unlearning toxic messages about how one’s body should look is a “lifelong journey” for many women, says Starling. 

“Being a teenage girl is a very body-conscious time, but that doesn’t stop magically when you hit 18.” 

Registered nutritionist Dr Laura Thomas, who has raised concerns about the “skinny sprinkles” advertised on the channel, is supporting Level Up’s campaign. 

She says that while Love Island is “entertaining”, it “lacks diversity in terms of bodies represented, sending the message that only one type of body is beautiful”.

“We know from research in this area that internalising the thin ideal is a risk factor for eating disorders, engaging in risky weight control behaviours such as fasting and laxative abuse and body image disturbance,” she says.

“Advertising diet supplements and plastic surgery is preying on the vulnerabilities and insecurities that young people have around their bodies and reinforces the message that in order to be seen as beautiful and valuable they have to conform to these narrow standards that are biogenetically difficult, if not impossible for most people.”

Starling emphasises that Level Up’s goal is not to make women feel bad about dieting or having or wanting plastic surgery.

“Women can do whatever they want to feel great about themselves,” she says. “But these adverts are just adding to the already massive pressure on women’s bodies to look a certain way in the summer.”

When contacted by stylist.co.uk, a spokesperson for ITV2 said all adverts for cosmetic surgery shown during Love Island breaks had been approved by ad clearance agency Clearcast and contained messaging that plastic surgery should not be undertaken lightly.

“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.

But Carys Afoko, chief executive of Level Up, says that adhering to advertising codes isn’t enough. 

“I love Love Island but I hate being told how I should look, especially when the show promotes quite a narrow standard of beauty,” she says.

“It’s time ITV2 behaved responsibly and banned surgery and diet advertising during Love Island commercial breaks.”

Main image: ITV2

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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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