Leading Mental Health Charity Criticises Love Island, As New Statistics Reveal 1 in 4 Worry About Body Image

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Jun 4, 2019

Leading Mental Health Charity Criticises Love Island, As New Statistics Reveal 1 in 4 Worry About Body Image

The Mental Health Foundation has released criticism of the new series of popular reality TV series, Love Island, alongside the release of new statistics highlighting the negative impact of reality TV on our body image

Nearly one in four of (24%) aged 18-24 feel reality TV makes them worry about their body image, according to the latest survey data released by the Mental Health Foundation. These latest statistics, released ahead of last night’s new series of Love Island, suggest that the show could leave thousands of young adults feeling worried about their own bodies.

Love Island has been the subject of much controversy thanks to the ‘perfect’ bodies it has featured in past and current seasons, with questions arising around the impact the show has on the mental health and wellbeing of both contestants and viewers. Questions have arisen, asking: has reality TV run its course?

In May 2019, calls to axe Love Island followed the news that Jeremy Kyle had been cancelled as a guest was revealed to have tragically died. As musician Lucy Spraggan was quick to highlight on social media, for many concerned it’s not about axing shows that these questions have arisen. It’s about the support and care that is provided for those involved.

The Mental Health Foundation, a charity dedicated to helping the population understand, protect, and sustain their mental health, has expressed concern about the impact of some TV shows (including Love Island) on viewers. Particular concern has been expressed around programmes created for younger audiences who are most likely to experience distress and uncertainty about their bodies.

The latest survey of over 4,500 UK by YouGov revealed that almost a quarter of 18-24s (23%) have experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings due to concerns about their body image. One in seven (15%) have self-harmed because of concerns around their body image. In May of this year, the charity’s Body Image Report revealed millions of teens identify social media as a key cause of their worries about body image. According to the report, seeing images of ‘ideal’ bodies can contribute to us feeling more distressed and ashamed about our own bodies if they do not match up to the presented ‘ideal’ aspiration.

Dr Antonis Kousoulis from the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Millions of people enjoy Love Island for a whole range of reasons.  Our concern is how the programme projects body images that are not diverse, largely unrealistic and presented as aspirational.

“Our research clearly shows that a large number of young people say reality TV has a negative impact on how they feel about their own bodies. Concern about body image is linked to anxiety, depression and feelings of shame and disgust.

“We had hoped that Love Island’s producers would choose a more representative range of contestants for the new series, bearing in mind the likely impact on their predominantly young audience.

”This lack of diversity is further feeding unhealthy advertising and media coverage. Love Island has issued mental health aftercare guidelines for contestants but they must also take into consideration the potential damage being done to viewers.”

Critics hit back against Love Island’s ‘more diverse cast’. This season, set to be the first to feature a plus-size contestant, Jada Sezer, received criticism for its lack of body diversity, as it features yet another cast of widely slim, white, and young lineup.

With the average UK woman is thought to be a size 16, many are seeing the inclusion of a single plus-sized model as a token effort from the show. In 2018, controversy arose surrounding cosmetic surgery adverts shown during the airing of Love Island. The Mental Health Foundation successfully complained to the Advertising Standards Authority on the grounds that these ads painted a false image of perfection that may exacerbate young people’s insecurities. The ads were later banned.  

“Television can play a powerful role for good in improving people’s mental health, raising awareness and tackling Stigma” Dr Kousoulis explained. “But it is not acceptable to keep allowing the aspects of television that have the potential to harm people’s mental health to go unchecked. For these reasons, we are asking ITV to:

  • work with the Advertising Standards Authority to pre-vet all advertising shown during the show’s airtime, in particular, those from high-risk industries, including cosmetic surgery, weight loss products, and fashion
  • clearly publish details of the psychological support and be consistent in providing that support to contestants
  • take care that the final edited cuts included in the show are free to language that is shaming, discriminatory, or triggering in regards to mental health”  

In 2018, Love Island saw more than 3.9 million viewers tuning in. Dr Kousoulis has asked the Chair of the DMS Parliamentary Inquiry into Reality TV to broaden the scope of its inquiry, hoping that they will include the impact reality TV can have on its audiences.

While audiences may find reality TV to be fascinating, more and more viewers are starting to ask: what happens once the cameras stop rolling, and the media stop covering their stories? Is enough being done to look after contestants mental health and wellbeing?

In May 2019, following the confirmed death of a guest on the Jeremy Kyle Show, it was announced that the Government had opened up an inquiry into the production companies’ duty of care to participants. As journalist Caroline Cadwelladr highlighted, many were “amazed it took this long” for such a tragedy to occur, as the show, bringing an estimated one million viewers in per episode, was known for its provocative content and combative set-up.

Worried that you may be watching too much reality TV, or concerned it could be affecting your overall wellbeing? Counsellor and psychologist, Philip Karahassan shares his advice on how you can get out of reality TV (and back to reality).

Struggling with your own body image? Discover more about body neutrality, and how it can offer a safe space for body acceptance without the pressure of body positivity. Counsellor Noel Bell shares his tips on how you can maintain a positive body image during the social media era, or check out counsellor Fiona Corbett’s advice on how therapy can help you change your body image for the better.

If you are worried about a young person’s body image issues, it can be tricky to know where to start. Past research has revealed over 60% of young women have low self-confidence and poor body image. Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa, Pablo Vandenabeele, shares his advice on how parents can help teens with body image issues, or try these nine actionable tips to help teens improve their body image now.

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