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Love Island invented ‘The Ick’ – but now I’m sick of it

Contestants on the new series of ‘Love Island’  (ITV)
Contestants on the new series of ‘Love Island’ (ITV)

Oh, The Ick – how we love you. What a convenient way to express the depths of irrational disgust and horror people can feel at basic human behaviour. How did we explain the sudden gut feeling that a person you were once attracted to is now not only unattractive but actively repulsive, before The Ick?

For several years now, The Ick has taken over the internet and girls’ minds. It first took hold as many contemporary dating concepts do: via Love Island. While describing things as “icky” has, of course, long signalled disgust, it was the brain of one-time contestant Olivia Attwood that brought us The Ick. Since she used the term in 2017, every subsequent series has only implanted the concept deeper into the collective psyche. Indeed, Love Island and the idea of The Ick have become so synonymous that it has already emerged in this year’s Winter Love Island, despite the series only starting today. Entry interviews are where the first clutch of Islanders can make their mark, dazzling the public with puns and quips, or confessing to a cheeky foot fetish. Last week, two of the new girls decided to show off their unique personalities, tastes and talents through the medium of “The Ick”.

First up there was London hair stylist Tanyel, who proclaimed: “I don’t like pretty boys, they give me The Ick because they always have a crap personality.” Apparently, Channing Tatum is safe from Tanyel’s standards, though, because he’s “handsome but not too pretty”. Then there was make-up artist Lana, who at first seemed to be embodying the “sweet, romantic” role on the new series, declaring that she’d tell someone she loves them after just a week of dating. She must have then remembered she was on Love Island, where nice girls often finish last – so she quickly added a bit of dating realism to the mix. “I don’t mind people texting me all the time, but if you send me question marks if I’ve not replied to you in a while, you’re gone.” She also added one other sure-fire way to give her The Ick: “If I see a guy trip over, that’s an instant turn-off.”

The entire concept of The Ick makes me think of a scene in the 2006 romcom The Holiday. In it, Kate Winslet’s unlucky-in-love journalist is told by a no-nonsense nonagenarian that she is “the leading lady”, but is “acting like the best friend”. “That was brilliant,” Winslet’s character says. “Brutal, but brilliant.” This is The Ick’s essence and charm.

Sometimes people seem to get confused when confessing to Icks – declaring disgust at things like “not showering”, “smelling bad”, or “being rude to waitresses”. But, to keep using trendy contemporary dating lingo, these aren’t mere Icks but undeniable Red Flags. Abysmal personal hygiene, snobbery and disrespect are all good reasons to call it a day on a crush. They are legitimate turn-offs. Icks are not. The essential truth of The Ick is that it is irrational. Tiny. Pathetic. Maybe his car alarm goes off when he picks you up for a date, and you get The Ick and end things there and then. Or you witness him wearing goggles to swim, or running with a backpack on. Perhaps you go bowling, and just seeing him walk back down the lane after taking his go is enough to turn your stomach and your heart against him. The Ick is so unreasonable, so deeply unjustifiable, that you can even get it over something that didn’t actually happen. When all you’re doing is imagining someone you thought you had the hots for doing something a bit, well, icky. As one comment on TikTok put it, “thinking about him saying ‘woo’ on a rollercoaster makes me feel sick”.

When the concept of The Ick first surfaced on Love Island, I have to admit I was immediately obsessed. I started compiling examples, the stupider the better. A personal favourite was “if they lose their balance on the Tube”. When one of my friends said “if he eats yoghurt”, I laughed so much I thought I would never recover full lung capacity. But, just like a whirlwind romance that crumbles after a while, my feelings have now soured. The Ick has started giving me The Ick. Because doesn’t the whole thing feel a bit embarrassing? A bit juvenile? Loathe am I to mount a defence of men, but come on... yoghurt? Boys deserve gut health too!

Sure, revelling in intense and irrational jolts of disgust can be delicious. More than that, loudly declaring that random things men do are insurmountable turn-offs can even feel like a turning of the tables – a bite back against the boys who write women off for their perceived flaws. But, in the sea of gleeful anecdotes I’ve encountered, it hasn’t escaped my notice that a lot of so-called Icks are merely deviations from gender norms. As Tanyel’s comment about disliking guys that are “pretty” suggests, just the tiniest hint of “unmanliness” seems to be enough for people to cast their judgement and disgust. Sometimes displaying even the most minimal concern for their own comfort and safety can earn a man The Ick. I’ve heard girls saying their Ick is “when a guy carries an umbrella”. Or “if he waits for the green man to cross the road”. Anyone would think that what women want from men they fancy is for them not to be human at all – just an unfeeling lump of abs. This might work on Love Island, but in the real world is this really the end goal of contemporary heterosexual dating commentary and internet feminism?

So, we’ve had fun. But I just don’t feel the same way anymore. The Ick’s time is over. In 2023, let’s set ourselves free. Go on guys, run – with your rucksacks full of Yakult whacking into the smalls of your backs as you go.

‘Love Island’ begins on Monday 16 January at 9pm on ITV2