Last night was, need I say it, the final of this year’s instalment of Love Island. I can’t say I cared who the eventual winner was, but I’ve known for weeks who would be most likely to make it to the final: women with improbable breasts, weirdly pronounced eyebrows, plumped-up lips, blonde hair extensions.
How did I know? Well, look at most of the girls who got to these last weeks of the show — Faye, Chloe, Liberty, Mary and Millie, among others — what strikes you is that all these lovely girls look pretty much the same.
It’s safe to say they weren’t always identical; Faye, Chloe and Mary have all admitted to having had their breasts enhanced, while blonde hair, lip fillers, Botox and other cosmetics tweaks are now so common among young women, they’re pretty well a prerequisite for taking part.
Forget parents’ worries about Love Island normalising promiscuity. What should worry us more is that one of the most popular shows on television is a showcase for a uniform (and frankly weird) conception of beauty.
Pictured left: Megan Barton Hansen (2018 series). Right: Laura Anderson (2018 series)
Long after the contestants have left the villa to flog fitness apps and swimwear on Boohoo, that will be the take-home message to impressionable fans.
It all goes to bear out the observations of London-based aesthetic surgeon Steven Harris, who said this week that his profession has a ‘twisted standard of beauty’ that encourages people to adopt an ‘alienised’ look.
His examples include ‘Russian’ lips, which have the pronounced bow of a Russian doll thanks to dermal fillers; protruding cheekbones and abnormally arched eyebrows, all of which have been pretty well normal on Love Island.
Worryingly, while he blames social media for making the ‘alien’ look ubiquitous, he doesn’t just see this as the work of cowboy plastic surgeons, but also highly qualified practitioners.
Pictured: Molly-Mae Hague from the 2019 series
‘The distortion of features often involves a ‘more is more’ approach and so monetary gain or greed is an important factor to consider,’ he writes.
So in other words, gullible women — and the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons reports that 92 per cent of procedures last year were carried out on women — are often encouraged to have unnecessary enhancements to make money for the practitioners.
In a culture dominated by social media, Love Island is the most obvious instance of the problem. I spoke to an expert in aesthetic surgery who says she has noticed clients who have touched up their looks on Instagram using digital filters and now want to actually look like their Instagram likeness. That means ironing out lines, making cheekbones more pronounced, lips fuller and filling out cheeks.
In other words, removing all the facial quirks that make us uniquely ourselves, to be replaced with a look which tells you one thing: that the woman has had work done — she’s an artefact.
The tragedy is that the girls who undergo these procedures were perfectly good-looking to begin with.
Left: Mary Bedford from this year’s Love Island Right: Chloe Burrows from this year’s Love Island
Take Love Island contestant Mary Bedford, who has spoken about having had lip fillers, a Botox brow lift and breast augmentation.
Cosmetic surgery brand MCR Aesthetics posted a before and after picture of the 22-year-old on Instagram last week showing the difference effected by having work done. And do you know what? It wasn’t an improvement.
‘The pic on the left is an old modelling pic. Mary was beautiful then, but we love her new look,’ the caption read chirpily.
Well, for normal mortals, the Mary on the left didn’t need any enhancements because she was — is — a very pretty girl.
Why, in God’s name, did she need to become a more Instagrammy version of herself?
I should say that the only reason I even register Love Island is that my 14-year-old daughter watches it when I am not around to stop her.
Pictured: Amy Hart from the 2019 series of Love Island
Fortunately, she seems immune to the Love Island look, although she already seems to know how to get it. ‘You can get a Love Island bum lift [a non-surgical toning procedure to ‘contour’ the buttocks] in Portobello Road [a London market] for £100 a pop,’ she tells me sagely.
Yet while she and her friends think of Love Island as ‘a bit chavvy’, it’s still compulsive viewing for them.
And though she shrugs off the idea that the likes of Love Island will influence her ideas on beauty — ‘Vogue, and magazines like that, have a diverse body image; Love Island is way behind them’ — I am not entirely sure.
In the next breath, she observes that she is almost unique in her peer group (she’s at an all-girls school) in not having an eating disorder linked to ‘body dysmorphia’ (she knows the jargon). That’s just scary.
Her generation are absorbing an image of physical beauty which is simply unattainable. Young girls feel they should look more curvy. Older women think they should have the body of young teenagers. So in the end, everyone gets to feel rubbish about the way they look.
Pictured: Hayley Hughes from 2018’s series of Love Island
And the only winners in all this are cosmetic practitioners who promise to work miracles — yet actually make women look, as Steven Harris says, weirdly distorted; certainly like nothing seen in nature. I don’t blame the Love Island girls — all of them under the age of 30 — for going along with this. When male contestant Hugo said he found cosmetically enhanced, or in his words ‘fake’, women a turn-off (good for him), plumped-up Faye observed that there were underlying reasons for her cosmetic procedures, which included breast enhancement, paid for by her parents when she was just 18.
There’s evidently a sense of inadequacy behind a naturally attractive girl resorting to plastic surgery. And that’s not a good thing.
The striking thing is that most men seem to prefer normal, unenhanced women to the ones with improbable breasts, fake lips and peculiar eyebrows.
Hugo, who was brave enough to say so, is probably more typical of men in general than the programme suggests. But that’s what plastic surgery is designed to achieve: to make the girls more attractive to men. Perhaps more men should say what they actually think: real women are prettier than fakes.
Pictured: Faye Winter from this year’s series of Love Island
What does affect contemporary perceptions of the ideal physical type is probably something way more unpleasant: online pornography, which not only presents a peculiar idea of what sex is about but also normalises abnormal physical types.
Most women don’t look like the images on pornographic sites; but it’s a type that can distort young people’s ideas about how an attractive body should appear.
When I was young, I had (indeed still have) wonky teeth. My dentist said I could try to straighten them, but that — and I remember his words still — ‘it would be a dull world if everyone looked the same’.
And he was right. A world where we all have even white teeth would be a dull place, even more a world where every girl has the pneumatic breasts of a Greek statue, every woman the sculpted cheekbones of Angelina Jolie (whose natural bone structure was, in fact, digitally enhanced for the film Maleficent).
We hear a lot of stuff about diversity nowadays. But one thing we still lack is diversity in our idea of beauty. We are made differently; there are lots of ways of being attractive. And we shouldn’t try to look the same.
One couple won Love Island last night, but the losers were an entire generation of its young fans who have absorbed the pernicious idea that there is only one way of being beautiful, and that you can achieve it if you are willing to pay the price — in more ways than one.