Last night's episode of Love Island was difficult to watch. As Catherine Agbaje started to get emotional about feeling undesirable, I felt a lump in my throat because her tears felt all too relatable.
In case you missed it, on Tuesday night's episode the Islanders had to vote for the least compatible couples in the villa. This vote left Islanders Sammy Root and Jess Harding vulnerable - much to Sammy's disdain.
Because he was upset with the outcome of the vote, Sammy then went on to conclude that Catherine and Whitney Adebayo's partners (Scott Van Der Sluis and Mehdi Edno) are not even physically attracted to them (It's worth noting that neither of their partners have ever voiced this opinion). This instantly infuriated many viewers as his choice of words were very loaded and brimming with microaggressions.
As women, we all have have insecurities and most of us would feel extremely hurt if anyone started doubting our attractiveness. But for Sammy to stand up and voice these unnecessary opinions in front of the whole villa was a step too far.
Not even expressing a balanced or fair view, Sammy instantly concluded that their weak relationship boiled down to the unattractiveness of the women. As a Black woman especially, I could relate and instantly felt Catherine's hurt. Not only are we subjected to gender-driven microaggressions, we're also being subjected to racial ones. In a world where Eurocentric beauty standards prevail, pin-pointing the two dark-skinned Black women as unattractive was extremely triggering for me - and many viewers felt the same.
One viewer tweeted, 'As a dark skin black woman I know why Cathrine is upset, there’s more behind the comment Sammy made.’ Whilst another viewer wrote, ' Too many times black girls are made to feel undesirable and ugly. Sammy isn't slick.'
Throughout the initial conversation Sammy continued to downplay Catherine's feelings, standing by it as his 'opinion.' Catherine also expressed that she is now questioning if all the men in the villa found her unattractive. Sammy's comments clearly started to chip away at her confidence and it was devastating to watch. It was almost as if Sammy was in disbelief that Scott could be attracted to Catherine.
The problem with microaggressions is that they are, by nature, often small, subtle and difficult to pinpoint. The aggressiveness of these actions lies in the fact that many women feel they’d be seen as ‘overdramatic’ for flagging them, meaning the perpetrator keeps all the control and the sufferer is left to deal with the feeling of being undermined. Often delivered in a ‘well-meaning,’ not overtly aggressive way, microaggressions are their own form of gaslighting. For Black women, this experience is only more concentrated, as we suffer for both gender and race. It's clear Catherine felt this suffering building up and later released by crying - we've all been there.
Sammy later spoke to Catherine again to apologise, and admitted he had simply meant that she and Scott weren’t a ‘touchy-feely’ couple, rather than meaning to comment on any physical attraction.
I also think there is a bit of deflecting going on from Sammy's end. He has paraded around the villa saying that his partner Jess isn't his usual type - yet he is surprised that he was voted in the bottom two. Last night in his confessional he admitted, ‘Without sounding quite bad, I was Jess’ type. She wasn’t mine. I’m the one that’s sort of worked to… try something new explore Jess and now she’s trying to play games.' The way Sammy consistently degrades the women in the villa is hard to watch.
Despite the apology, the comments are out there in the villa and our only hope for Catherine and Whitney is that they don't begin to internalise Sammy's comments. They are better than that - and they deserve better.