In Defence of Love Island: a Note on Guilty Pleasures and Insecurity

Last night, I joined three million other people to tune in for the 2019 Love Island premier. My husband groaned. My sister in law rolled her eyes. But I watched it anyway, and I don’t care what the Purkis family thinks. I love it.

I used to be embarrassed about how much I enjoy Love Island. Same goes for The Bachelor, chick lit and Frappuccinos. I’ve spent an awful lot of my life being embarrassed about the things that I like, because my social circles told me I should. My more highly intellectual, “more evolved,” immune-to-trends friends would smirk and scoff at my choices of entertainment, coffee-adjacent beverages and other such things, and I would accept their reprimand.

I was always a very insecure person. I’ve been loud and bossy my whole life, and it made it hard to make friends in middle and high school. I would speak without thinking and fail to read the room, and I’d be shamed for it. To be fair, I did do some truly shitty things in high school, as I’m sure we all did. Everything was so heightened and had a sense of importance to them. But melodrama aside, I never had the close friendships you see in movies or on TV. I pretended that I did, but really I was alone. I was okay with that though, because I told myself I was destined for something amazing.

College was better, but as time wore on the fact that boys never seemed to be interested began to have an effect on me. This was where my insecurity was at full force; I wasn’t doing that amazing thing I had been destined for, and the freshman fifteen was definitely a freshman thirty. And then a sophomore twenty. And then a junior twenty-five. By the time I graduated, I weighed two hundred pounds, hadn’t been on a single date, and didn’t have the stunning academic record I had expected to achieve. I had a job offer waiting for me in Atlanta, but to be honest it felt like a fluke. My insecurity about the state of my life led me to act like everything was going according to plan, playing the role of someone far more intellectual and worldly than she actually was.

In the next few years, I continued to surround myself with people that made me feel bad about the things I enjoyed. Why would you order iced coffee from Starbucks if you live in Old Fourth Ward where there are so many artisan coffee shops? Why would you watch The Bachelor when there are Sea World exposes and indie films to watch? Why would you read a romance novel when there are unread classics on your shelf? Never mind the fact that you only have them there so people think you’re smart. How about actually reading them? Anything that doesn’t fit this mould is dubbed a “guilty pleasure,” and people only talk about it in hushed tones with a strongly implied (or even outright stated) sense of shame.

Things got better when I moved to the UK. Not because the UK is better about this than the US, because it’s not. But the situations I found myself in were a bit more forgiving and relatable when it came to those things. For starters, though I was working in publishing, which is traditionally a very snobbish industry, I was working on a romance list. The people I worked with were obsessed with the same pop culture phenomena that I was, and for the first time I felt like I could be unapologetically interested in them. I was doing a course on Creative Writing, which came with its fair share of intellectual superiority, but two of my instructors, James and Leone, made sure that no one felt “less than” for wanting to write and read commercial fiction. Instead they taught me one of my favourite lessons I’ve ever learned: it’s not what you enjoy that matters, it’s the intentionality with which you analyse and discuss it. Someone who is only capable of having intellectual, analytical discussions about a specific genre or caliber of media is someone who needs to expand his or her skillset.

On my first date with my now-husband, I talked for probably thirty minutes straight about Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston, who were dating at the time, and how angry it made me. Date number one. It was probably a bit crazy of me, but we weren’t in a position to put on a show for each other, as I’ll explain in a future post. So he knew what he was getting into. And as he fell in love with me, and I with him, I became more secure in discussing the things I enjoy. Alex loved me despite my propensity for The Bachelor, and honestly we both love a good McDonalds Caramel Frappe. If he didn’t mind, and he’s the most important person in my life, why should I care what anyone else thinks?

Sometimes I’m a bit embarrassed that it took me finding love to feel secure in my basic bitch tendencies. I shouldn’t need a man to be secure. But for someone who spent so much of her life begging people to accept her, molding herself to fit those expectations, that safety was needed in order to drop the pretense I was putting up for myself and others.

So now I watch Love Island every summer night and watch every episode of every Bachelor show, and I’m not afraid to tweet about them. I order whatever the fuck I want at Starbucks no matter whom I’m with. I read what I want, when I want, and I’m better for it.

Which leads me to this, a list of reasons why I love Love Island:

  1. You watch people’s facades drop right in front of your eyes. These people are trapped together for 8 weeks, and while they may try to look perfect at first, it’s inevitable that everyone’s true colours come out, for better or worse. That breakdown is fascinating to watch.

  2. Iain Stirling’s commentary is incredible. While people on shows like The Bachelor take themselves and the process so seriously (and no one is a bigger champion of “the process” than Chris Harrison), Love Island does the opposite and continually takes the piss out of the contestants. It’s far more self aware than other reality shows, including some that I enjoy.

  3. It’s such easy watching, and I do enough thinking from day to day that it’s nice to just shut off. For the same reason cheesy chips are delicious – a concept in nutrition called hyperpalatability – Love Island is hyperpalatable television.

  4. None of your business, because I no longer feel the need to justify my “guilty pleasures.”

See you in the villa, babes xxx

LifeSamantha Gale