From The Bachelor Australia to Too Hot To Handle and Love Island, there are plenty of juicy reality dating shows that we love to watch. But when it comes to body diversity, these shows fall disappointingly short, prompting the question: does reality TV care about finding love for people that aren't a size six?
These TV shows have a large viewership made up primarily of women, and they have a duty to reflect the reality of their viewers. Casting a woman who isn't skinny can't merely be about ticking a box. Representation matters, and we need to normalise the idea of contestants that don't all look the same.
Sharon Gaffka, who was recently eliminated from UK's Love Island, received a barrage of negative comments about how she looked from social media users following her exit. She told Business Insider that she was perceived as a "big girl" on the show, compared to her female co-stars.
"I don’t consider myself a big girl, I am a size 8 but I think that because of the lack of body diversity, I looked like I was the big girl of the villa and I got a lot of comments and trolling based on the fact that I was the big girl of the villa even though I don’t consider myself that," she told the publication. "I just have a different body shape."
Australian body positivity advocate Mary Rose Madigan said she struggled to pinpoint a reality dating show that "is doing a service to plus-size women."
"Mainstream culture is still constantly enforcing that being smaller looks attractive for women," she told Refinery29 Australia. "I’ve seen women that are literally a size 10 be referred to be as 'bigger.' I think Married At First Sight has had some plus-size women, but their weight was something to be made fun of."
A poor track record has only hindered some women from applying for dating shows, in part due to fears of rejection or being a tokenistic addition to the cast.
"My friends use to joke when I was single, I should go on The Bachelor. But the joke was on me because we all knew I’d never be accepted because of my size," said Madigan.
London-based plus-size model Jada Sezer turned down the opportunity to appear on UK's Love Island after being approached by producers. She believes that some reality dating shows "can be problematic" because of the lack of diversity.
"Obviously, it's entertaining and an experiment around human connection [...] but when we're seeing six-packs and really, toned slim women, not much colour diversity, or shape diversity, then I don't think I should be adding to their viewership, and making it popular," she told Cosmopolitan UK earlier this month.
The 31-year-old didn't want her TV appearance to be the result of producers just ticking a diversity box.
"I think I would have become the tokenistic, plus-size girl and there would have been a lot of pressure to basically represent every other plus-size woman's experience," she said.
The argument for having more diverse body types on dating shows can't be contested. Madigan said it would not only be more representative of Australia's diverse population, but communicate that everyone is worthy of finding love, whatever their size.
"I think representation just makes people feel worthy and seen," she said. "When you feel unseen, there’s absolutely an element of feeling rejected."
"My friends use to joke when I was single, I should go on The Bachelor. But the joke was on me because we all knew I’d never be accepted because of my size."
mary rose madigan
Fellow Australian body positivity advocate Lacey-Jade Christie agrees. "There is such power in representation," the 32-year-old told Refinery29 Australia.
"Being able to see yourself reflected back at you on your devices not only teaches your brain that the size, shape, colour and ability of your body is perfect the way it is, it also teaches mainstream society that people in bodies that society may have previously deemed 'undesirable' can lead full and bountiful lives unencumbered by both the limitations of their body (if any) and societal beauty standards."
The reasons for greater diversity are so clear and you'd think TV networks would want their shows to resonate with as many viewers as possible. Yet Madigan pointed out even this year's season of The Bachelor has a narrow pool of body types.
"Why aren’t we seeing bigger women as Bachelor contestants? I don’t get it, wouldn’t that make the show more interesting?"
The Bachelor has aired on Network 10 in Australia since 2013. When Refinery29 Australia contacted the channel, a spokesperson said: "Network 10 takes its commitment to diversity seriously and we cast as broadly as possible across our entire slate."
The current season starring pilot Jimmy Nicholson launched with the lowest ratings in the show's history in Australia. Of course, a lack of diversity isn't necessarily the reason behind these dwindling numbers. But more inclusive casting can only gain viewers, and reinforce that no matter what our bodies look like, women are beautiful, desirable and worthy of finding love.