reality tv

'There is a complete lack of diversity on Aussie reality TV and it's sending a loud message.'

Reality TV is particularly polarising.

But regardless of whether you really hate it or really over it, there are millions of Australians who can’t seem to get enough of the competition and the drama.

Three of the top-rated programs on Aussie TV in 2018 were reality TV shows, with Married at First Sight ranking in at number one, followed by My Kitchen Rules and The Block. Like most genres, as the popularity of reality TV grows, so does the criticism.

Aussie model Jessica Vander Leahy speaks about body diversity in Australian fashion. Post continues below.

Video by MMC

One such criticism is about diversity.

Year after year, The Bachelor has been criticised for not having any race diversity, and while this year we saw that change ever so slightly, it’s time we talk about both body shape and beauty diversity, too.

It often takes me half a season to figure out who’s who on shows like The Bachelor and Love Island, because quite frankly they all look the same. Now obviously that’s a generalisation, and as harsh as it may sound, the fact remains that reality TV shows portray a homogenous style when it comes to beauty, body shape and size.

A recent study found that 40 per cent of females aged 18 to 34 watching Love Island feel more self-conscious about their bodies after viewing, one in 10 have considered getting lip fillers and 30 per cent of women have contemplated going on a diet as a direct result of the show.

Bachelor 2019
This year we saw The Bachelor contestants incorporate an ever so slightly increased amount of diversity. But it wasn't enough. Image: Channel 10.
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When there is a complete lack of diversity, it sends a very loud message about what's 'normal', and whether these shows are targeted to adolescents or not, we know that young people are viewing them.

Body image has been a major cause of concern for young Australians (both female and male) since data was first collected by Mission Australia back in 2010. Even though body dissatisfaction is an internal process, it is absolutely influenced by several external factors, including family, friends, acquaintances, teachers and of course the media.

People of all ages are bombarded with images, more so than ever before, and these images often promote unrealistic, unobtainable and highly stylised appearance ideals, which have been fabricated by stylists, make-up teams and digital manipulation and simply cannot be achieved in real life.

Most adults are able to ascertain the difference between what’s real and what’s fake, yet I’m sure we can all agree that self-acceptance isn’t always an easy thing to come by. And for young people who are already experiencing a myriad of changes in their body both physically and emotionally, it can be very tricky to navigate.

Often young people feel as though they don’t measure up in comparison to the images they see, and this can lead them to experience intense body dissatisfaction, which is damaging to their psychological and physical wellbeing. People experiencing body dissatisfaction can become fixated on trying to alter their body shape, which can lead to unhealthy practices with food and exercise.

 

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These practices don’t usually achieve the desired outcome (physically or emotionally) and can result in overwhelming feelings of disappointment, shame and guilt and, ultimately, increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.

It could be argued that not all reality TV shows focus solely on appearance like the bikini clad Love Island. Shows like The Voice claim to offer ‘diversity’, with judges selecting people based on talent alone, and as a result we have seen varying body shapes, abilities, race, sexuality and gender. Yet every successful contestant goes through drastic transformations in order to be more ‘appealing’ and ‘likeable’ for the public. So again, what messages are being sent especially to our youth when it comes to body diversity and self-acceptance in 2019?

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A study conducted by Australian Professor Phillippa Diedrichs found people can feel increased distress and shame about their bodies when they're exposed to images of “ideal” bodies. When participants in the study were asked about the appearances of people in the media, both women and men said that the media presented perfected images of beauty. Images of women, however, were seen to be more strongly restricted to a narrow beauty ideal. “The perceived appearance ideal for women was consistent with the thin ideal of Western, feminine beauty described frequently in the body image literature as predominantly thin, young, white, tanned, with long hair, large breasts and clear skin.”

In addition to expressing dislike for current appearance ideals portrayed in the media, most of the participants said that they want to see change in the appearances, and gender roles of people represented in media imagery.

Yet the industry continues to argue that average-size models and women do not appeal to consumers.

In 2018, model Robyn Lawley took a stand against the lack of body inclusivity in the annual Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. She protested the movement with the hashtag, #weareallangels. Image: Instagram @robynlawley.

So why are we so obsessed with stylised bodies and faces that look so similar to one another? Maybe we don’t even realise that we are?

More importantly, what message is reality TV sending young viewers and how can we help educate our youth about what’s real and what’s fake?

Reality TV is here to stay because, well, we love it.

The most important thing we can do is talk to our kids and help them become media savvy, so they can start to identify when they repeatedly see the same images on TV and encourage them to seek out programs or people to follow that do offer more diversity when it comes to body image.

For more information about how to talk to young people about body image in the media check out The Butterfly Foundation.

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