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Call us on: 07733 274 522 or 07920 501 141

The far from perfect consequences of Reality TV

Confession time: Love Island 2019. We’re not watching it.

In this, it seems, we’re in the minority, for since it returned to ITV, social media in particular has been awash with all the latest updates, details and drama.

It isn’t our cup of tea, that much is clear, but our intention is not to deride. 

Each to their own and all that, and we do respect that for many, young people especially, Love Island – like other such television shows – is essential viewing.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t have a concern or two about it.

In this regard, it seems, we are far from alone.

We’re referring to a report – released this week by the Mental Health Foundation – that suggests that Love Island (and other such programmes) fuels the anxieties that countless adolescents (and those older) have about their bodies.

In a recent YouGov survey, 24% of those questioned said that reality shows cause them concerns about their own body image. To some this might appear a trifling issue at first glance, but consider the following: one in seven admitted to self-harming due to body image anxieties, whilst 23% had experienced suicidal thoughts.

Not, it must be stressed, as a direct consequence of watching Love Island.

But such is the show’s allure – and so sharp is its focus on showcasing and promoting ‘perfect bodies’ – the concerns raised are as real and great as the negative impact that such a programme can have on the anxious and the vulnerable.

One thing that we have to take issue with is the popular label reality TV, for such programmes are anything but realistic. Indeed, one newspaper headline that we read this week – Love Island doesn’t have a single male contestant who looks like a normal bloke – summed it up perfectly. The article in question, published in Metro, went on to conclude ‘Given that this is supposed to represent a broad cross section of the UK public, and is therefore moulding our perceptions of what ‘good-looking’ is, being a good looking man in 2019 entails having a six-pack, big biceps [and] a waxed chest. I have none of these.’

Herein lies the problem. 

The ‘perfect bodies’ shown to us on Love Island are far from representative. They’re presented as being aspirational – how young people should look – yet, in the main, this is both unrealistic and damaging. 

Because most people’s bodies don’t look like this. Because most people are unable to achieve such an appearance.

The passage quoted above focuses on Love Island’s muscle-bound male participants but teenage girls find themselves under even greater pressure to ‘look good’ and to conform.

Those who cannot, for whatever reason, do experience anxieties, and the consequences can be serious indeed. 

Self-harm, suicidal thoughts and in extreme cases, worse outcomes still. It’s something that, in our opinion, television executives must take into account and start to treat more seriously.

Because such things can and do have a negative impact. 

Because the damage caused can be severe.

Because this is far from a trifling issue.

There has been much discussion about aftercare for contestants and – more recently, in light of the Jeremy Kyle episode – talk about the consequences for those appearing on such shows.

That is right and proper but even more important, we believe, are the steps that need to be taken to protect those viewing.

Those who are susceptible to anxieties about their bodies. 

Those who are vulnerable. 

Those who are bombarded with such messages – online, on social media and, now, on primetime television.

Those who continue to be told that their bodies should be a kind of perfect that they’re just not able to achieve. Those who cannot cope as a consequence.

Conditions such as anorexia and bulimia claim more lives than all other forms of mental illness and anything that can fan the flames must be looked at in great detail. 

Love Island is not representative. Love Island is not reality.

Not all can see this and, while we’re not watching ourselves, we can recognise this for what it is: unrealistic, unrepresentative and unhelpful for those with certain anxieties. 

It’s an issue that must continue to be underlined.

* Do YOU have concerns about body image issues/anxieties, self-harm and/or eating disorders. Please contact CPUK here

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