It seems like only yesterday that lovebirds Kem and Amber (RIP) sauntered off into the sunset with the £50k prize money, but the Love Island villa will tonight be welcoming a whole new cast of contestants. Excitable social media users have even unofficially christened today Love Island Day.
Last year's series garnered up to 2m viewers per episode and broke ITV2's audience record, so it's hard to deny the show's credentials in the entertainment stakes, but questions have continually been raised over its portrayal of gender and heteronormative sexuality. There were multiple incidents in last year's series that raised feminists' eyebrows: the show's resident feminist Camilla having to explain to Jonny why we still need feminism, Jonny (again) being accused of "possessive and controlling" behaviour by domestic violence charity Women's Aid, and countless instances of women being treated differently from men for exhibiting the same behaviour.
There's also the glaring problem that it only gives airtime to one type of love – heterosexual – and one bodily aesthetic – slim, tanned and predominantly white (although judging from this year's contestants there's reason to believe the new series could be more diverse).
Irrespective of all these problems the show has legions of fans, many of whom proudly identify as feminists and progressives. Refinery29 UK asked four women to explain why they'll be tuning in to this year's series.
"I can't see many valid feminist criticisms of the show"
Anna Jay, 27, Refinery29 UK's Art Director, says it's the individual contestants' views and behaviour towards each other that's anti-feminist, not the show's format.
Being a feminist doesn't affect how I watch Love Island – it's just a bit of fun and it's generally quite a fair game for both the men and women. I wonder if the men will pick from a lineup of women in the first episode again this year or if it will swap. I can't see many valid feminist criticisms of the show. The arguments that have been made about promoting unrealistic beauty standards, women being objectified, and the fact that 'all they talk about is men' all apply to the male contestants too, so there are equal problems here. But that's the fun of the show, and from what I've seen their bodies don't look unhealthy, weight-wise – they're all pretty athletic. In terms of implants and fillers etc, it's down to the viewer to decide if that look is actually desirable (I know what I think), but I do worry how this comes across to younger, more impressionable audiences.
I wouldn't say the last series made me feel uncomfortable from a feminist perspective, but certain individuals did. When Jonny first came in I'd say he was closest to 'my type on paper', but he continually said stupid stuff and his ignorance over equality resulted in the public turning against him, and I'm glad they reacted in the way that they did.
"The creators seem to be making improvements in how they portray and pick contestants"
Eleanor Neale, a 19-year-old YouTuber, says the show's portrayal of women has improved over the years but she's already apprehensive about this year's contestants.
Some things about Love Island do make me feel a little bit uncomfortable as a feminist. For example, in this year's ‘meet the lineup’ video, one of the men says he physically has to be kept away from women at work because he tries to sleep with them all. It makes me worry that he doesn't value women as much as he should and that could affect how he treats the female contestants.
I definitely see how the show can be criticised from a feminist point of view, however, the show's creators seem to be making improvements in how they portray and pick contestants. Camilla Thurlow last year, for example, was an amazing, vocal feminist who didn’t shy away from talking about such things on the show. She was a wonderful figure for young women to see on an otherwise shallow programme.
As a feminist, I felt uncomfortable during Camilla and Jonny’s feminism debate last year, and seeing how Camilla was treated by him and the public afterwards. It wasn’t the debate itself that made me feel uncomfortable, because I believe Camilla handled it brilliantly, it was more how the other contestants and viewers called her 'dramatic' or 'attention-seeking' for voicing her opinion and not wanting to be with a man who didn’t share her views on such sensitive issues.
I'd probably stop watching the show if I ever felt truly uncomfortable with the way the men spoke about the women. Right now, as much as I can acknowledge that it’s objectifying, it doesn’t seem to be hurting the women it’s aimed at and I don't believe ITV would air anything that's gone 'too far'.
"Instagram is worse than Love Island when it comes to promoting unrealistic beauty standards"
Em Sheldon, a 24-year-old blogger, says being a feminist won't at all affect how she watches the show.
I don't take Love Island too seriously – I enjoy seeing people flirting but also find it quite funny, particularly the voiceover. Some of the feminist criticisms of the show, such as the argument that they're promoting unrealistic beauty standards, could equally be applied to bloggers and people on social media or women in magazines, which is an argument that’s been around for a long time.
In my opinion, if a woman wants to go on TV and sleep with someone, that's okay as long as she's okay with it. If a woman wants to look done-up on TV every day, that's also fine. As long as the people on the show are happy and content with their actions, that's also fine. I'd even say Instagram is worse than Love Island when it comes to promoting unrealistic beauty standards.
For me, the most uncomfortable moments of last year's series had nothing to do with feminism. When Chris Hughes was verbally abused over and over again by Olivia I could see signs of an abusive relationship and it broke my heart. I'm not sure what it would take for me to stop watching the show, because I don’t really take it too seriously, but it is sad to watch if you see people arguing and verbally abusing each other.
"I love seeing how 'love' (or 'lust') plays out in a way that's far more intense than in real life"
Charlotte Smith, 27, who works in marketing, agrees with some of the feminist criticisms of the show but says that, for her, it's more about watching 'love' play out under extreme circumstances.
I believe in the equality of men and women and in women having the choice to be or act in whichever way they choose, as long as they're making those decisions for themselves, and that includes going on Love Island. There are some big shortcomings to the show when it comes to feminism – there was a moment last year when the couples were having to guess who had done what and one of them was that Amber had slept with two people in one night. Kem got really disgusted about it; that was slut shaming and was not okay.
There were more moments like this throughout when the awful sexual double standard was apparent. There were also multiple moments when people were putting pressure on Gabby to have sex with Marcel, which she stood up to. An even more prominent moment was in the year before when Zara Holland, Miss Great Britain, had her title stripped for having sex on the show – that was outrageous. Then there's also the initial show where the men pick the women (maybe this will change in tonight's episode), which I find quite uncomfortable as it's that idea of men having the upper hand, but Love Island for me is about pure entertainment. I love seeing how 'love' (or 'lust') plays out in a way that's far more intense than in real life, but is still so familiar.