In 2002, I had cause to be watching MTV, which I do when I need to be inspired to be healthier. Nothing like watching unfeasibly gorgeous women cavorting about a video set to make you draw your abs in and imagine how you could look, if only you tried. Then this girl came on, Avril Lavigne. She was different from all the other songstresses: a slight tomboy attitude but more unusual than that - her hair was mousy brown and parted in the middle, and had been left to grow straight. "I wonder," I mused to Mr Nobody, "how long it will be before she's made over." Actually, it took quite a long time. It was only this year that she succumbed to the "make-over car wash", whereby you go in as an individual and come out looking like every other person on TV. Avril Lavigne is now very, very blonde and her hair has gone all bouffy.
This is why I adore BBC TV's Breakfast. For some glorious reason, and unlike every other programme, it seems to hire presenters and reporters for what they can do rather than how they look. What you get is a bunch of really normal people who just happen to have a job on television.
The absolute top spot goes to Kate Allen, who does travel updates ("There's heavy traffic at Pall Mall", that kind of thing; not "This is a nice place to go on holiday"). When my boyfriend and I first started noticing her, a couple of years ago, he wasn't that nice. "What is she wearing?" and "What's going on with her hair?" were common refrains. Ms Allen is fiercely individualistic. She is often to be seen with her long blonde hair plaited and put up on her head à la milkmaid. She also wears glasses, which, as we all know, is a crime on TV unless you're Professor Stephen Hawking. I couldn't tell you what else she wears, as it's just clothes.
I chastised my boyfriend back then, but I must confess that, as time has gone on, my fondness for her has grown. Now I go "shhhhh" whenever she comes on TV and I go on and on about how great she is. As if Kate weren't enough, there's her colleague Nicola Beswick, who also does travel. Nicola has spiky hair and she wears clothes just like you and I might own. She looks like someone you or I might actually know and spend time with, and as if she wouldn't look even shinier or tinier in the flesh.
In her excellent book Sex and Suits, Anne Hollander theorises that when all people are dressed the same, you notice the individual more, whereas when they dress differently, it's the clothes that "talk". I think the opposite is true on television: it is entirely different, for me, when a female presenter is relegated to wearing a suit and strives to show some personality despite what is basically a uniform. It's only if she looks a bit different that I actually listen to what she is saying.
As for Avril Lavigne, thank God for Pink. Now there's a singer who, a decade in, has managed to stay looking something like her passport picture.