What Love Island 2021 showed us about commitment, compassion, and consent.

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What Love Island 2021 showed us about commitment, compassion, and consent.

With the nation’s favourite guilty pleasure coming to an end, it’s time to look back on Love Island 2021 and what it has taught us about love, relationships, friendships, sex, body autonomy and the importance of being kind.

Courtesy of ITV2

After 18 months of being absent from our screens, it became clear that the world was slowly turning back to normal as the revival of Love Island was announced back in June. Far from being just any old reality TV show, Love Island has made a bold impression on British culture in the last few years, with its dramatic ‘recouplings’ going viral, its popular catchphrases being branded on every t-shirt in Primark, and, most impressive of all, with this year’s premiere attracting a massive 3.3 million viewers.

I was definitely not immune to the Love Island craze, finding a mindless kind of escapism in watching the ‘sanitised sex bubble’ of singletons take to the screen. Of course, not everyone has been converted to a Love Island superfan, but regardless of your opinion on the show, it does get people talking – and overwhelmingly for the good. This year, the topics which seemed to have sparked the most debate were commitment, compassion, and consent, all three of which were clearly lacking from the first five minutes.

The first episode sees the girls standing in line to be chosen by the boys. Whilst they can step forward to indicate their interest for any islander, this is ultimately useless as the boys can choose to couple up with whichever girl they like, and she can’t say no. 

This initial lack of choice sets the tone for the rest of the series for how consent is viewed and considered, for not only do all ‘recouplings’ follow this non-consensual format, but the regular ‘challenges’ set by producers are just as bad. From sharing snogs to groping groins, again there is a lack of consent as they are forced into participation. 

The pressure placed on the islanders to participate in raunchy challenges was a hot topic in the first few episodes. Original islander Shannon, for example, refused to kiss any of the boys during the very first challenge, and swiftly became the first evictee after just a day (the quickest eviction in Love Island history).

Rumours began flying that the producers had evicted her for refusing to play along with more sexual aspects of the challenges, suggesting that consent is superfluous and unimportant to the format of the show. Obviously, this is concerning, being that the target demographic of the show is predominantly young people, who are often the most impressionable when it comes to sex and relationships. In this sense, Love Island serves as a terrible and harmful example of how consensual relationships should be formed.

Plot stirring messages for the Islanders - Courtesy of ITV 2
Love Island Boys - Courtesy of ITV 2

This lack of consent, which is usually targeted towards the women, ties into the issue of sexism as present within the show. Most disappointingly, these misogynistic attitudes do not come solely from the male islanders, but also from some of the women themselves, who have clearly internalised the male gaze to an uncomfortable extent.

Gone are the days of Camilla Thurlow’s (season 3) who would notoriously un-couple because their partner refused to let women pay on dates. This series’ largest attempt at a feminist debate came from Sharon and Faye defending their choice to have cosmetic surgery when labelled as ‘fake’. On the one hand, it was empowering to see two confident women stand up for themselves and engage in a conversation around female body autonomy.

On the other hand, it felt lacking in critical thought. Sharon, for example, likened Hugo’s preference for women who hadn’t undergone cosmetic procedures to racial discrimination. Meanwhile, Faye completely undermined her argument by going on to ridicule a male islander’s cosmetic procedures by repeatedly mocking his ‘fake teeth’.

Furthermore, their arguments for body positivity felt lacklustre as none of them argued against the boys collectively stating that the perfect woman was ‘a petite blonde with blue eyes’ (read also, white). Presumably, this is because they mostly either fit that themselves, or their internalised male gaze encouraged them to agree that slim blondes are the singular beauty standard. After realising this, most feminist sentiments in the show felt half-hearted and underwhelming because, of course, it’s not feminism if it’s not for everyone.

As the obsession with finding an idealised, unrealistic version of a woman continued to grow, so did the male islanders’ lack of compassion towards their female counterparts. More specifically, these issues seemed to explode when Love Island brought back their most famous and well awaited ‘challenge’: Casa Amor.

During this week of the show, we see the boys and the girls be separated into two separate villas, and two new groups of Islanders be introduced as replacements. The issue of commitment and compassion became a massive talking point during the well awaited ‘lads’ holiday’ as, crucially, none of the boys managed to stay faithful or respectful to their partners.

The worst example of this came from Liam who shocked everyone by cheating on his semi-serious partner Millie with new girl Lillie. Somehow, however, his infidelity was not the worst aspect of the situation; when he returned, he coerced Millie into taking him back by gaslighting her, underplaying his own actions, and relentlessly wearing her down until she agreed to give him a second chance.

Whilst Liam seemed to escape unscathed from Casa Amor, the same could not be said for all the couples – in particular, Faye and Teddy. After learning that Teddy had flirted with other women in Casa Amor, islander Faye had such an intense and toxic reaction that it sparked a conversation around the treatment of male victims of psychological and emotional domestic abuse. After an entire episode was devoted to airing Faye’s aggressive shouting and belligerent arguing, ManKind Initiative Charity felt obliged to speak out on behalf of any male victims of domestic abuse who may have been watching. They dubbed Faye’s outburst as ‘unacceptable’, and many fans agreed. 

To have allowed the argument to continue and be aired seems exploitative behaviour by Love Island producers, especially considering the link that the show notoriously has with online trolling, mental health struggles, and even suicide. Whilst in week 1, the Love Island social media accounts issued a plea to fans to be kind and compassionate, by week 7 that seemed all but forgotten. This was reflected in the ironic actions of islander Amy who, despite using her Instagram to quote Caroline Flack’s famous mantra of ‘in a world where you can be anything, be kind’, called out her ex-partner publicly and live on air, calling him fake, self-centred, and ‘terrible with women’.

Love Island Girls - Courtesy of ITV 2

About Post Author

Henry Tolley

(he/him) Henry a previous Editor-in-Chief of Chapter Z magazine. He specialises in LGBTQ+, film and in-depth community/cultural features.