What have you been doing at 9pm every night? Counting Kendall’s tears on Love Island? Same.
Eleven (and then thirteen) singles were stranded in a Majorcan villa in search of true, everlasting love and 3.4 million of us are glued to the telly set, waiting to see if Danny Dyer’s daughter will fall for a man with florescent teeth. The show gave ITV2 its highest-ever ratings, meaning it’s a seriously influential hour of constructed reality. A reality that, sadly, doesn’t exactly reflect the British population.
Watching the contestants arrive in bikinis and boardies with their mic packs strapped across taut abs, you probably noticed a few things immediately. The women have virtually identical body shapes, for one.
They’re all impossibly petite, long-limbed, tanned and toned, like they just walked out of a hair removal gel commercial. The men are all ripped and studly – particularly immediate villain Adam, whose muscle tone is only matched by his self-confidence.
Love Island 2018: All the details you need to know
The casting directors of Love Island have passionately rejected body diversity, giving us an ensemble of sinewy, Instagram-ready clones to marvel at each night. Given that the average woman in the UK is size 16 with a 34-inch waist and 36DD breasts, the girls looks don’t exactly put the ‘reality’ in ‘reality TV’. In fact, Twitter was awash with women comparing themselves to our Love Island ladies – it’s hard not to, when you’re presented with five replicas, each achieving society’s ultimate beauty standards seemingly effortlessly, with hardly the bat of an eyelash extension.
Love Island has, thankfully, improved its ranking in some other forms of diversity. In a slight improvement from previous years, we now have two people of colour in the line-up. Twenty-two-year-old West End dancer Samira Mighty is the first black woman on the show – and she was asked within minutes by a fellow contestant whether she could twerk. She was also, suspiciously, the last woman to be picked to couple up. In 2017, there had been 39 female contestants to date and only three of them were mixed race. Not a single black woman had set her perfectly manicured foot on Love Island, and it truly cannot be because there were none auditioning.
The absence of black women on Love Island has been conspicuous and weird, especially since other dating shows like Dinner Date and Take Me Out have introduced more racially diverse casts (though, it has to be said, they’re often trolled). Representation matters, so why has it taken this long to cast one impossibly beautiful black woman?
Then we have Wes Nelson, the 20-year-old electrical systems engineer who’s gone viral a few times on Instagram with kickboxing videos. Last year, we had two black men, this year we’ve got one. It still feels a little like tokenism. Fifty-five percent of Londoners are BAME and apparently 150,000 people applied for this season of ITV’s sauciest show. Surely, there were people of other nationalities in those piles of auditions tapes. Where are the people of Asian background? Pakistani and Indian are in the top five nationalities of people who live in the UK; where are they? Where’s our Muslim contestant? Why do we only get one person of colour per gender group?
Could it be that reality TV producers are frightened that if they cast someone diverse, that person will be subjected to racism or prejudice? Is the viewing public ready for a diverse cast? Who do we blame here? Remember the treatment of Alexandra Burke when she was a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing. The Guardian ran the numbers and found that people of colour or minorities were more likely to get voted off the show sooner than white contestants. Being in an ethnic minority increased a dancer’s chance of being in bottom two by 71 per cent.
Reality TV as a genre has had a complicated relationship with diversity. Take two of the other major reality TV shows on air, The Only Way is Essex and Made in Chelsea. According to Vice, the two shows have had 177 main cast members, with just six being people of colour and only three black. What all this means is that we’re watching a parade of mostly white, offensively attractive people pretend to develop feelings for each other in captivity. It’s disappointing, potentially harmful and it has to be said, a little bit boring.
Love Island courts millions of viewers each weeknight – wouldn’t it be glorious is they embraced a little difference in their casting tactics? Imagine if we had, at the very least, women with curves, men with imperfect bellies, people with different sexualities and an ethnic mix that did justice to the multiculturalism of the people switching their tellies over to ITV2 at 9pm. It is an opportunity missed – one I hope producers might grasp next year.
Seeing the Love Island girls without makeup is making us want to champion the natural look this summer