Disabled Bodies In Mainstream Media

Katie May Love Island

Love Island is one of my guilty pleasures. However, this year I’ve made the decision not to watch it because of the negative impact it was having on my body image. 

The problem with Love Island is that they predominantly cast contestants of a similar, slim physique. You rarely see ‘real’ bodies; the bodies which haven’t gone to the gym every day, the body which isn’t toned, the body with scars on or stoma bags! The show plays into the idea that there’s one ideal body type and if you don’t have that, you’re not attractive enough. Which just isn’t true! 

YouGov carried out a survey last year of 4,505 adults and it came back that almost one in four people aged between 18 to 24 say that watching reality television makes them feel worried about their bodies. Whilst the focus of this survey is on young adults, I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw this across all age ranges.

Why body diversity and disability representation are needed in mainstream media…    

Seeing body diversity, including disability representation, is so important in mainstream media. The media could play a vital role in raising awareness about mental health issues and combatting the stigma that surrounds the subject. 

By seeing people who live life with disabilities and chronic illness, it becomes more of the norm. People start to understand that there is a person behind the wheelchair or illness. We’re no longer something people don’t understand – disabilities become seen. 

When it comes to stomas, we rarely see them in mainstream media, especially in a positive light.

A lot of the time, when I see stoma bags on shows like Holby City they’re shown as the worst thing possible to happen to you. And it’s the same with many other disabilities. What they don’t discuss is the fact that someone’s life might actually be improved by having a stoma, or how an amputation is a life-saving necessity instead of a doomed-for-eternity curse. 

It was a massive deal when The Circle (a Channel 4 reality TV show), cast someone with Crohn’s disease and a stoma bag. The contestant, Georgina, was so open about it and it opened so many discussions around IBD and stomas. One of her best quotes was, “I don’t think you lot realise how easy we have it when we have a bag. I can watch the whole of Titanic and not get up to go to the toilet. That is a blessing.”

She also made this brilliant point below, about disability. It showcases why it’s so important to have these conversations on shows such as Love Island: 

“I also want to promote the idea that you shouldn’t judge people and that you should give everyone a fair chance, not just class them as disabled so they can’t do this, that and the other. We can live our life, we can enjoy life and Crohn’s is not going to win or stop you having new experiences or making new friendships.”

Living with a disability and/or chronic illness takes adjustments.

It takes time. But it doesn’t mean your life is over. Our bodies are still beautiful with their scars and their bags and we are so much more than just our stoma bag.

“The more we see of people with disabilities and chronic illness, the more normal it becomes.” -@katieemay1

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by Katie May Chesworth

Katie May Chesworth

About the author

Katie May is a health and wellness advocate living with a stoma, IBD and arthritis. You can follow her on Instagram for regular updates related to both her health and travels.

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