Shannon Singh’s brief appearance on Love Island felt like an act of tokenism

‘Diversity’ really means nothing on reality TV

The entrance of Shannon Singh to the Love Island villa was a long-anticipated arrival for many South Asian women like myself.  It’s not often that you see a confident, fierce, and promiscuous brown woman on your TV screens.

The common portrayal of South Asian women on TV is normally along the lines of the “repressed victim going against her family,” choosing between her “culture” or a career path/romantic partner that’s “too western.” These stereotypes have confined South Asians to repetitive storylines for years, but the hype surrounding Shannon Singh’s appearance on Love Island seemingly spat on these cliches and gave us an individual we could finally root for.

Unfortunately, she didn’t even last a week in the villa, making her brief appearance feel like an act of tokenism from TV producers once again.

TV already conveys a dismal picture of South Asian sex appeal

Reality TV has never been kind to South Asians. From the likes of Nas being constantly friend-zoned on the previous season of Love Island, to South Asian women on Take Me Out being overlooked against their white counterparts, the media portrays us as undesirable.

The statistics sadly illustrate this. In six seasons of Love Island there has been only one other female South Asian contestant (Malin Andersson, S2). Netflix’s Too Hot To Handle again has had only one South Asian contestant.

Despite being the largest ethnic minority group in the UK, making up 7.5 per cent of the population, an Ofcom report in 2018 illustrated that we are the least represented of any group on TV in the UK. This desperately needs to change. If shows like Love Island are cited to convey the most beautiful people in our society, how are South Asians supposed to feel when we aren’t usually featured on it?

Hence, when a drop-dead gorgeous South Asian woman called Shannon Singh entered the villa, I lost my shit and was telling everyone how excited I was for a brown woman to be on the show.

Not only was she praised by viewers on Twitter for being the bombshell of the season, she also had a family history that departed from the typical depiction of South Asian families on TV. Her Punjabi father was previously a stripper and she is a glamour model- a career that her parents actively supported. This shows a side to South Asian families that has never really been on TV before.

The representation of ethnic minorities on TV feels like an after-thought for producers

Season after season we watch uncomfortably as the first coupling ceremony sees beautiful black and brown contestants get picked last, and forcibly matched up with each other as nobody chooses them.

When you’re a person of colour, the fear is that you’ll see your skin colour get rejected again and again when pitted against white contestants. We are tired of calling this “representation” as frankly, it’s humiliating.

Shannon’s early departure from the island came as a smack in the face to many South Asian women. Many of us thought that there was finally a brown woman on the show who was viewed as desirable by contestants. Articles were being written about how her arrival made brown women feel sexy and confident.

The days of us only being cast as a geek, doctor or lawyer appeared to be behind us, but unfortunately her short-lived appearance in the villa brought us back to reality.

The representation of ethnic minorities is merely a popularity stunt for producers, when for us, it impeaches how we view ourselves in society.

Reality TV has let us down once again

While some viewers may shrug off removing Shannon from the villa and characterise it as entertainment, for South Asian women the reality is different. Someone who finally resembled us (to some extent) has been stripped from our screens. As it’s so early on in the season, many will forget about her presence and the reigning euro-centric beauty standards will continue.

There is a separate conversation to be had on the issue of colourism, as Shannon herself is mixed race like previous contestants Amber, Michael, Danny etc.

The clear discrimination against dark-skinned contestants in the coupling ceremony and throughout the show needs to be addressed by producers, as it really is unbearable to watch, yet it happens year upon year with seemingly little being done to combat it.

We can only hope that Love Island employs more women of colour on the show later this season, as the implications of their arrival are beyond skin-deep and will enrich the show for the better. If nothing is done, I for one will not be tuning in again as its approach to representation is so out of touch with society it’s simply not worth the watch.

I’m truly disappointed in Love Island, and you should be too.

Featured Image: Credit: @shannonsinghhh

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