Cosmetic surgery and casual sex: Love Island is catnip for worried mums

It is my daughter’s fault. She was away on a trip and asked me to record the first episode of Love Island for her, so she could catch up once she got home.

At 16, she is in the core 15- to 24-year-old demographic for the ITV reality TV show designed to encourage telegenic young strangers to find “love” in a summer villa, or at least couple up and rustle suggestively under their shared duvet.

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I had heard of Love Island but had never seen it. Forgive the generalisation but women such as myself – who favoured Doc Martens and mohair jumpers over heels and bodycon frocks in their own more tender years – tend to be scathing about reality TV shows in which participation requires a level of primping and lasering that’s entirely alien to them.

We declare them mindless, tasteless, vapid. We opine that they represent the lowest common denominator – a field which we prefer to avoid. We nod approvingly at articles that point out their many deficiencies. We express bafflement at their appeal and concern for the brainrot that’s sure to take over their mostly youthful audience. Normally all of that is absolutely my terrain.

And then I tuned in (for research purposes) that first night and encountered Amber and Amy and Anna and Lucie and found myself mildly intrigued. These were young women only a few years older than my own offspring, and yet so very different. Initially, it was the sheer scale of the effort they had put in to make themselves camera-ready that fascinated. There had been boob jobs, fillers, liberal tooth veneers. Why? Then the boys appeared – muscled and gleaming – and one of them blithely revealed that his mother had waxed his bottom. Could such people be real? And yet they were real – or as real as reality telly can be. Several of them even had actual jobs. One ran a gym. One was a pharmacist. What were they doing?

I watched the full hour and awoke the next day ready to make the whole thing into a massive joke. And then at 9pm the following evening – a point at which the whole research excuse was definitely dead in the water – I somehow found myself back in front of the telly checking on progress.

Three weeks on, here’s the sad reality. I am Love Island’s least likely fan.

Partly it’s because my daughter watches it. We rarely watch TV together these days but now, every night at 9pm, down we sit with a bowl of popcorn to check out the latest from the villa. Before it starts, we discuss what happened last night and what we hope might transpire next. If someone leaks a spoiler in advance of the show we will share it and talk about it.

I kid myself that I want to be there to help her make sense of the mysterious antics of this sometimes preposterous TV show, where language tends to be simplistic and crude and where having sex with a virtual stranger is not just okay, it’s the whole point. My daughter already knows my views on this tawdry aspect of the show – at least she should given my many long-winded lectures on the matter over the years – but for a braver parent than me, perhaps, here’s an ideal opportunity to debate once again if casual sex is all it’s cracked up to be. And while we are at it, the whole concept of 20-somethings needing fillers and Botox is another interesting debate topic. It’s been a delight for me to note that the most natural-looking girls, and the kindest, funniest boys, are the ones that get my daughter’s thumbs up. But these are side benefits, really Love Island’s primary appeal is simpler than that; it’s become our thing, at a point in our lives where a thing in common of any kind has become a precious commodity. We kept up the habit through a week-long holiday. In our house, Love Island has become the new X Factor, the new Rose of Tralee. It’s, well, a kind of family telly.

Before anyone starts, yes, of course I know it’s not actually family-friendly viewing.

For one thing, there’s a decent argument to be made that Love Island normalises casual sex to an egregious degree, so eager do the producers seem to shove these young “couples” into bed together. There’s even a private room to which couples are sent sporadically – the agenda clearly being that they will, ahem, move their relationships up a gear.

The general standard of conversation, to make things worse, is not exactly edifying. Take this classic from last week, as a couple were heading to the private room.

Maura: What did you say?

Tom: What did I say? It’ll be interesting to see if she’s all mouth or not.

Maura: That’s a d**khead comment.

Or take this, from an earlier stage:

Tommy: Ask me anything

Molly Mae: What’s the capital of France?

Tommy: (Long silence)

See? There’s no justification for watching this kind of thing. There’s no reasonable argument for it. And yet, there’s something fascinating about them all. They are all so desperate for attention. They are so young. They are often so clueless. They are such notice boxes. They remind me regularly of myself and my friends when we were 15 and the most compelling issue in life was whether the boy who hangs out at the chipper had looked at my friend or not. Or who snogged who at the last disco.

Looking back at how silly we were, half of me wants to slap us and tell us sharply to cop on and do something useful with our lives and half of me wants to hug us all because we’re so harmless and helpless and young. It’s pretty much how I feel about the cast of Love Island.

When they emerge eventually from the villa to a torrent of adoration and abuse, I truly do hope they cope.

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