Almost one in four people (24 per cent) aged 18 to 24 say reality TV makes them worry about their body image, according to UK survey data released today by the Mental Health Foundation.
The figures are released ahead of the new series of Love Island, which has been the subject of controversy about the ‘perfect’ bodies it features.
The survey suggests that Love Island could leave thousands of young adults feeling worried about their own bodies.
The Mental Health Foundation is concerned about the impact some television programmes, including Love Island, has on viewers – particularly those targeted at younger audiences who are most likely to be distressed about their bodies.
According to the same survey of 4,505 UK adults, by YouGov, almost a quarter of 18-24 year olds (23 per cent) said they had experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings because of concerns in relation to their body image. More than one in seven (15 per cent) said they had self-harmed or deliberately hurt themselves because of concerns about their body image.
More than a third of 18-24 year olds (34 per cent) said images used in advertising and promotion on social media made them worry about their body image.
The charity’s recent report on 'Body image' shows that seeing images of ‘ideal’ bodies can contribute to people feeling more distress and shame about their own body, if it does not match up to the presented aspirational ideal.
Dr Antonis Kousoulis from the Mental Health Foundation said: “Millions of people enjoy Love Island for a whole range of reasons. Our concern is how the programme projects body images that are not diverse, largely unrealistic and presented as aspirational.
“Our research clearly shows that a large number of young people say reality TV has a negative impact on how they feel about their own bodies. Concern about body image is linked to anxiety, depression and feelings of shame and disgust.
“We had hoped that Love Island’s producers would choose a more representative range of contestants for the new series, bearing in mind the likely impact on their predominantly young audience.
”This lack of diversity is further feeding unhealthy advertising and media coverage. Love Island has issued mental health aftercare guidelines for contestants but they must also take into consideration the potential damage being done to viewers.”
Last year the Mental Health Foundation successfully complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about adverts for cosmetic surgery that were shown during the airing of Love Island, on the grounds they painted a false image of perfection and exacerbated young people’s insecurities. The adverts were later banned.
Dr Kousoulis continued: “Television can play a powerful role for good in improving people’s mental health, raising awareness and tackling stigma.
“This was clearly demonstrated during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, when broadcasters, including ITV, were at the forefront of bringing useful information and advice to the nation.
“But it is not acceptable to keep allowing the aspects of television that have the potential to harm people’s mental health to go unchecked. For these reasons we are asking ITV to:
- Work with the Advertising Standards Authority to pre-vet all advertising shown during the show’s airtime, in particular those from high risk industries, including cosmetic surgery, weight loss products, and fashion.
- Clearly publish details of the psychological support and be consistent in providing that support to contestants.
- Take care that the final edited cuts included in the show are free of language that is shaming, discriminatory, or triggering in regards to mental health.”
Dr Kousoulis has written to the Chief Executive of ITV about this and has also asked the Chair of the DCMS Parliamentary Inquiry into Reality TV to broaden the scope of its inquiry to include the impact of some forms of reality TV on its audiences.
Notes to editors:
All figures, unless otherwise stated are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 4505 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 25-26 March 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
The 2018 series of Love Island attracted more than 3.9 million viewers, according to ITV. If we very conservatively assume that the proportion of 18 to 24 year-olds watching the programme was the same as in the UK population, based on Office of National Statistics data, that implies that some 400,000 viewers of Love Island in 2018 were aged 18 to 24.
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