Advertising causes problems with body image, TV talk shows claim it’s“ bad for teenagers,”and headlines dubbed it”toxic and hollow.” Love Island has been accused of epitomising everything that is wrong with the Instagram age – by placing a dozen preened, polished and beautiful contestants on TV in front of a susceptible young audience who end up feeling inferior.
But it’s unfair to say Love Island always has a toxic effect. Instagram has been accused of fuelling a “mental health epidemic” among young people, with the Royal Society for Public Health report naming it the worst social media platform for fuelling depression, anxiety, loneliness, bullying and poor body image. But Love Island might be the antidote.
Because it is filmed 24/7 for every blissful moment, we see the behind-the-scenes tears; for every romantic dalliance, there’s a bitter split. Sure, contestants parade around in swimwear and dress up every night, but we also see them take that makeup off and get into their pyjamas. When Dani Dyer’s boyfriend Jack went into a different villa, with his ex-girlfriend there as a surprise new contestant, Dani said she was scared he would meet a girl with “lipstick, tits, who doesn’t eat toasties every night”. These moments shatter the fakery of social-media images; if even these seemingly perfect people can experience self-doubt and heartbreak, perhaps it’s OK for the rest of us to feel the same.
Maybe this is part of its appeal. On Monday, the show pulled in the highest 16-to-34-year-old audience of any digital channel programme ever, with 1.7 million young viewers out of a total of 3.4 million.
Love Island has given us a salutary window into the psyche of the contestants, behind the confident veneers, and it has revealed a shocking fact: they are just like us. As A&E doctor Alex said when he had struggled, repeatedly, to find a romantic match: “I feel like I’m a leper or something … what is wrong with me?” Name a person who has not felt that way at some point in their lives.