Reality dating shows used to be one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Netflix ones, such as Love is Blind, Too Hot to Handle, and Perfect Match have exploded in popularity in recent years. I’m not alone—many people unwind with a dose of late-night reality television. It’s appealing to get caught up in the drama of others and forget your own problems. But lately, reality TV doesn’t make me forget, it only reminds me that brown and Black women are subject to an entirely different set of rules when it comes to dating (with darker-skinned Latinx people erased all together).
I was struck by this when watching Perfect Match. The series stars people from previous Netflix reality dating shows. It’s typical save for that twist, with alternating weeks with more men and women at the villa à la Love Island. The episodes started off as a welcome distraction but as the series continued and zero Latinx people were featured, I became annoyed. The lack of Latinx representation on Perfect Match, a series featuring former Netflix reality dating stars, only brings more attention to the glaring issue.
This kind of media is supposed to be mindless, relaxing even. But for me, it isn’t anymore. There are never any people on any Netflix reality show who look like me. On the rare occasion that Latinx people are on these shows, they tend to be light-skinned and light-eyed. Flavia from Too Hot to Handle Season 4 is a perfect example. I almost never see a brown Latina on these shows and the BIPOC women I do see are constantly overlooked in favor of their white counterparts. To be fair, Latinx representation is lacking across all of Hollywood, not just reality television, especially when it comes to darker-skinned Indigenous and Black Latinx people.
Watching BIPOC women come on these shows over the years has demonstrated an awful truth. Even if more brown Latinx women were included, they’d be treated poorly. I’m exhausted and frankly tired of watching the same narrative play out over and over again. It’s not entertaining anymore—it’s depressing. So I’ve decided. I’m breaking up with reality dating shows.
As much as I can tell myself that reality dating shows don’t represent real life and this lack of representation shouldn’t bother me—I don’t think that’s true. We internalize media, especially when the same patterns are repeated over and over. How is this Latinx erasure affecting me? What is it implicitly saying about the desirability of brown Latinx people? About my own desirability? Does the media have an effect on who people date in real life?
Through being forced to contend with the answers to these questions I have come to a conclusion—these shows are bad for BIPOC women and represent a more brutal version of the desirability politics that play out in real life. It’s no secret that dark-skinned BIPOC women are confronted with more obstacles when it comes to dating and these shows only further that narrative. This issue extends past Netflix reality dating shows to dating shows in general. The Bachelor and Love Island are notoriously awful at including BIPOC people and bringing on contestants that will date outside of their narrow and usually white “type.”
To be honest, I’m a little sad about saying goodbye. When I first started watching them, reality dating shows provided relief, distraction, and laughter. In college, my friends and I would get together to watch shows like The Bachelor and Love Island. We had a great time making fun of the contestants and laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. But that lightness has dissipated for me.
I remember one day, a friend who was new to reality TV watched The Bachelor with me. “Are the brown girls ever the final choice?” she asked. “No,” I said. “They’re not.” Until that changes, I’m done watching.