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Reality TV Dating Shows and Body Image

by | Jan 19, 2023 | Body Image | 0 comments

Let’s talk about an important topic: reality TV dating shows and body image.

Do reality TV dating shows (and reality TV in general) make you feel like shit about your body?

Well, you’re not alone.

One in four people say that reality TV makes them worried about their body image. And 23% of people even have suicidal thoughts because of these body image concerns.

“Reality TV fuels body anxiety in young people, says survey”

Oof. Let’s first validate how and why these shows make you feel like shit. Then, let’s talk about what you can do about getting out from under that shitshow (literally..)

Let’s dive in!

It’s easy to get sucked in!

There you are, after a long day’s work. You cuddle up on your couch with a glass of wine, some snacks and you turn on the TV. Before you know it, you’re sucked in… 10 episodes later of Love is Blind, the Bachelorette, or Too Hot to Handle, and all the sudden you feel different. But not in a good way. 

As the show goes on, you become more and more invested in the “characters” lives and relationship outcome. But you realize that although you’re rooting for certain couples, you’re rooting less and less for one very important person. Yourself. 

These dating shows have a really great way of subconsciously promoting the negative self-talk already going on in your head. The message is that you and your body/beauty are not good enough.

The EXTREMELY unrealistic body and beauty standards represented by the people on these shows is enough to make even the most self-assured, confident person feel like absolute shit about themselves. 

Trust me. It’s not you or your body that’s wrong. It’s the white supremacist, ableist, misogynistic, heteronormative, transphobic patriarchy which unfortunately plays out in who is casted in these reality TV shows. 

How Love is Blind failed us

I’m in grad school to become a therapist (yay!) In one of my classes last semester, I was in a group paper project. Shoutout to Hannah and Dan! Best groupmates ever! We covered reality TV dating shows and body image, specifically Love is Blind. 

[Below contains excerpts from our group paper. Before we go any further, thanks to Hannah and Dan for their contributions to this post.]

According to journalist Ko Bragg in their article, Love is Blind Promised to Ignore Looks – But then Platformed Thin White People Anyway:

“Love Is Blind is a popular Netflix dating show that promised viewers a new kind of dating show experience premised on the idea that appearance shouldn’t matter. Yet, it tends to reinforce the same old stereotypes about attractiveness.”

Essentially, people date and then get engaged without ever seeing each other first. But… Bragg notes that, “the show lacks a representation of not just plus sized bodies but plus sized bodies of people of color.”

He makes historical references linking race, science, stereotypes, and the thin white ideal represented in the show. In doing so, the author argues that Love is Blind fails to meet the expectation it created for itself. 

It’s also all straight people, and no trans people sooo there’s that too…

Dan: “It can be easy to dismiss a reality show like Love Is Blind. But with millions of people watching, it wields power whether we admit it or not. Some things are so embedded and normalized in our culture they can be difficult to detect.”

Hannah: “Of course with any media we consume, there should be effort put forth by producers to represent a wide range of people in terms of diversity and inclusion. This is especially true for dating shows where the topic of finding love and connection is at stake.”

Reality TV dating shows and body image (negative)

In my work with clients, we often discuss the topic of reality TV dating shows and body image. They mention how these shows set up really unrealistic standards in their head of what their bodies should look like BEFORE they start dating.

I ask them, “tell me what you think the normal size should be for you and other women.” They say quickly and without any hesitation, “oh, a size 2 or 4 of course!” 

However, according to the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, “The AAW wears between a Misses size 16–18, which corresponds to a Women’s Plus size 20W, with greater distinctions found when considering race and ethnicity.” 

Which means our thin “ideal” of a size 2 or 4 doesn’t match up with reality of what women’s bodies are really like. With so many people who don’t fit that size, and the average leaning much further up to size 16 plus, it’s no wonder that we find such a large majority of women at war with their bodies. 

One 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found, 

“[there is] an association between the frequency of comparing one’s own physical appearance to that of people followed on media and body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness” 

In essence, the level of inclusivity in our media really matters. 

I frequently ask clients about concerns and fears around their body size. The reality often comes down to unlovability and not being accepted by their family, friends, and partners. 

Love is Blind (and dating shows like it) perpetuate the simplistic idea that a + b = c with bodies and love/relationships. 

The formula then becomes “If I’m thin, THEN I will be desirable and therefore men (speaking from a heteronormative place) will want me, and THEN I will be loved. So, in simple terms the way to being loved (which is what everyone ultimately wants as humans) is to be thin. 

Therefore, people tend to think, understandably, “Okay, so I will go to great lengths to shrink my body.” Which ends up – let’s be real – shrinking and limiting your life and happiness.

So what else can we do?

Quoted in an article on verywellmind.com called Fixating on Appearance May Increase Anxiety When Dating, New York based neuropsychologist, Sanam Hafeez recommends a helpful piece of advice.

She says to, “Think of yourself as a total person which is what you are, not just a body, and play to your strengths.”

Not only is your body already awesome (even if society has convinced you otherwise) but you are SO MUCH MORE than a body! What makes you *you*? Think about your favorite characteristics of yourself? How about what you’re proud of accomplishing in life?

Psychologist Robyn Pashby, also encourages good self-care including exercise, good sleep hygiene, and meditation leading up to a date (and I add – always!) for your mental health.

“By engaging in these practices before a date, you will show up at the date feeling the best you can feel,” Pashby says. “Teaching your body that you can feel anxiety, engage in a healthy coping strategy and do the thing you want to do anyway, like go on the date, is a great way to build confidence over time.”

Reality TV needs to do better, period

All of this to say, reality TV and the standards it sets forth has a ripple effect. It matters. There’s a strong connection between unrealistic body standards, harmful dieting behaviors, and the dating world.

Reality TV dating shows and body image go hand in hand. We need more inclusive and representative people on reality TV dating shows, and reality TV in general because: 

“Being able to see yourself reflected back at you on your devices not only teaches your brain that the size, shape, color and ability of your body is perfect the way it is, it also teaches mainstream society that people in bodies that society may have previously deemed ‘undesirable’ can lead full and bountiful lives unencumbered by both the limitations of their body (if any) and societal beauty standards.”

^^Australian body positivity advocate, Lacy-Jade Christie, quoted in refinery29.com article called The Lack of Size Diversity on Dating Shows is as Boring as it is Dated

In this season’s Love Is Blind, some clients mentioned how they were glad to see Alexa, who identifies as a curvy woman.

When her now husband first saw her for the first time, Lindy Segal writes in a piece for Glamour.com titled Love Is Blind’s Alexa Shouldn’t Be Groundbreaking,

“He made full-on googly eyes and embraced her. ‘God, you’re gorgeous,’ he told her. Swoon. Simply existing as a curvy woman on TV shouldn’t be remarkable, but it is.”

I agree. It shouldn’t be groundbreaking or remarkable but it is. We need more of this. Because it sends the message, “hey, I’m alright! my body is alright as is and I can find love in THIS body, not when I’m __ lbs thinner.”

Alternatives to reality TV dating shows

Unfortunately, society seems to be very slow in creating more inclusive dating shows and shows/media in general. 

Unfortunately, there are not many alternative shows, and there are ZERO inclusive dating shows. One that does often get brought up a lot in terms of body positive show alternatives is called Shrill on Hulu. Check it out!

Another option would actually be to continue watching the reality TV dating shows, BUT with a different mindset. 

Rather than thinking, “there’s something wrong with my body” think, “there’s something wrong with these shows because they’re not realistic!”

If it’s all just too much to handle, (not too hot.. Get it? haha..) then just simply avoid them and watch something else! There are SOOO many inspiring and interesting documentaries, tearjerking movies, and thrilling TV shows to watch.

Or read a book! In my opinion, this is ALWAYS a better option than TV or a movie but I’m biased. I’m a HUGE bookworm! But, reading can actually improve your body image! 

Wanna learn how it does this, and some tips on how to read more? Check out my post on How to Read More Books!

Where do we go from here?

Our society has a long way to go in terms of creating an inclusive dating space for ALL bodies. Our research only skimmed the surface of the harm caused by fat phobic dating shows.

We didn’t touch on ageism for the sake of streamlining our focus, but it’s another key issue in the dating media world. There are no big-name dating shows that include older adults. Why? Do people not find love at all ages?! Of course they do. 

In the meantime, we can help our clients, friends, family members and communities by being agents of change. We can stand up and out against this injustice and working towards a more inclusive society. 

Need to clean up your social media feed to be more inclusive and supportive of positive body image? Check out my post Social Media Detox for Better Body Image.

If you want to work with someone 1:1 to develop more positive body image, a better relationship with food & yourself, book a free intro call with me. Let’s chat!

Blog Lexy Penney Nutritionist Boston Intuitive Eating

Hi, I’m Lexy!

I’m a Registered Dietitian, yoga teacher, & body image coach.

I help women make peace with food and built trust with their bodies so they can live the lives they desire and deserve.

Hop on my email list for your weekly dose of food freedom, body liberation and self-care!

Lexy Penney Nutritionist Boston Intuitive Eating

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