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The Men Of Love Island And The Awkward Pressure Of Body Image

When the UK tuned into the first episode of Love Island 2018 last night, many of us had conflicted expectations. In the back of our cynical minds, we knew that the contestants would be lacking in diversity - a quick glance at the line up and our apprehensions were confirmed by the slim, toned, beautiful women patiently waiting to be ceremoniously chosen based on immediate attractiveness. As Niall nervously tried to say on first meeting the ladies: 'I don't think I've ever seen girls this fit in real life. It's like girls on Instagram but then they actually look like how they do in person'.

It's hard to televise a show in which the subjects have to spend 90 percent of their screen time in bikinis without broaching the topic of body image - a conversation that tabloids typically assign to women. But our first glimpse at the insecurities behind those lean, bronzed, hairless bodies actually came from the male camp.

The 'twist' of the first episode arrived in the form of Adam. Once the first five men had chosen the first five women and we'd met our first five couples, host Caroline Flack introduced the 6ft 5, tall, dark, unwaveringly handsome and impeccably muscled 22-year-old who would proceed to cause varying levels of angst among the male contestants.

Some women swooned more than others, but the shared mood among the men was dread. They'd just been told that this walking talking exhibit of what we're taught all women fancy would have his pick of any of the already paired off women. And as per the rules of the game, one of them would be left single and vulnerable.

As Adam confidently made his way around the villa, chatting to the taken women and trying to 'get to know them', the men responded in a variety of ways. Niall moved through a variety of emotional states, and most of his commentary was humorous. 'Here he is, Mr fifteen-pack', Niall joked as Adam approached to ask for a word with Niall's match, Kendall. Niall, of course complied, scurried off and sulked in an other area of the garden while Mr fifteen-pack jeapordised his determined effort with the woman he'd picked for himself a whole few hours ago.

'Imagine a big fat sledgehammer, that's what he's got and I’ve got a little fucking pick axe', Niall told the camera in the show's equivalent of the Big Brother diary room.

'I should've spent more time in the gym', Wes said when Caroline Flack asked how the boys felt about Adams arrival. Wes was later spotted doing some sort of suitcase squats in the bedroom.

They all keep unsubtle tabs on Adam's whereabouts around the villa to make sure that he's not preying on their women, and then panic with the boyish erraticness that many of us won't have seen since the first boy in your school year was able to boast about having grown a singular chest hair.

It's a poolside parade of threatened masculinity and barely-masked insecurity, and while it makes for peak prime time entertainment it's depressingly important to see it in action in this space. Watching these specific image-based inhibitions held by men of a high enough caliber to be selected for Love Island in the first place, makes this relatable frustration public. To an extent, it normalises it. It's taken a baby step towards opening up a conversation about body image pressures across the board and demonstrates a type of vulnerability that you perhaps wouldn't expect to see come from 'attractive' men. Attractiveness normally being considered synonymous with confidence. While the show's lack of diversity stung hard this year, the men's shared moments of inadequacy allowed people watching to feel at least a little less distanced from the glossy facade of that villa.

It's a difficult anxiety to watch materialise on TV, more so on a show like Love Island. For all that we're encouraged to look beyond the surface, not judge a book by it's cover and profess that no, looks aren't everything, there's no denying that looks are a lot. And Love Island teaches us just how much so.

MORE: Who Are The Love Island 2018 Contestants? Here's A Brief Introduction

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