Back in 2006, my mother and I became obsessed with the second Celebrity Love Island. Mainly because of our shared love of Strictly Come Dancing’s Brendan Cole and Shane Lynch from Boyzone, but also because it was a group of attractive celebrities sunning themselves on a tropical island and for an hour a day you could enjoy the sunshine from your own sofa. It was an hour where my mother and I would sit together, enjoying the drama, a welcome break from my GCSEs.
When it returned, a decade later, with non-celebrities, I was no longer interested. I had overdosed on TOWIE and Made in Chelsea, aged out of the 18-25 bracket. By the time season 3 rolled around, I was beginning to see more and more about Love Island, well, everywhere. It seemed everyone was talking about it and I happily ignored it. Three weeks later, however, I was on maternity leave with a brand new baby, breastfeeding throughout the night, lonely, tired and unable to concentrate on anything for more than 30 seconds. Flipping miserably through the channels, I stumbled upon Love Island. How bad can it be? I thought. I hated the first 15 minutes, but by the time the ads came, I was hooked. I was taken back to that summer, the comfort I got enjoying a show with someone else, something that didn’t require my full attention or to remember 18 different family names and 100 years of history.
Love Island has been heavily criticised for many reasons; it’s lack of diversity, terrible catchphrases, and its portrayal of women. Many critics lambast the show for presenting young people with unrealistic body goals and for just being plain boring and shallow. More notably, I secretly harbour fears that my enjoyment of the show means I am a terrible feminist. But does it?
While many of the women competing in Love Island do have what appear to be stereotypically female jobs, such as air hostesses and makeup artists, there are others with jobs that will show young viewers that it is possible to participate in traditionally masculine fields. For every Miss GB (Zara Holland) and Playboy Bunny (Hannah Elizabeth), there’s a lawyer (Rosie Williams), Pro surfer (Laura Crane), and who can forget, bomb disposal expert (Camilla Thurlow).
For all its faults, there are many things about Love Island that can actually bring joy to even the most fierce feminist. Firstly, everyone spends 12 weeks in swimwear. It’s not set up for the male gaze like many other shows, both male and female competitors dress up and dress down. The show may be shallow and vain, but at least it goes both ways. Both genders care about how they look, both genders are attractive, both genders are judged on their appearances. Both genders participate in stupid, often embarrassing games, and are largely treated the same in what they are expected to do.
I believe that Love Island actually presents viewers with women they can look up to. It shows that women can be fit and strong (like hard as rocks Gabby Allen), as well as smart (this year’s Yawande is a Scientist), and funny (Montana Brown and Olivia Attwood can banter with the best of them). And who can forget the incredible Camilla who challenged Jonny Mitchell on his opinion that we no longer need feminism because we have a female Prime Minister, strong enough to voice her opinions and have a calm and rational debate, where women can often be criticised for being emotional or dramatic for disagreeing. Camilla also called out the loveable Chris for being “disrespectful” to his partner Chloe, when he spoke poorly of her to new girls Gabby and Tyne-Lexy.
My favourite part of the show is the friendships. While many a bromance blossoms, this show celebrates female camaraderie. By and large, the women band together to support each other through heartache, ready to share clothes, do each other’s hair, provide a shoulder to cry on. It presents a full picture of the all-encompassing incredibleness of the girl gang. Most, admittedly not all, adhere to the “girl code”, remember how Georgia was called out for kissing Jack who was coupled up with Laura?
But the most feminist thing about Love Island is that it opens up important conversations. When Jonny exhibited controlling behaviour towards Tyla, charities used it as a moment to educate the public on signs of abuse. When the guys showed a lack of interest in Tyne-Lexi, the internet was awash with talk of how important it is to appreciate and be proud of bodies that are not stick-thin. When Zara was decrowned as Miss GB for having sex with Alex way back in series one, there was an outcry at the double standard that Zara was being punished for enjoying her sexuality when Alex faced no repercussions and eventually came second in the show, alongside his future wife, Olivia.
Love Island is a show that will continue to evolve as society decides what it wants to see, and what it believes to be acceptable. Right now, it may not be perfect, it suffers heavily from a lack of non-heterosexual relationships for example but is meant to be light entertainment. Most television is created to allow the viewer to switch off from daily life, unwind after work, be distracted from chores and responsibilities, and Love Island fulfils that criteria perfectly. And most importantly, no one should be judged for their interests, including their love of Love Island.