TUXtra explores why ITV2’s hit show is so addictive – and questions if ‘The Love Island Effect’ could be causing viewers harm.

For many, ITV2’s hit reality TV show Love Island has become an iconic staple of the British summer.

Despite being in it’s 5th season, viewer’s appetites for the sun bathed, fly-on-the-wall, dating series does not appear to be diminishing.

It’s quite the opposite in fact, with Monday’s climax – which saw Amber Gill and Greg O’Shea crowned winners and walk away with a share of £50,000 – watched by an estimated 3.56 million.

ITV bosses have also reported record breaking audience figures of over 6 million during the shows two-month summer run, making it one of the UK’s most watched shows of the year.

Hailing the show’s performance, whilst announcing plans to extend to a twice yearly format from 2020, ITV’s Controller of Digital, Paul Mortimer called the show “the perfect format that engages younger audiences”.

However, as impressive as these viewing figures are, they still underestimate the real power and reach of the show.

It is a show that has developed it’s own lexicon, become a regular source for tabloid and day-time TV gossip, that forever trends on social media – it’s been reported there have been over 2 billion Twitter impressions for this series alone!

Put simply, it has become impossible to avoid the Love Island “MESSAGE”. Love Island has become a part of the nation’s consciousness, whether you actively watch or not.

Love Island series five winners Greg O'Shea (left) and Amber Gill (right)
Love Island series five winners Greg O’Shea (left) and Amber Gill (right)

Why is Love Island such addictive viewing?

The draw of watching a group of scantily clad, ‘peng sort’ 20-something individuals ‘crack-on’ and couple-up inside a luxurious Mallorcan Villa is not difficult to understand should you allow yourself to.

Critics, of which there are many, tend to argue this is an example of TV ‘dumbing down’ and are repulsed by the idea of watching vacuous wannabe-celebs parade themselves in front of many, many cameras.

But it’s often evident from this viewpoint that these individuals have not actually watched the show – and whilst they are not a million miles away in their assessment – they commonly miss key aspects that make this show so addictive to those who choose to follow it.

For at the heart of what is unashamed escapism following a hard day’s work, is a TV show full of characters and experiences that it’s audience can clearly identify with.

Love Island grabs at our inner dreams, our desires for finding a perfect summer of love and projects them to us through our TV, tablet and computer screens.

Writing in the Guardian on ‘Why is Love Island so Popular‘, Nichi Hodgson affirms this idea.

“From an audience perspective, start to empathise, however briefly, and you’ll start to invest in the outcome – and keep watching.”

Love Island series five contestants Lucie Donlan, Tommy Fury, Amber Gill, Curtis Pritchard and Anna Vakili
Love Island series five contestants Lucie Donlan, Tommy Fury, Amber Gill, Curtis Pritchard and Anna Vakili

But this is not the only insatiable aspect of the show.

The attraction of peering into other people’s lives is as strong as it was when the net curtain was invented – with Love Island simply removing the need to balance on a chair whilst holding a cup to the wall.

It is also TV that has what was once dubbed ‘the water-cooler effect’ in abundance – as Hodgson, author of The Curious History of Dating: From Jane Austen to Tinder goes on to explain;

“Add to this the chatter from Twitter, and water-cooler gossip with friends and family about why and who deserves to win, and we begin to see why this show inflames us – how to love is so rarely cross-examined that to hear someone we know and care for profess an entirely opposing view on it enthrals and infuriates us in equal measure.

“At this point, we may even continue to watch – and keep debating it – to keep the mutual personal excavation going.

But it is an earlier line from Hodgson that sums up Love Island’s appeal succinctly.

“This is a lesson in how humans meet, mate, hate and doubt themselves and one another again and again. What’s not to love?”

Unbridled commercial success

Given this intoxicating mix has ensured the show has generated a loyal fan base in the 16 to 35 age bracket, it should come as no surprise that Love Island has also become an unbridled commercial success.

Bucking the general trend of falling revenue in TV advertising, Love Island’s success was such that it received a special mention in ITV’s half yearly financial reports and has been previously described by company bosses as commercial “gold dust“.

Advertisers keen to display their products to that all important youth market can’t get enough of Love Island it seems, with UK takeaway firm Uber Eats reportedly paying £5 million to secure headline sponsorship ahead of this summers run.

One of the series favourites, Ovie Soko, relaxes in the Love Island villa
One of the series favourites, Ovie Soko, relaxes in the Love Island villa

The show also exists as a living, breathing, catwalk.

This year online fashion retailer I Saw It First were the official outfit partners, allowing viewers to get the ‘Love Island Look’ of their favourite islanders at the click of a button.

And of course there’s merch!

How could fans even contemplate their own trips abroad without their very own official Love Island suitcase and water bottle?

If that wasn’t enough, not content with conquering UK screens, franchise versions of the show are now in production across 9 different countries, including Australia, Germany and most recently the US, taking the ‘Love Island Effect’ global.

But in understanding Love Island’s commercial success and the apparent ability of the show to sell to its impressionable viewers a desirable, purchasable, image – should alarm bells start to ring within us as to the wider impact this show is having on our own self-esteem?

Could our enjoyment of  a simple TV show be coming at a cost to our own mental health?

The Love Island Effect

This is certainly a concern raised by Chartered Psychologist and NHS Mental Health Trust Governor Kimberley Wilson.

Taking to Instagram under a post titled ‘The Love Island Effect’ Wilson stressed “the impact of viewing images of ‘perfect’ bodies on individual self-esteem.”

“Research indicates that scrolling through hundreds of social media body images increases body dissatisfaction and watching hours of image-focused reality TV may do the same.”

Wilson’s post continued, “A 2010 Spanish study found that males and females with disordered eating had consumed more body image-focused media (TV and magazines).”

Chartered Psychologist, Kimberley Wilson took to Instagram to warn about The Love Island Effect
Chartered Psychologist, Kimberley Wilson took to Instagram to warn about The Love Island Effect

Indeed, there is an argument to be made that the shows commercial success is built around exploiting a psychological aspect known as Social Comparison Theory.

This thesis suggests individuals continually determine their own social and personal worth against their perception of others on a myriad of levels, including attractiveness, wealth, intelligence and success.

Whilst this process can result in positive actions and a person seeking self-improvement, psychologists have also observed that this method of self-evaluation can also prompt feelings of deep personal dissatisfaction and lead to destructive behaviour.

So should it be a surprise that a typical Love Island ad-break contains adverts from fashion outlets, cosmetics companies and fast food chains?

It would seem which ever side of the social comparison theory you fall on, there is a very deliberate “MESSAGE” from advertisers waiting for you.

Worrying statistics

Love Island’s success also comes at a time when we are seeing an increasing amount of worrying trends and statistics on mental health, particularly in young people.

As part of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation released startling figures which identified that 1 in 5 UK adults had felt shame because of their body image within the last year.

Part of their ‘Body Image Report’ these figures increased to 37% feeling “upset” and 31% “ashamed” when looking at teenagers.

And whilst the foundation pointed out that “having body image concerns is a relatively common experience and is not a mental health problem in and of itself” they went on to highlight that “it can be a risk factor for mental health problems”.

“Research has found that higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders” it went on to warn.

Increasing use of IPED’s use amongst men

A further distinction to make is that issues surrounding body image and indeed the ‘Love Island Effect’ is not a female-only topic.

Many studies are finding an increasing amount of men using Image and Performance Enhancing Drugs and links are being made to the impact modern day media and shows like Love Island are having on this.

The ‘National IPED Drug Survey‘, authored by The Public Health Institute found that just over 56% of participants were said to be using steroids for “aesthetic reasons” followed closely by 45% who used for “non-competitive bodybuilding.”

They also summarised that “the average person using IPEDs in the UK is likely to be a white British male, in their 30’s.”

There have also been numerous anecdotal accounts across news outlets, including ITV’s own report in February this year.

Tom Powell, who entered the Love Island villa in series two felt the pressure to maintain a certain body image.
Tom Powell, who entered the Love Island villa in series two felt the pressure to maintain a certain body image.

Under the title “the pressure to look good led me to taking steroids” they spoke to 2016 Love Islander contestant Tom Powell, who reflected on the thought process that led to him using IPED’s.

“Everyone that’s been on Ex On The Beach or all these different reality TV shows, they’re all in very good shape. I’ve got to be on the same level as them, if not better.

“The added pressure of people constantly, constantly judging you. With thousands of people watching me every single day, it just gets to you.”

Direct criticism towards the show

With these statistics and stories becoming more commonplace, Love Island is now facing more criticism that ever before.

Concerns about the show particularly increased in the run-up to this most recent series, following the deaths of two former contestants, Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis, who appeared on series two and three respectively.

A further spotlight was thrown on the welfare of participants in TV shows following an incident involving another ITV show – the death of Steve Dymond following an appearance on Jeremy Kyle – and has since seen the industry regulator Ofcom propose new rules to protect people in TV and Radio Shows.

In response, ITV released details of its ‘duty of care processes’ ahead of series five, with Creative Director ITV Studios Entertainment Richard Cowles commenting;

“Due to the success of the show, our Islanders can find themselves in the public eye following their appearance.
“We really want to make sure they have given real consideration to this and what appearing on TV entails. Discussing all of this with us forms a big part of the casting process and, ultimately, their decision to take part.
“Also, as we are outlining today our welfare processes follow three key stages: pre-filming, filming and aftercare and we are increasing our post filming support to help Islanders following their time in villa.”
Fans of the show were rocked by the news of the deaths of former Love Islanders Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon
Fans of the show were rocked by the news of the deaths of former Love Islanders Mike Thalassitis and Sophie Gradon
Some sombre consultation could be taken from the fact these sad events have lead to important conversations being had on the subject of mental health becoming more widespread.
It is also clear that Love Island has sparked some much needed debate around dating rituals and behaviours, throwing a spotlight on subjects such as gas lighting.
But whilst the show itself remains largely a vehicle for commercial entertainment, the question still remains, should more consideration be being given to the impact Love Island might be having on the mental health of its viewers?

Qualified views from the North-East

In an effort to find some local qualified opinion on this topic, we caught up with two leading lights within the North-East beauty industry at Bridges shopping centre’s recent Beauty Week event.

A self-confessed Love Island addict, elite make-up artist, Amanda Bell, has been responsible for applying the finishes touches to stars names such as Sienna Miller, Jessica Biel and Emilia Fox over a glittering 20 year career.

Born in Durham and having studied at South Tyneside collage, Bell has now returned to the area to setup her own beauty studio in Norton and was able to see positives in the show from her professional viewpoint.

Former head make up artist for the BAFTA's Amanda Bell is a huge fan of Love Island
Former head make up artist for the BAFTA’s Amanda Bell is a huge fan of the show

“From where makeup is concerned, I really like it because it shows them just kicking around the pool during the day and that transformation in the evening.”

And when discussing this years line-up, she felt improvements in representation had been made.

“You’ve got girls that are different shapes and sizes… it is more representative than it has been in recent years. Some of the girls are quite natural.”

For Bell, it was clear she didn’t see anything wrong in indulging on an evening, providing things were taken in moderation.

“If you watch it for entertainment purposes… which is what I do, I just think it’s great, a great watch.”

However, the viewpoint of Sunderland based blogger and influencer, Laura Ferry, couldn’t have been more contrasting.

Having just delivered an empowering talk to a captive audience on ‘Summer Body Confidence’, the author and creator of What Laura Loves felt the show parroted a tired idea of “perfection” that has consistently been in the media.

Criticising the way that the show only portrayed “one side of beauty” and “one idea of being able”, Ferry was also concerned that if contestants of different body types were used, they’d be subjected to a worrying degree of online trolling.

Social media influencer and body confidence champion Laura Ferry was critical of the way Love Island handles body image
Social media influencer and body confidence champion Laura Ferry was critical of the way Love Island handles body image

And in discussing her own journey to becoming body confident, Ferry was quick to point to the dangers in watching shows like Love Island.

“If I watched it years ago I would have thought I would need to look like these people and put a lot of pressure on myself.”

Asserting she no longer consumed “that type of media” Ferry added;

“From the moment that you put that TV programme on, you’re being sold to.

“Nobody is bothered about your health, no one’s bothered about your mental health, they’re bothered about selling to you and that’s it.”

What do you think?

Are you a fan of the show? Have you felt the Love Island Effect? Would Love Island be the same show if it became more representative?

We’d love you to join in the conversation. Get in touch with us on Twitter @TU_Xtra #TheLoveIslandEffect

Links: Love Island; The Love Island Effect; Social Comparison Theory; Mental Health Foundation; Amanda Bell; Laura Ferry;

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