Love Island 2021 had the unfortunate timing of landing back on our screens one year after the "summer of promises". You know, when producers, TV execs, actors and other famous and powerful people came together and promised us changes would be made after thousands marched throughout the UK and around the world in the name of social justice. To say this season of the show where singles come to find love is under the microscope would be an understatement. I bring up all of that to say this: the show's popularity hasn't dwindled because of the pandemic, but after the aforementioned "summer of promises", many viewers are holding Love Island's feet to the proverbial fire — we want change.
Love Island is one of few reality shows that has mastered the art of getting us as viewers emotionally invested in its contestants year on year. There are stan accounts on Twitter dedicated to the show, people write entire dissertations about each episode, and some former islanders have become staples on the Love Island recap scene. This season has been no different, except the moments that have been explosive and unacceptable have actually started conversations about whether the show can truly exist in a social justice forward world.
Love Island should have taken a longer break to formulate a real plan that prioritises its contestants' mental health and ways to control the overwhelming negativity online.
Over the past year, there has been an unearthing of ugly truths when it comes to diversity in the UK, which has been a catalyst for conversations surrounding other causes such as ableism, body positivity, and mental health. The direct effect of these conversations can be seen in the Twitter discourse surrounding Love Island filled with words such as toxic, diversity, mansplaining, and microaggressions, as well as the questioning of the amount of fast fashion peddled on the show. Feddy-gate garnered the show 25,000 Ofcom complaints and had most of us wondering whether Love Island should continue to exist at all.
Questions about whether the show should have come back so soon after Caroline Flack's death and its inability to control the hateful vitriol some islanders face due to their portrayal were brewing before the season even started. #Bekind was a step in the right direction to help remind fans that their words can be damaging; however, the hashtag is a flimsy barricade against the Goliath that is online bullying and hurtful messages. Love Island should have taken a longer break to formulate a real plan that prioritises its contestant's mental health and ways to control the overwhelming negativity online.
In 2021, Love Island is upholding themes that society no longer finds acceptable and, because of this, needs to evolve with the cultural climate. From its inception, there has been a lack of diversity in the body types portrayed on the show, and the in-your-face glorification of perfection via plastic surgery hasn't helped. There has never been a plus-size contestant on the show, and prior to Hugo Hammond, there has never been a contestant with a visible disability. This season, we saw the girls openly discuss what work they've had done, which was a breath of fresh air, but at the same time made me think: what message is this sending to young viewers?
Evolution in all things is inevitable, and Love Island is not exempt from this.
One message that has not changed, and has become one of the show's most controversial talking points, is the way it has forced fast fashion down our throats. At a time when clothing companies are striving to be more sustainable, Love Island has put a spotlight on brands that are doing the exact opposite. There is a widely known running joke that some islanders come on the show in hopes of snagging a Boohoo or PLT deal, rather than to find love, and the show perpetuates this by essentially grooming them for these contracts. Everything worn by contestants is available to shop on the show's exclusive fast fashion retailer ISawItFirst, and beauty products are shoppable on LookFantastic.com.
Like most reality shows, Love Island is a business first and a competition show about love second. None of us are clutching our pearls about the appearance of fast fashion on the show — we simply want to see it evolve with the sustainability efforts currently being implemented in fashion worldwide. Evolution in all things is inevitable, and Love Island is not exempt from this. If anything, due to its popularity, we've all taken a closer look at the show that has a vice grip-like hold on our 9 p.m. time slot.
If the only change they can think of is to implement a hashtag to safeguard their contestants, then perhaps it's time for Love Island to bow out gracefully.