‘Women are on the back foot’: Female contestants on the eye-watering cost of going on Love Island
‘I would spend around £2,000’
Love Island undeniably has a series of repeating tropes: Sun, drama, games, and, at the centre of it all— a group of hot people flirting around a pool. Every year, as the show airs, we all get predictably curious about one specific thing: the plastic surgery that allows these super humans to look as flawless as they do in 35 degree heat. We want the before pictures. We want answers.
In the midst of Love Island 2023, the subject of everyone’s intense Googling has been Tanyel Revan, who reportedly spent £4,500 on surgical tweakments before entering the villa. Searches for “Tanyel before plastic surgery” spiked in the first episode and when Australian Jessie Wynter entered as a bombshell in episode six, “Jessie Love Island before surgery” sky rocketed, too.
By casting “sexy singles”, Love Island has become a conveyor belt of so-called “perfect women”. Contestants have botox, filler, hair extensions, nails, semi-permanent makeup, waxing, laser, bum lifts— and all this comes at a cost. While men might feel the pressure to get ripped and “villa ready”, women spend fortunes enhancing everything from their nail beds to their noses.
Eight years on from when Love Island first aired, surgery seems increasingly like a prerequisite for women to be worthy of a place on the show. So, it’s time we talked about the ever-rising cost of meeting those beauty standards— with the people who’ve experienced the villa for themselves:
Ellisha-Jade White: ‘If I went on the show now I’d spend £2k’
One of the shortest Love Island appearances of all time, Ellisha entered Love Island in 2017 as a Casa Amor contestant on day 26 of the competition and was sent packing by day 28. She was unaware her time on the show could be cut as short as two days, and was “furious” after leaving behind work and sinking the equivalent of a month’s rent into beauty products and clothes in preparation for what she thought would be a career-defining TV appearance.
“I had someone ask me yesterday about what it’s like to have hair and makeup every day,” she laughs. “TV don’t pay for things like that. You have to pay for things. Even shows like Made in Chelsea, The Apprentice, newsreaders, weather girls— everyone pays for how they look themselves. It’s not paid for or written off.
“Beauty wise I remember having really, really, bad skin at the time,” Ellisha explains of her pre-villa spending. “Obviously, I was trying to make that better. So, I definitely added to my skincare and bought new makeup. I definitely went into Zara and spent a good £450 on clothes. In total, I probably spent around six or £700.”
Despite having invested the equivalent of £350 of her own money per each day of air time, Ellisha says if she went on Love Island in 2023, she’d spend even more. “I would probably appreciate how much work goes into making yourselves look TV ready,” she says. “If it were now, there would be more cost: Botox, slightly more filler. Just to keep on top of the usual maintenance.
Admitting her expenses would have more than doubled from 2017 to 2023, Ellisha explains: “Botox would be, maybe, £350, Filler would be like £1,000. Nails and toe nails, that’s another £100. Plus, clothes. £450. So, that’s around £2,000 I would spend if I went in today.”
Evidently, this boost in these costs comes from cosmetic and plastic surgery. And, as Twitter trolls often do, it’s easy to question (at that price) why contestants bother. “Everyone is judged so harshly,” points out Ellisha of the aggressive online commentary that attacks every Islander when the show airs each year . “Why would you not want to present the best possible version of yourself? If you’re going to invest, it’s going to be for this huge moment in front of millions of people.
“Love Island is a game of looks. Plus personality, ” she adds. “So, spending money on beauty treatments and surgery is the same as a sports person spending loads on their equipment. You’re going to buy the best that you can to win that competition.”
Megan Barton Hanson: ‘The criteria for women is a lot tougher’
When Megan Barton Hanson entered the Love Island villa as a bombshell in 2018, headlines quickly claimed she’d spent £50k on surgery before becoming an Islander through money she’d made from glamour modelling. “They definitely dramatised how much it cost. I never had that much money,” says Megan of the coverage. “I was rich but I wasn’t that rich.”
“I come from a really working class background and my parents struggled when I was growing up,” she says. “I had battered trainers, not the trendiest bag. So, I put such a high importance on money.”
Yet, when Megan earned enough from stripping and glamour modelling she began spending on surgery to “invest” in her career. “I had a boob job and a nose job at 19 and that probably cost £6,000. I’d just had veneers, which was £3,000. And then, obviously, lip fillers,” she says. Before entering the Love Island villa, Megan estimates she’d spent over £10k on surgery.
“You could tell I’d had a lot of surgery,” Megan says of her time on the show. “With men, we’re like ‘oh they’re so funny’ or ‘oh they’re such a gentleman’, ‘oh he’s so successful’. Women, all we get focussed on is how we look.”
“The criteria for women is a lot tougher,” Megan adds of Love Island’s casting process. “But it’s the same in day to day life. There could be 20 fire girls and we’re all competing over a very average guy because he’s a nice person. Women are on the back foot. Even things like body hair! Men can make minimal effort… We have so much more to think about than guys.”
When asked if there’s a particular Love Island look emerging amongst contestants, Megan admits: “Everyone looks the same.”
Can you get in the Love Island villa without spending on surgery?
Although Megan suggests you “don’t have to have masses of money” to be a Love Island contestant and can simply get glam by doing your hair and nails yourself via YouTube tutorials like she did “for years in South End”. It’s undeniable that most contestants have had further procedures and to scrimp on those, or attempt them yourself, would be incredibly foolish.
Just looking at this year’s contestants, of the five original girls, Olivia and Lana allegedly had filler and baby botox. Anna May confirmed she’d paid to have her lips and boobs done. Tanyel famously spent thousands on various procedures, which leaves only Tanya with a question mark over whether she invested on her appearance ahead of the show— that’s 80 per cent of female contestants coming into the villa with enhancements that cost, at minimum, hundreds. This is not a poor woman’s game.
“As the seasons go on, the cosmetic industry is bigger than ever and the contestants that are in Love Island reflect that,” says academic Alicia Denby. “The amount women spend on self improvement is always more than men because there’s more to buy. Fillers, botox, it’s all tailored towards women. They’re the main consumers. They invest more so they have more to lose financially if they spend to get on Love Island and don’t get chosen anyway.”
Spending to secure a spot on the show is a very real phenomenon. One 27-year-old single mum, Emily Dorrell, spent her £15,000 house deposit on a boob lift, boob reduction and Brazilian butt lift – the world’s most dangerous cosmetic procedure – in an attempt to get on the show after a producer messaged her on Instagram to say they’d read her application in 2019.
“I thought the show could kick-start my career – maybe I’d get a fashion line – so I spent the £15,000 I had in savings on the surgery. I thought it was an investment in my future,” Emily told Closer. “I’ve seen girls like Olivia Attwood go on to have great careers and make money, so I’d love to emulate that. Now, I love my new body, but it didn’t work – I’m still not going to be on TV. I was saving for a house deposit. Now all that cash has been squandered.”
To prevent women spending beyond their means, academic Alicia believes there needs to be a big change in the way the show casts contestants. “It’s really important that Love Island, while they maintain this brand of ‘sexy singles’, the elite members of society in terms of their looks, also has diversity so we’re not spreading this message that the only way you can be seen as attractive is if you look exactly like the Islanders themselves,” she says.
“There’s nothing wrong with surgery or personal choice— do whatever you want. But having those images of Islanders on television as the ideal version of beauty standards can be harmful if that’s the only image you’re seeing: contestants who’ve had surgery. It sends a message that [spending thousands] is the only way to achieve beauty.”
Fundamentally “investing in yourself” is a gamble. Since Megan left the Love Island villa, she earns almost £1million a month posting pictures and videos on OnlyFans. Meanwhile, Ellisha admits it took a whole year for her marketing business to financially recover from the break she took to enter the villa. But the £700 she spent for two days of fame will never be reimbursed.
“For some unbeknown reason, there’s still a huge fascination with people going on Love Island,” she says. “Everyone thinks that it makes someone’s career. People assume whoever goes in will make loads of money straight away. That’s not how it is. TV is not like that.”
Love Island 2023 continues at 9pm on ITV2 and ITVX. For all the latest Love Island news and gossip and for the best memes and quizzes, like The Holy Church of Love Island on Facebook. Image credit via ITV.