What we can learn from Love Island
Love Island - just a bit of harmless fun or is there a darker side? The ITV cult show has seemingly half the nation gripped by the shenanigans in the Love Island villa, which features a series of young men and women coupling up to remain in the show to claim a £50,000 prize and an almost guaranteed celebrity future.
Aside from issues around the age-appropriateness of some of the content, there has been some serious criticism of the effect of the show on young people. Particularly for young women, because of the emphasis on the appearance of the contestants, promoting unrealistic beauty standards to young viewers. All the contestants have the bodies of models - many cosmetically enhanced - and much of the show revolves around how attractive they are thought to be.
Last year Cosmopolitan magazine published an article exploring the damage the show is doing to young women’s self-esteem, quoting tweets where viewers said watching the programme made them feel fat or want to starve themselves. A recent survey suggested that 42% of women aged 16 to 24 have experienced stress related to their appearance this year, up from 26% in 2016. And Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, has expressed his concerns over the body image pressures TV and social media are placing on young people, saying the cosmetic surgery advertisements that appear during commercial breaks in the programme make young viewers more susceptible to undertaking ‘harsh procedures’. The evidence suggests that this is indeed happening, with a marked increase in demand for cosmetic surgery since the show started.
And sadly, this increasing obsession with appearance, which is helping to fuel a mental health crisis amongst young people, is part of a wider cultural shift fuelled by the celebrity culture championed by TV and social media. There are even plastic surgery game apps, aimed at young girls, where, ‘in order for children to "win", they must transform the facial and bodily features of supposedly ugly characters with procedures such as liposuction, nose jobs, lip fillers, double-eyelid surgery and more’.
People are starting to sit up and take notice of this trend and there is good advice around for parents - for example, from the NSPCC. But we know our strongest weapon in this battle to help our children navigate such a poisonous culture is to give them such a strong sense of their self-worth that they are comfortable in who they are, have the tools and confidence to express that, and the ability to see that the false messages and promises they are bombarded with daily as untrue and damaging.
In her book ‘Parenting Children for a Life of Confidence’, Rachel Turner identifies three core beliefs children need to have to build a healthy core of confidence:
- God is awesome and holy, and he loves me totally and unreasonably. When we place God at the centre of our lives, our confidence no longer needs to be centred on ourselves, our appearances or our capabilities.
- God is daily shaping me to be more like him, and I am not finished yet. While the world aims for perfection - in appearance, exam results, career, family - we know that we are a work in progress, being shaped by our awesome, loving, gentle God.
- I am invited to be a small part of God’s wonderful plans. We don’t need to be perfect for God to use us in powerful and purposeful ways.
The following are all suggestions, taken from the book, for ways you could help your child or teen to build that godly core of confidence they need in order to counter the messages of our celebrity obsessed culture:
- Consider how you describe other people. We often unwittingly reinforce the world’s lie that outward appearance is important. How do you talk about other people - do you comment on their appearance or their character? When you greet children outside your family, think about how you engage them - ‘My, what a lovely pair of shoes!’; ‘I love your haircut’; ‘What a beautiful baby’. Explore alone, or with your children, how else you might describe or greet people. You can get some ideas to start you off from these suggestions from parents.
- Create windows into what a real life-long romance looks like so your children hear that physical appearance is only a small part of what really matters. Hear what brought people to each other and what has kept them together. Maybe invite friends over to share their stories, or look for films or books that tell the story of real, deep love.
- If you watch the news with your children, watch it with a critical eye. Highlight to your children how weird it is that people talk about the outside of others so much. Create a lighthearted joke like a noise or a phrase that your family uses when you notice that they are focusing on the not important, like what people are wearing or what they look like. Celebrate stories of ordinary people and celebrities doing great things.
- Engage with the stories your children are reading, the films they are watching and the songs they are hearing. Do you think what that character said about his friend is fair? Why do you think those people fell in love? Who’s the hero in this story? Who would you like to be and why? I was wondering about the lyrics to that song - do you think they are true?
- Challenge the messages they get from media and advertising. Wonder about why they have chosen to use a beautiful person to advertise a car rather than someone rather ordinary. What lies are the adverts telling us about what makes us happy? Are the pictures we’re seeing of an ‘ordinary’ family like the families we know? That advert seemed to suggest that it’s really important that a woman’s hair is always looking at its best - what do you think?