By Martha Hughes
It’s very little wonder that ITV’s newest show ‘Survival of the Fittest’ has been coined the winter ‘Love Island’; a hoard of bronzed young men and women, wearing skimpy swimwear, abs all round and endless romance dramas. As someone who barely watched ‘Love Island’ anyway, it is becoming hard to tell one person apart from another from these reality shows. All contestants seem to possess a generic form of physical ‘attractiveness’ which has become embedded in this genre of television. This has led to many viewers questioning as to if reality TV has become too ‘attractive’.
There is an ongoing argument for introducing a wider variety of body types, ages and backgrounds to television as this would make these types of shows more relatable and representative for a diverse audience. Particularly for younger people, it is important to convey the message that anyone can ‘find love’ and be successful without all looking the same. The ‘body positivity’ movement argues that media perpetuates an image of young, slim, white, able-bodied people as the visual goal for us all to strive for.
This idea can be extremely damaging to the mental and physical wellbeing of children, teens and young people who may look up to reality stars, seemingly ‘normal people’ who find fame and fortune on TV. Shows such as Love Island have churned out many ‘celebs’, often fitting this description of young and slim. This does send a skewed message that it is mainly ‘attractive’ young people who can find success in media and in life.
However, these types of shows do cater for a specific audience and therefore, may only be representative of that societal group. If these shows were to replace all participants with people who do not fit conventional beauty standards, this would not necessarily achieve positive change. In addition, shows such as ‘Survival of the Fittest’ require a level of physical fitness to complete challenges and remain a contestant. It could even be argued that some of these people, despite their rippling abs, are not even to be automatically deemed ‘attractive’; some have unpleasant personalities and the attractiveness of muscles is surely subjective anyway? I do consider the word ‘attractive’ to be widely subjective to each individual as what one person finds attractive may be unattractive to the next.
In defense of reality television, there has recently been more variety; particularly dating shows such as ‘Naked Attraction’ and ‘First Dates’. These programmes have featured men and women of varying ages, body types, ethnicities and backgrounds. ‘First Dates’ has become popular and widely acclaimed, providing a refreshing take on dating shows with its simple yet effective layout that seems honest, genuine and more reflective of real life. I feel that this change does symbolise a positive move of television looking to become more inclusive and representative.
The question is, is this stream of ‘attractive’ young people consistently featuring on reality TV genuinely causing any negative impact in the real world? Is it truly making other young people question their own attractiveness and worth or are we taking it all too seriously? Essentially, it would be wrong to argue that these shows can’t showcase generically attractive people. But we do have a right to ask for more variety on our screens and to feel more widely represented in the genre of ‘reality’.