Love Island: The Dark Side Of Being A Bombshell

Slut-shamed and lonely – this is what it’s like to be the villa’s ‘other woman’.

Love Island bombshells

by Lydia Spencer-Elliott |

Marilyn Monroe was Hollywood’s ultimate bombshell. The blonde, beautiful movie star was known for her confidence, femininity and (other's people's) lust — celebrated as a symbol of sex and desire. Love Island’s bombshells are similar: clad in string bikinis and towering heels, they strut into the villa tasked with the goal of tempting original Islanders to stray from their existing couples.

To achieve this, a bombshell has to be ruthless and confident. If they don’t rise to the challenge, their time in the villa is often cut short. ‘I’m not really ruthless in any way, shape or form,’ Afia Tonkmore, who lasted five days on Love Island, tells Grazia. ‘I did avoid stepping on toes,’ she admits. ‘I think it’s quite obvious that, for content, if you’re willing to blow things up then you’ll be on the show longer — I wasn’t willing to do things that were outside of my personality.’

Afia entered the villa at the same time as this year’s queen of chaos: Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu. After announcing on her arrival that she wasn’t ‘there to make seasonal girlfriends’ the self-declared ‘fiery woman’ claimed her space among original cast members by pulling taken men for chats, before sneaking off on to the terrace to secretly kiss the next male bombshell, Jay Younger.

The public’s response? Vilification. ‘The slut shaming for Ekin-Su is very wild,’ wrote one user on Twitter of the backlash. ‘Luca went from three different girls in one week and nobody said anything. Dami moved to Indiyah without ending things with Amber and nobody said anything…but Jay is leaving [Ekin]? Yeah, okay.’

'Love Island reinforces a sexual double standard in which men are celebrated for their sexual prowess, while women are shamed and punished.'

Bombshell women being regarded as shamefully promiscuous is not exclusive to this season of Love Island. From Maura Higgins in series five, to Megan Barton-Hanson in series four, sex-positive women are often ostracised and dubbed simply as ‘man-eaters’. This season, Ekin-Su has been called a ‘wh**e’and a ‘b**ch’ among other insults online.

‘Reality television shows present the “bad girl” as an “unruly woman,” characterized by her resistance to traditional gendered expectations of “ladylike behavior”,’ says academic Alicia Denby. ‘Love Island reinforces a sexual double standard in which men are celebrated for their sexual prowess, while women are shamed and punished.’

This punishment often manifests in isolation. ‘It wasn’t the warmest welcome,’ admits Afia of her arrival in the villa. ‘I think with the boys it’s easier to come in. They’re quite welcoming, they just get on kind of like a football team. It took me a minute to bond with the girls.’

Similarly, when Megan Barton-Hanson split up Wes Nelson and Laura Anderson in 2018, she quickly felt the social repercussions cave in on her: ‘I can’t tell you how lonely and awkward it was the day after I kissed Wes on the terrace,’ she tells Grazia. ‘All the girls had loyalty to Laura and literally, nobody spoke to me.

‘It’s kind of like a pack mentality,’ she continues. You don’t want to fall out with the most popular girl and boy because everybody sticks together…I remember just trying to sleep all day and the producers were like “go and mingle” but I had no mates… As women we get penalised for sleeping with loads of people,’ she says. ‘I’ve never known a straight man to be called a homewrecker before — ever.’

Nevertheless, Megan acknowledges being a bombshell is a flattering role to have. ‘You can behave just like a player, how a man can in society,’ she says. ‘It’s not the bombshell’s responsibility if someone’s heads' turned. On the outside world you’re not on this lovely retreat in a villa…there are going to be people in the supermarket, on a lad’s night out, who could tempt you. So, why is it always the woman apologising for being the sexy one?’

Yet, while Megan was judged to meet society’s problematic beauty standards, other contestants like Rachel Finni have been ridiculed by the public and their fellow cast members for not being considered a real ‘bombshell’. ‘Years later and I’m still being bullied [and] taunted openly for all to see,’ said Rachel in her latest statement on the issue. 'I'm done'.

Although Megan enjoyed her time as a bombshell, she acknowledges she was typecast. ‘That was the thing I was most disappointed about, because a woman can me more than one thing,’ she says. ‘You can be sexy, a “man eater”, and also have a kind and compassionate side where you’re there for her friends and have a sense of humour.

‘It might seem glamorous. But being a bombshell is a massive amount of pressure to carry,’ she concludes. ‘Will people turn their heads? That’s pressure. If they do turn their heads, you’re hated for it. The public need to remember bombshells aren’t characters, they’re actual people with hearts and feelings and insecurities of their own. We need to be more compassionate.’

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