Why make-unders are the new make-overs

The host of 'Snog, Marry, Avoid?' with two contestants


In news that has people “shocked,” and “flabbergasted” and “mildly thirsty,” us Australians have JUST cottoned onto the wickedly good TV show, Snog, Marry, Avoid?

The series, which induces shame and delight in equal parts, has been on air since 2008 in the UK, but has just arrived here. (You’ll find it shimmering brightly on Friday nights on digital channel 11. I certainly did last Friday night, as did the many girls I chatted on Twitter with about it. It was like a virtual pyjama party, just with less pillow fights and popcorn.)

Snog, Marry, Avoid? is a makeunder show. An affable host introduces us to a handful of very… exciting young women, (including celebrities) who have been specially selected because of their love of “fakery” – fake tan, too much makeup, fake boobs, hair extensions, fake lashes, fake nails and so on. (And in the UK, well, they really bloody go for it, don’t they?) Of course, these are things that a lot of us are desperately attached to, but we manage to use with a little more restraint than these dames.

From there, they are hurled in front of “computer” called POD (Personal Overhaul Device) who is a ruthless ghoul, but says a lot of the things we’re all secretly thinking a little bit, but cannot, and will not, ever say, because we are nice people who let other people look the way that most pleases them. (As she is a “computer” she is allowed to be a cow and no one can throw a punch. Brilliant idea, really.)

So, there’s nasty old POD, tearing strips off them, telling them they look trashy, and asking why they don’t let their natural beauty shine through, (“because I don’t have any” they say, and my heart breaks a little bit) and doing brutal vox pops with men to get their opinions of each makeunder candidate – “Would you call this girl more of a drag queen or a beauty queen?” and of course, “Would you want to snog, marry or avoid this girl?” – so that our poor thigh-high booted lamb is feeling like a piece of bin sludge, and therefore far more vulnerable to a cleanser and hair dye ambush.

It’s horrible, this part, because even though these young women exude confidence and gregariousness and fabulousness, their OTT appearance is more often than not an enormous (but extremely thinly concealed) mask hiding a cavernous lack of self confidence. This is painfully obvious by the way they choose the “avoid” or “drag queen” option as the one they think the boys will choose. (My heart breaks a bit there too.) (Shoosh, watch it before you judge.)

Next POD demands the girls remove their makeup, direct to camera. They HATE THIS. Dear golden eye liners do they hate this. I squirm watching them squirm. Then I gasp seeing the tsunami-sized tide lines between the colour of their now makeup-free face, and their makeup-laden necks. It’s outrageous.

From here they reluctantly choose their new hair colour/style/cut, makeup and style look from the strictly edited options POD presents, and ZIM! ZAP! KAPOW! In a flash of pretty terrible SFX, the makeunder happens.

A 'Snog, Marry, Avoid?' contestant

And she is revealed! I swoon. I slap the cushions on the sofa in glee. I marvel at how BEAUTIFUL these women are when they are stripped down to their natural skin tone (sun damage-free, thanks to England being, uh, sun-free), some simple eye shadow, natural, skin-matched foundation and lipstick, and hair that is free of ratty, unloved extensions, instead a vision of health and gloss in a shade that makes their eye colour spectacularly enchanting. Their new clothes are flattering, age-appropriate and cover their stomach and bum cheeks, which must be not only a lot warmer, but also far easier to conceal any pasta consumed. In short: they look like a pretty, modern, younger sister of their former selves. (My using the word “younger” was not inadvertent.)


The newly madeunder girls oscillate between loving their new look, and feeling dull and common, but an impressive amount of them are still doing “natural beauty,” when Affable Host revisits them weeks later.

While I would like to think this is because they have a renewed and more authentic self-confidence, and understand how much more attractive they are now that they have embraced their actual beauty, rather than basically creating a whole new person each day, I think probably part of it comes down to some extremely vocal support from the friends and family who nominated them for the show.

Of course, I can’t pretend they weren’t encouraged by the second vox pop, where the men who saw their madeunder image used words like “pretty” and “gorgeous,” and sentences like “I’d take her home to meet mum.”

Some might say it’s disappointing that a show that demonstrates such obvious visual improvement (well, in my eyes) still relies on a chorus of lads on the street to prove that the makeunder is a success, (and that she is therefore “marriage material”?! – vomit) but a lot of women need to be deemed attractive to men to feel beautiful, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Also, and perhaps more pertinently, most of the girls on the show are picked because they’re single and curious as to why, when they “get so much attention.” (Ah, yes, but what kind of attention and from whom, my crumpets!) So it makes sense in that… sense.

A 'Snog, Marry, Avoid?' contestant


This has turned into a bit of a Dear Diary, my new bestest TV show is Snog, Marry, Avoid? but I shan’t apologise because I love the show and makeunders in general, as anyone (ALL OF YOU, OBVIOUSLY) who has read my beauty book Amazing Face will attest. I am an enormous and insufferable advocate of using beauty prodz and techniques to emphasise the terrific stuff you have, and conceal the things you believe to be flaws. Not alter or mask the whole lot.

Sometimes I see women, younger girls mostly, wearing just too much, too much of everything, (except in the pants region) and I wish to whisk them away to a basin and gently wipe it all off and then attack them lovingly with some lovely Bobbi Brown or Laura Mercier makeup and a gleaming pair of scissors. But I don’t, because that’s generally called “assault”, and also because they’re on their own journey, and they’re happy the way they are, and man they seem to be having fun.

Yes, yes, by all means be playful and experimental with your look, get that weave and those acrylics and that spray tan if you love them – do whatever makes you feel terrific (spray tans make me feel g-damn INVINCIBLE) – but once in a while, maybe makeunder yourself, just to see how it feels, and looks. Try a wash of eyeshadow, but no liner. Wear tinted moisturiser instead of foundation and powder. Leave off the false lashes. Skip the heavy bronzer for some crème blush. Don’t apply self tanner. Let your hair be curly or wavy for once. Only apply one sleeve of temporary tattoos, instead of two.

Heck. You might even love it!

You might hate it too, but at least you gave it a wizzle, and that’s what counts.

Zoe is an author, columnist and porridge fan. She was beauty director of Cosmopolitan, Harper’s BAZAAR and PRIMPED and then collated all the best tips and tricks from her time in these roles for the beauty bible, Amazing Face. She is currently the dating columnist for Cosmopolitan magazine, although her best advice in this arena can probably be found in the dating and relationship guide, Textbook Romance , which she co-wrote with Hamish Blake. Zoe has published three novels, Air Kisses, Playing The Field and The Younger Man, and she rates them among the best novels ever written in the history of the written word. Find more info on her here, or supervise on her daily procrastination here and here.

Please understand that Zoë cannot respond to ALL your questions – but never fear, there are readers that are bound to know the answers, so don’t be afraid to ask – and answer!