From a double helping of Love Island to the long-awaited return of Big Brother, it only takes one look at Twitter’s trending topics to know it’s a big year for reality TV. And the demand is still going strong – 3.4 million people tuned in to watch the contestants couple up and get pied off in Maya Jama’s first episode as Love Island host in January. Yet, in the literal decades since Big Brother’s 2000 launch, and the heady days of TOWIE, Made In Chelsea and the various talent shows that followed, it seems casting has remained hideously lacking in diversity and, well, realism. But why?
As a disabled person, it’s rare for someone on reality TV to look like me, or part of my community. My body, and the life I live, are a far cry from the very narrow beauty standards presented to us on screen in reality shows.
Recent government research estimates 14.6 million disabled people live in the UK, but the majority of reality TV casts are non-disabled, and those that are included can sometimes feel like an afterthought. This lack of representation only perpetuates the damaging notion that to be disabled is to be unworthy of love, in much the same way that I’m told I’m ‘pretty – for a disabled girl’.
Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t disabled contestants on reality TV, and some shows are taking steps in the right direction (though the reaction on social media frequently feels like it takes us two paces back). Season one of The Traitors received wide acclaim for its genuinely diverse cast, while Strictly Come Dancing has been praised for its inclusive line-up over the years, including Ellie Simmonds, who was born with achondroplasia (a form of dwarfism), and JJ Chalmers, who was injured in a bomb blast in 2011. Then, of course, the brilliant Tasha Ghouri from Love Island 2022, who has used her platform to discuss life with a cochlear implant.
But with shows such as The Undateables and Love On The Spectrum, which treat contestants more like spectacles than singletons, it’s hard to feel like we’re included within the reality TV world. Disabled contestants don’t want to evoke pity, and non-disabled cast members shouldn’t be deemed saintly for wanting to date us. It only reinforces the idea that if you’re disabled, you’re harder to love, which can have a trickle-down effect into real life. A recent study from the Office for National Statistics showed disabled people are almost three times more likely to experience domestic abuse compared with non-disabled adults.
In order for attitudes to change, reality TV needs to stop treating disabled people as different and include us in a way that normalises our experiences. We don’t need our own shows; we want to be messy singles going on terrible dates, just like everyone else. We want to be coupling up, pieing off – and meeting Maya Jama.2023-06-05T08:53:46Z dg43tfdfdgfd