Everything I know about fashionistas, I learned from Snog, Marry, Avoid

A self-confessed scruff explains the appeal of BBC3's surprisingly affecting fashion show

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Everything I know about fashionistas, I learned from Snog, Marry, Avoid
Written By
Tom Cole

A long time ago, some wise sage – Newton, perhaps, or maybe it was Paula Abdul – said that opposites attract, and having recently developed some real feelings of affection for BBC3’s slap-tastic "make-under" show Snog, Marry, Avoid?, I find it hard to disagree.

You see, despite being a hoodie-clad, unshaven man who’s never smeared himself in fake tan, affixed so much as a single false eyelash or been unduly worried about how much thigh it’s proper to display on a night out, I rather enjoy the show.

Indeed, for a quick half-hour fix of TV, it’s got everything you want: laughs, fascinating people and a run-time that doesn’t outstay its welcome. The fact that the show’s script is so playfully catty it sounds like Charles Hawtrey after a couple of gins doesn’t hurt, either…

Briefly, for the unacquainted, Snog, Marry, Avoid? is a fashion programme in which people who dress in extreme styles (from goths with rivets through their scalps to would-be porn stars without much on at all) are "made under" – that is, encouraged to ditch their outrageous make-up and clothes and reveal their natural beauty - by POD, the show’s CGI "personal overhaul device", which functions like HAL from 2001: a Space Odyssey’s Grazia-reading sister. 

Why? It isn’t clear, but when a show’s this fascinating, who cares?

Each episode presents the viewer with an onslaught of glittery costumes and technicolor make-up, it’s true, but while there’s much fun to be had gawping at the astonishing outfits featured on the show, SMA’s genius lies in the fact that it’s a fashion show that’s more about people than clothes. And for someone without much idea of how that fashion-fan's mind works, that's utterly fascinating.

So, for instance, before watching SMA I imagined that women who trowelled on make-up and went out with barely a stitch on were the most confident creatures on the planet. But it appears I was mistaken, with everyone from wannabe Chantelle Houghtons to Chantelle Houghton herself appearing on the programme to confess the feelings of ugliness and insecurity they experience when deprived of their cosmetic and sartorial defences.

And those people with flesh-holes through their earlobes, facial tattoos or bizarre piercings? Are they really troubled, dark, scary people? Why no, they're largely under-confident, softly spoken youngsters who want some attention, even if it's negative.

Don't get me wrong. This isn’t to say SMA is a show that deeply probes the psyches of the fab young things who appear on it – it’s a BBC3 series, after all, not BBC4 – but it reveals enough of their true feelings to satisfy most armchair psychologists who might care to tune in and, crucially, gives those of us with the barest grasp of the fashion-follower’s mindset a better understanding of what makes these people tick.

I recently spoke to someone about the appeal of observational documentaries on TV, and they explained it by saying: “Well, we’re all interested in other people’s lives, aren’t we?” It’s the same for SMA. This isn’t a show to watch for fashion advice – this is a programme you catch for its fascinating stories, characters and, yes, to a lesser extent, amazing aesthetics.

While Snog, Marry, Avoid? hasn’t convinced me of the value of moisturising or trading in my Black Sabbath T-shirt for a Savile Row suit, it’s taught me a much more valuable life lesson – to be less judgemental. After all, behind the make-up and sequins, underneath the fake tan and inflated boobs, lurk people – like everyone else – who just want to be loved.

Snog, Marry, Avoid? is on BBC3 tonight from 7pm

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