Women can’t win when it comes to beauty standards – just look at Love Island


When a contestant signs up for Love Island, they know that their appearance will become a subject of discussion inside and outside the villa. You could say it’s an inevitable side effect of taking part in a televised mating ritual for the genetically blessed. But a recent TikTok post subjected this summer’s intake of female Islanders to a new and uncomfortable level of scrutiny.

In the video, which has been liked more than 1 million times to date, Beverly Hills-based plastic surgeon Dr Daniel Barrett examines promo images of four recent female Islanders (you know the type of picture – the famously awkward swimwear shots that have become a rite of passage for each new arrival to the villa). He lists the parts of their faces that he believes have been enhanced by surgery or cosmetic “tweakments”, before finally attempting to guess their ages.

“She’s 38, lips, nose … It’s obvious she’s had some work done, in my opinion,” he says of one contestant – only to react in shock when a disembodied voice tells him that she is just 25 years old. In fact, all of his guesses are wildly off the mark. “This is crazy,” Barrett adds, shaking his head. “Plastic surgery and injectables done incorrectly can make you look older, so, boy, I was really off.” He’s not the only person to comment upon the cosmetic work that the female islanders may or may not have had done. Far from it. Over on Twitter/X, you’ll find viewers claiming that the fillers they see on screen have put them off tweakments for good.

Whether it’s intentional or not, there’s an undercurrent of ridicule to many of these posts. There’s certainly something quite unsettling about watching someone whose livelihood is inextricably tied up in promoting a certain kind of aesthetic ideal essentially rate and review these women’s attempts to reach that ideal, and then find it wanting. The Islanders are being called out, essentially, for having had the wrong sort of treatments, ones which are too obvious and therefore distasteful. It’s a sentiment that reminds us that when it comes to our looks, women simply can’t win.

Young people in their twenties and thirties are opting for ‘preventative’ Botox – even though they might not have wrinkles yet

Young people in their twenties and thirties are opting for ‘preventative’ Botox – even though they might not have wrinkles yet (Getty)

By now, it’s widely accepted that social media has had a pretty deleterious impact on our collective self-image. To have access to the likes of Instagram and TikTok is to have a constantly available, apparently never-ending stream of photos and videos of people who seem to better fit the conventional beauty standards that were previously propagated mainly in films and fashion magazines. Unless you possess truly staggering levels of self-esteem, it’s hard not to feel that you’re horribly lacking in some way: not thin enough, too much buccal fat, too many fine lines. And your algorithm will then seemingly find a way to resurface videos that explore what you can do about these perceived flaws.

It’s hardly a surprise that “tweakments” – often used as an umbrella term for non-surgical facial rejuvenation procedures such as Botox and facial fillers – are on the rise. In 2022, the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons reported that demand for Botox had increased by 124 per cent compared to the previous year, and the overall UK market for injectables is predicted to reach £11.7bn in just two years’ time (our insecurities, it seems, are making other people rich).

In the years since it arrived on ITV2, Love Island’s casting producers have increasingly picked their future contestants from a pool of influencers, who are likely to be hyper-aware of their own image and how they’ll appear on screen, whether that’s on an iPhone or our TVs. And even the ones who have quote unquote “normal” jobs might believe that a few millilitres of filler could make them feel more confident on camera.

Of course, Love Islanders also play a part in perpetuating a certain image to others: they’re at once victim and perpetrator. “There is really a horrible unrealistic expectation of women that you need to look perfect but you need to look perfect naturally,” former Islander Sharon Gaffka has said. “I had these procedures, went on Love Island, and then was making another young woman feel like she needed these procedures in order to be deemed attractive.” Pre-show tweakments have become part of the Love Island narrative, with tabloids clamouring to place older “before” photos alongside newer, glammed up ones.

I had these procedures, went on ‘Love Island’, and then was making another young woman feel like she needed these procedures in order to be deemed attractive

Former ‘Love Island’ star Sharon Gaffka

So, essentially, women are given impossible standards to live up to when it comes to how they look, then attempt to reach those standards through tweakments. But when those tweakments are perceived to have missed the mark, those women are ridiculed for having tried in the first place, and for making that effort too obvious. Because another insidious requirement is that female beauty has to be effortless. We don’t want our celebrities to remind us of how exhausting it is to live up to beauty ideals.

Mocking the Islanders doesn’t really help dismantle any of these standards or ask why they may have felt the need to change up their looks in the first place. It just unhelpfully berates them for not having opted for “better”, more subtle treatments. There’s also a not-so-subtle dose of classism at play here too. Young women who might not have the vast amounts of disposable income required to book in with, say, a Harley Street doctor, are criticised for opting for cheaper treatments with more conspicuous results.

Rather than taking easy, cruel shots at these women, it would be far more beneficial to question the multi-billion pound industry that is making money out of them and so many like them. Why, for example, is the injectables sector still so shockingly unregulated? Why aren’t the practitioners who inject fillers and Botox required to have a licence, or some agreed level of qualification? Mockery isn’t going to get us out of this impossible bind.



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