Just in case you have somehow managed to overlook its existence and the hundreds of headlines about it (which would be an impressive feat indeed), “Love Island” is a reality TV dating show. It is one of those things which everyone seems to have an opinion on, whether they have watched it or not. The show has a habit of finding its way into conversations and fueling heated debate throughout the humid summer months. On Monday (26th April), The Cambridge Union hosted Megan Barton Hanson for a conversation about her time on Love Island (in 2018), her experience with UK media outlets, OnlyFans, female pleasure, sex toys, the sex industry, bisexuality, trolling, and so much more. If this captures your interest, you can watch the event here. It is only forty five minutes, and it is definitely worth the time. It is worth making a special mention here to Tara Bhagat, the Union Speakers’ Officer, who prepared a series of thought-provoking questions for Megan.
As luck would have it, Megan also agreed to be interviewed for TCS following her talk at the Union. Having spent a significant part of my 2018 summer following her Love Island journey on screen, meeting Megan in person was a bit surreal for me. I was also, admittedly, very nervous to meet her. I’ve always thought she is an extremely cool, glam and empowering woman; and thankfully, meeting her only confirmed these favourable opinions of mine. She was friendly, smiley, and patient with me when my phone decided to crash just before I asked my questions (right on cue) . Luckily, my phone decided to work after taking a minute or two out.
My first question to Megan (which I asked scarlet-faced post-phone meltdown) was: do you think the UK media has a sexism issue?
After a brief pause, Megan responded: “There will always be sexism. Like we saw it with me on Love Island. I moved exactly like a guy. I slept with two guys in 8 weeks. That’s absolutely fine, like you’re on a dating show with hot people. I have friends who will go to Magaluf and sleep with eight people in two days, it’s really not a big deal. But just because I was female, I was asked about it in every single interview. Like people were knocking on my parents’ house asking if they were ashamed of me and trying to dig up my past. People really shamed me for being open and honest. It [i.e. Megan’s previous work as a Glamour model] wasn’t a big dirty secret I was trying to keep, I fully owned it when I walked in the villa. Like you wouldn’t see my male counterparts described in such a sleazy way as I’m described. If I wear a top, even if I wear a turtleneck they’re like ‘oh my god, Megan’s ample assets,’ and it’s like I’m just minding my own business going to Tesco. So yeah, there’s definitely a sexism issue.”
It’s a shame that I was not surprised by Megan’s response at all. In fact, I would have been extremely surprised if Megan had had a positive experience with the media overall. So I tried to change the tone a bit for my next question which was: what’s the best thing about being an influencer?
“The best thing, won’t lie, is that I get so many free clothes and so much free make-up- not that I can even do my own make-up. But it’s like when you’re growing up as a teenager, it’s your dream to get sent all this free stuff. Also, being able to have a voice: before I went onto Love Island, I didn’t think I had a talent. I didn’t really know where I was going in my life or what my role was. It was never my plan to come out of Love Island and be this feminist who speaks constantly about women pleasuring themselves and sex toys and sex works and being gay. But it’s just kind of snowballed and happened. I feel like I’ve finally found my role in life and something I’m good at and passionate about and want to wake up for. It’s given me that and I love that.”
My final question was- you (have probably) guessed it- what’s the worst thing about being an influencer?
“The worst thing is trolling and relationships. I feel like now I’m just super cautious in relationships. Even if I just go for a first date or a drink with someone, I don’t want to be papped because it just puts pressure on it. And everyone has an opinion on anything from my hairstyle to my lipstick colour to my boyfriend to my girlfriend. So that can be kind of hard.”
It’s always a pleasure to meet uplifting women like Megan who are passionate about sparking conversations, calling out sexism and breaking taboos. So even though it was troubling to hear of the deeply unfair treatment of Megan online, I left the interview at the Union filled with a little more hope for the world of tomorrow than when I initially arrived there.
* If you are interested in finding out more about Megan, then I would strongly recommend reading her column for Vice where she discusses topics from ‘How to Make a Dating Profile that Doesn’t Suck’ to ‘How to Handle Slut-Shaming.’