The word on the grapevine was that, for the first time ever, ITV’s Love Island was going to feature a plus size woman. People were hyped, excited about seeing a bigger body represented on a mainstream reality TV show. But when the lineup was revealed, it was pretty obvious it was business as usual: a parade of slim-to-built dudes and girls who ranged from thin to slim-but-curvy. No plus size contestant to be seen.
At first, people were disappointed, but then, reality crept in. As much as we’re gagging to see more plus size bodies on TV and in films, would appearing on Love Island actually turn out be a good thing for a plus size woman brave enough to go on the show?
Based on the response to contestants in previous seasons, we know that even thin female contestants have every physical attribute scrutinised in great detail and assessed at length, whether it’s their boobs or their lips. The psychological pressure of putting your body under a microscope is surely one of the more negative aspects of the Love Island experience. At the most extreme end, we’ve seen from the post-show suicides of reality TV participants, including those who have been on Love Island, that shows like this have the potential to leave people feeling lost, vulnerable and exposed. Personally, I’m not sure if I would want to push a plus size woman into that position, however desperate I am for greater representation of plus size bodies. But beyond the participants, there’s also the impact on the viewing public: people at home would inevitably feel empowered and inclined to comment on a plus size Love Islander’s body day after day, and the plus size women around them have to put up with hearing it. As a fat woman who’s Extremely Online, I don’t know if I want to be exposed to fatphobic discourse on Twitter and Good Morning Britain and the like for the next eight weeks.
But whether or not it would be a good thing, the fact is, we don’t even stand a chance at finding out. And it turns out that this is all part of the bizarre and false belief that fat women are somehow other, not fully part of the normal human experience. “It’s about people wanting to watch and them reacting and falling in love with another. Yes, we want to be as representative as possible but we also want them to be attracted to one another,” as Love Island boss Richard Cowles told the Sun. Of course a plus size woman is capable of falling in love, having someone fall in love with them, being attractive, striking up a romance or a sexual chemistry with someone else. It happens all the time, whether or not the Love Island producers can fathom it. The fact that the producers see ‘plus size’ as incompatible with ‘attractive’ shows the kind of environment that a plus contestant would be putting themselves in.
Even if Love Island would benefit from a plus size contestant, I’m yet to be convinced that a plus size contestant would benefit from Love Island.