Image Source: Mike Gripz
It's very rare to see South Asian women on TV as it is, but to see them represented on reality TV, particularly in shows about dating, is a whole different ball game. Love Island is probably one of the most well-known dating shows there is, and for years its cast has been primarily white and lacking in contestants from diverse backgrounds, until now. Love Island's Shannon Singh was one of the first-ever Indian contestants to feature on the dating show, and fans of the show had a lot to say about it.
Whether it was questioning her surname (Singh is a name typically used by men Sikhs and it directly translates to "lion"), shaming her for her previous career in glamour modelling, or the positive reactions to more South Asian representation on reality TV, the Indian community online had a lot of opinions. We caught up with Singh to talk about her 48-hour experience in the villa, the positives of taking control of your body on OnlyFans, and the importance of embracing your sexuality as a South Asian woman.
"When I got the text, I really wasn't expecting it," Singh told POPSUGAR. "No one was. I read it, and it said, 'You're getting dumped,' I was like, 'Wait, what? Is this real?' It was only 48 hours and I was just mortified. I was just looking at everyone like, 'Wow. I've done two weeks of quarantine for 48 hours.'" Watching the show at home, and having been so excited for Singh's arrival, I could only imagine how she was feeling. "There's no clocks [in the villa], so you have no sense of time," she told POPSUGAR. "You kind of gauge it by when the sun goes down. I got that text, I had to go and pack, and I left. I got taken to another villa, and I had a chaperone. I woke up mortified. I felt so embarrassed, and I didn't get my phone back until Thursday because you're not allowed your phone back until the episodes air. I phoned my mum and she was like, 'We're so proud of you. Everyone's behind you.'"
When it comes to the production of Love Island, Singh believes that it's easy for viewers at home to tell when people aren't being genuine. "You can tell when people are playing up to the cameras, and you can tell when people aren't having the conversations because they want to," the former islander explained. "The one thing that Mum and Dad said to me when they watched it is that I came across as me. But my mum said that I wasn't as outspoken and bubbly as I normally am and I told her that it just depends on how they edit the show and what they put in." She added: "To be honest I just wanted to ensure I was staying true to myself on the show. I haven't shot glamour images in years and years and somehow I think some viewers had an expectation of me when it came to those more saucy challenges because of my past. At no point was I pressured to partake at all by producers, but personally I made the choice not to join in when it came to the sex-position challenge."
Image Source: Phil Baro Thomas
Along with the reaction to Singh being on the show itself, the majority of fans' reactions came well before she even entered the villa. She spoke with her family about her Indian identity prior to going on the show; it's a point of pride for Singh. "I wondered if everyone was going to get behind me or if they were going to hate it," she told us, adding: "I've had so many positive emails and messages from Asian and non-Asian women. I don't want to speak for every single Asian woman, because that's just not really feasible, but I was like, 'Go on, girl,' because I don't think there's enough Asian visibility anywhere. I'm so happy that I'm half Indian and I love having culture in me."
That said, with every positive comment Singh has received, there are (unsurprisingly) plenty of negatives, too. "I get these DMs from Asian men, asking me, 'Why are you not named Kaur?' And I'm like, 'Because I'm not. My mum and dad named me Singh. Get over it.' They say that I don't deserve to have the name Singh in my name and I don't even reply," she explained. "The way that it's been painted is that I've never been brought up in an Indian background, but I have. My family are very Asian, but I've just chosen not to live that way."
Delving a little deeper into Singh's family life, she told us: "People don't realise that my dad isn't from India. My dad was born in Birmingham, but I've got a very big Asian family. They aren't all the conventional Indian type, but my bibi (grandma) was really traditional. I don't think people realise that when I say, 'I've not been brought up in it,' I just mean that my dad's not pushed it on me and my brother. He's always said, 'You be who you want to be. I'll support who you are,' and obviously, my mum's got a part to play in that, too."
Despite the openness of Singh's parents, members of her extended family have not always felt the same way that they have. "My dad's brother used to make comments like, 'Tell your daughter to put a skirt on,' and my dad would say, 'Mind your own business.' We've been quite lucky to be able to express ourselves in whatever way we wanted to, but don't get me wrong, he's not jumping for joy that I used to be a glamour model," she said. "What dad would be? But he is supportive of every single thing that I want to do, and he's really proud of the woman that I've become."
Image Source: Rebecca Alison
Speaking about her previous life in glamour modelling, Singh told POPSUGAR: "It's really important to speak about these topics. So many young girls have phones and they see all these women. I want to make it really abundantly clear that if I did not do glamour, I would not have an OnlyFans. If I wasn't a published model, I wouldn't have had it. There's a really dark side to it, so many photographers exploited people, even me. I've been exploited. OnlyFans gave people the power and the control to monetise their own content. There's billions of users on OnlyFans and only 25 percent of [the content] is glamour. I think that because a lot of people are focused on quitting their day jobs and then making 30 grand a month off of it, that's overshadowed the actual potential of the site." For Singh, and many other users of the platform, it's about "creating your own career, creating your own content, and you being in control. I think it's a really great platform. But I'm never going to go back on it. I've hung up my boots. For me, it just wasn't really fulfilling."
"I just want to say to some South Asian women that, if you want to do something, do it. You get one life, and that's it."
Outside of glamour modelling and OnlyFans, Singh hopes that her (albeit brief) appearance on Love Island will help the next generation of South Asian women to explore their sexuality and self-confidence. "I just don't think that we're represented enough," she explained. "Who on TV that is Asian do you see being sexy and being confident? Obviously, we've got Bollywood, but if you're not into Bollywood, or you don't watch it, then you really don't see that many Asian people on TV. In Asian culture, you see that women just aren't able to express themselves. Asian women never see other Asian women being sexy, even in high-fashion modelling and acting. I think it's a shame that they've got nobody to look up to. I'm not saying that I'm the only one to look up to, but it's really important that it's just portrayed more, and if I have to pave the way for things to change, of course I'm going to try."
Though the Shannon Singh we see today is exactly those things (sexy and confident), even she admitted that her family were less than pleased when they found out about her modelling career — but it didn't stop her. "I told them, 'I don't care. You live your life, and I'll live my life,' and I think that the more Asian women that do that, the more that families are just going to have to accept it," she told POPSUGAR. "For me, sexuality is a huge part [of my life], and I don't think that Asian women get to express their sexuality. The opinion is usually, 'You better put clothes on. Who do you think you are?' I feel like a lot of Asian women just need to come out and just say, 'Accept me or don't,' and if there's evidence in the media of me doing it, then hopefully it gives other people a little bit more confidence to do the same."
In terms of her advice for other South Asian women, Singh said: "I just want to say to some South Asian women that, if you want to do something, do it. You get one life, and that's it. You need to make the most of it. If you can't live your life being who you are, then there's something wrong. I used to be really, really close to my cousins and I remember when I was out with one of them and he would have to hide stuff from my auntie. I just remember looking at my mum and dad like, 'Thank god that I've got you guys,' because it's so sad."
Singh encouraged young South Asian women to communicate with their families about who they are and what they want out of life. "I think a lot of young girls just need to pluck up the courage to have the conversations with their family, because some people don't even realise that the conversations will never be had because they're too scared," she said. "If you just sat down and had the conversation, even if you don't get that outcome from it that you want straight away, it plants a seed. If people start having the conversations, then that's when the changes start happening. We still have feelings. We have aspirations. We've got a sex drive. We like boys. We like girls. Why does it matter?"