Love Island, and What It Tells Us About Male Body Image

Love Island is attempting to give the World Cup a run for its money as the most talked about television event of the year. It seems that practically everyone is watching it.

As far as I can tell (and here’s where my lack of interest becomes apparent) it’s basically like Big Brother crossed with Take Me Out, only without Paddy McGuinness’s wise-cracks.

The contestants on Love Island are young, energetic, and generally considered stunningly attractive. A lot of the discourse surrounding the show concerns how these people look.

In fact, that’s part of the show’s appeal. I suspect a load of balding men with dad bods and plump women with awful teeth wouldn’t quite bring in the viewing figures.

But perhaps the most peculiar thing about this show and its fascination with the chiseled bodies and dashing looks of its contestants is that this gaze applies equally to both the women and the men.

We’ve all known for years that women are objectified, becoming sexual objects in a shop window for men to peer in at. The rise of celebrity culture has brought with it women with the perfect figure, the perfect face, the perfect look. The men lust after these women, and so other women strive for that unreachable ideal. This causes all kinds of issues including eating disorders, mental illness, and even suicide.

Less is said about men. The general consensus is that men don’t care about their image. Consider the age-old “bed head” look. A man with that look is perfectly normal, it might even look cute to some women. But a woman with a bed head look is having a “bad hair day”. It’s easy to assume that men are completely nonchalant about how they look.

But, as Love Island shows, that simply isn’t the case. The men on Love Island look as if a collection of Ancient Greek statues have come to life. Their well-defined muscles, luscious locks, and steely jawlines have been cultivated to match an ideal that rose out of the 70s, when how you looked became just as important as what you did.

It’s no wonder that us normal men look at these fine specimens and feel a twang of jealousy. They walk around, confidently strutting their stuff, and then walk off into the sunset with the girl-next-door. Muscles are manly, right? And so these men must be more manly that us. The fact is, men are just as conscious as their body image as women. The difference is – we don’t talk about it.

Women are great at talking about the issues they face. Plenty of women are making a stand against the “fakeness” of social media, especially Instagram. They spread the word that these women who could all be models aren’t always healthy, aren’t always happy, aren’t always real. Women are making a stand and realising that their self-worth shouldn’t be intrinsically linked to how they look.

The only way men can hope to emulate the women is through talking. But we don’t. This won’t surprise you but we don’t talk about it. We pretend like we don’t care. We subtly check ourselves out, making sure we don’t have a hair out of place, but then shrug off any idea that we really care. We spend time at the gym and we say that it’s purely for health reasons or enjoyment, failing to admit that a large part of it is about wanting to look good. We do care about how we look. And we should talk about it.

Maybe then we’ll realise that it’s all fake, that our body image has nothing to do with our masculinity, and we’ll develop a healthier relationship with our bodies. It’s working for women, and it can work for us. And maybe Love Island is the catalyst we need.

(But that doesn’t mean I’ll be watching it…)