On Monday night, the hugely popular and divisive “Love Island” returned to TV screens up and down the country filled with catchphrases and honed beach bodies.
The promotional images are glossy and brightly coloured, but even a passing glance at coverage of ‘Love Island’ unearths the darker underbelly of reality television.
In the past year two former contestants; Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis have died by suicide, as has a guest on the now axed show ‘Jeremy Kyle’. It seems that in the twenty years since Big Brother first opened the doors to a new era of reality TV, the tide is turning.
The tragic deaths of contestants is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how reality shows can affect wellbeing – and it’s not just the participants who are affected.
Recent research by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that 24% of respondents (aged between eighteen and twenty-four) experienced worry about their body image, 15% said they had self-harmed or deliberately hurt themselves because of concerns about their body image, and 23% had experienced suicidal thoughts because of concerns in relation to their body image.
We have a body image problem – and shows such as Love Island are not helping.
So what’s the solution? Axing the show? More body diversity?
It’s an idea which has been mentioned – not least because of the questions raised after Jeremy Kyle aired it’s last episode as a direct result of the suicide of a guest just one week after filming.
Whilst there is certainly an argument for not showing programmes that are seen to have detrimental effects on mental health, there is a more important response.
How can we instil, in our young people, the critical thinking and confidence to face the world in which we live?
Firstly, we have to be taking part in the conversation. Whether we watch shows like Love Island, or not, we need to be informed enough to engage with young people on the media they are consuming.
Secondly, we need to talk about our bodies in church! All too often, our discipleship is devoid of content on our bodies. As we mentioned during our Mental Health Awareness Week on Wholeness, it’s vital that we don’t dismiss what the Bible has to say on the body – and that we demonstrate it through our actions.
And thirdly, we do need to ask ourselves questions about what media we are consuming. There are no hard and fast rules about what is going to have a negative impact on body image and how young people feel about their bodies. But if something is having an adverse affect, let’s encourage our young people that they don’t have to watch things that make them feel bad!