Are Love Island’s men in crisis?
BY THE BOOK OF MAN’ S MARTIN ROBINSON
WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT that the most fascinating insight into British men today could be found on Love Island? The key trait that all the lads on the show share is anxiety, or ‘pranging’, as they’ve rebranded it.
There’s Jack: Shakin’ Stevens with yogurt pots for teeth, who’s a nice guy trapped in self-defeating circles (‘I was gutted that she just wants to be friends, but I had to brush it off ’). And there’s Alex, the doctor, who has found being the smartest one in the group makes him pitiable (‘I feel like a leper,’ he groaned), and Niall, king of the prang, the most likeable of the lads, who is nevertheless a raw nerve-ending, hyper-alert to every slight against him.
But, in tune with women everywhere, I want to concentrate on Adam. Or as I call him, The Walking Manifestation of Everything That’s Wrong.
Now, admittedly, there’s pure jealousy going on here – of his body carved out of oak and his face sculpted from puppies. My girlfriend spits rosé whenever he’s on screen and says things like, ‘ You know, I’ve never been with a really muscular man.’
But, more professionally, I find Adam most riveting because he’s the embodiment of today’s male physical ideal. (An ideal that has, incidentally, prompted a surge in anabolic steroid use – with latest research showing over one million people in the UK now take drugs to enhance how they look.) Adam is certainly no mental ideal, but he has the body of the moment, with the huge torso, tats and beard. When he walked in, the other men automatically judged him to be top dog, purely because of his appearance.
Being judged on this basis is, of course, something women have had to deal with for millennia. But now men are being assessed in purely visual terms too, and placed in the pecking order accordingly. The other boys in the house went to pieces at the sight of Adam, immediately pranging out in fear that he’d take a fancy to their partners, assuming those partners would go for this obviously better man. Only Niall took him on, in his own nervy way, declaring, ‘He’s Goliath and I’m David.’
In contrast, despite all the discussion around female body insecurity, the Love Island women don’t seem to be assessing each other in the same way – creating some sort of hierarchy based on their inside leg measurements. They’re leaving that to the boys; where Adam, the ‘ big sledgehammer’ (Niall again), is automatically the alpha.
Today, men are carving out a self-worth at the gym that they’re not finding at home or work in shifting social times. In this Prang-ageddon, a good body has become the height of masculine aspiration. It seems that, while women have been trying for years to escape being judged purely in physical terms, men have lost their heads and gone after it.
What’s going on here? The obvious culprit is social media, where perfect bodies are flexed to the envy of everyone else. This stuff is pervasive, especially as it hits you endlessly all day long from the palm of your hand. No wonder eating disorders in men have risen 70% since 2010. Perhaps the best we can say is that this is true equality of the sexes – now we’re both as messed up as each
other. Depressing, much?
Left: Jack. Right: alpha Adam. Top: the boys, including Niall (far right) and Alex (third from right)