Ugly Betty

I just…don’t really know what to say about Ugly Betty, except that the very title of the show is appalling.

ABC’s hook for the show is “In the superficial world of high fashion, image is everything. Styles come and go and the only constants are wafer-thin beauties who wear it. Where could a girl who is less than pretty and a little bit pudgy possibly fit in?”

Someone please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks this show’s creation was just a really bad idea. Maybe it’ll be a good satirical look at the shallow nature of the fashion industry.  Somehow, I doubt it.

And  I’m left wondering why they assume Betty would want to fit into the superficial world in which she’s thrown.


  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    The title alone is already a strike against: a woman being defined by her looks.

    A bit more from the ABC website:

    If you knew Betty Suarez, you’d see how sweet, intelligent and hard-working she is. Few people ever get to know her because in the world of fashion, Betty is the oversized square peg, in the petite round hole. But finally, her looks and lack of fashion sense are going to be an asset. When publishing mogul Bradford Meade hands the reigns of his fashion magazine, Mode, over to his son Daniel, he specifically hires Betty as his son’s new assistant – mostly because she’s the only woman in NYC who Daniel won’t sleep with. Repulsed at first, Betty will win him over with her efficiency. Neither of them really knows the ins and outs of the fashion world, but the two of them are a formidable team against the label-wearing sharks who will do anything to see them fail. That includes many couture co-workers with botoxed smiles on their faces and knives behind their Galliano backs.

    Salma Hayek’s the executive producer.

    I’m pretty cynical at this point.

  2. scarlett says

    This sounds like ‘Just Shoot Me’, only without whatever intelligence and wit THAT show could claim to have.

    Surely, if she were so efficient and great at her tjob, she’d have better things to do then work in such a demoralising industry?

  3. sbg says

    Presumably, she wants to be there. She wants to fit in to this shallow world that has no place for her as she is. I’m just guessing, of course, but I suspect that might be the case and I find that kind of disturbing.

  4. scarlett says

    mascohistic, anyone?
    Or maybe they’re trying to say that all those Plain Jane feminists, for all their proclaimations about not wanting anything to do with such a shallow industry that perpetuates impossible beaty standards, REALLY want to be accepted by it…

  5. sbg says

    Oh, of course! 1) all feminists are Plain Janes (or Ugly Bettys) and 2) all feminists are just jealous and want to be pretty and thin.

    ::rolls eyes::

  6. scarlett says

    exactly! everyone knows women are only feminists because they can’t get what they want through looks and sleeping artound… :p

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    Right, because everything a woman does is really somehow about men. If she’s a feminist, it’s because she can’t get a man, or got hurt by a man. Couldn’t be that she sees how gender imbalance hurts men AND women, and would like it to stop doing that. 😉

    I dunno. I can just barely imagine a novel or a movie taking a story like this and putting across a good message about just what IS beautiful and ugly, and why we assess value to either one. I cannot see a TV show succeeding, because even if they have a perfect plan, they will be forced to do what the studio says… and we all know where the studios fall on these issues.

  8. Spanishgal says

    “Ugly Betty” is supposed to be an American version of the Colombian soap “Betty la fea” (2000), about an economist whom nobody wants to hire because of her looks. She ends up working as a secretary for the president of a fashion firm, and later as his assistant. I don’t know how the American version is going to work, but the Colombian original was absolutely brilliant, witty and very funny. The actors had no problem shooting a dramatic scene at one point, and making absolute fools of themselves the next. It made a terrific combination. And it is the first time that a soap has that many spin-offs, you should wonder why ;o) (at least Mexico, Spain, India and Germany have already tried their hand) I don’t think this one will be half as good, but don’t let the title or the plotline alone put you off. I just wish ABC could be watched online….

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    Oh, I’ve come across that show before! That’s interesting.

    Well, we’ll just have to see how this version goes.

  10. scarlett says

    I realise I’m not going to so much shove my foot but everything up to my knee in my mouth saying this, but…

    Why does it not surprise me that Latin Americans and Asians have a greater appreciation of wit when it comes to feminist issues then Amricans do?

  11. Spanishgal says

    Well, don’t misunderstand me, for all the wit, there was also a lot of political incorrectness; the male lead was a borderline alcoholic who spent the second half of the series driving under the influence and getting into fights (until reemed by love, of course); the secretaries only saw men as walking wallets, finding a man was their only aim and purpose in life, and poor Betty was the excuse for a lot of cruel jokes on how a particularly disgusting class of guys see women (sure, we were meant to hate the pig who made those jokes, but sometimes you could not help a guilty laugh…). Ah, well, at least Betty won the day… :o) But I do realise that many things that happened on that show would never, ever, be shown in America. In any case, probably for that reason I am very curious to see how they translate the show to a different culture…

  12. sbg says

    If Betty wasn’t being hired based on her looks, she should have got herself a lawyer and brought a discrimination suit against some of those potential employers. 😉

    I jest. I really do hope that it’s a great satire; I just don’t have much faith in most American television producers. I’m jaded like that.

  13. Spanishgal says

    … and then she would have sued some random firm, got herself hired by someone else than a handsome-but-alcoholic womanising boss, and there would be no soap :o) Seriously, I suppose it is silly to do deep analysis on a soap character, but this poor woman had serious self-esteem issues, and was pretty much resigned to her fate. The most she did was not to send a photo with her CV, and say that she had run out…

    I don’t want to blow the plot, but it was interesting that she made two different attempts to become pretty: the first time she did it for him, and it was a disaster; the second time she did it for herself, and lo and behold, she was pretty all along (surprise, surprise). The soap did have a feminist message of sorts, but it was mixed with a lot of controversial stuff. Then one was left wondering whether the feminism was just whitewashing, or the controversial stuff was meant to be ironic…

  14. sbg says

    I’m afraid that’s what I knee-jerked about, primarily. If Ugly Betty is as sweet, intelligent and hardworking as she’s supposed to be…why would she feel it necessary to change her outside appearance?

  15. Mecha says

    Everyone has blindspots and misconceptions and things that were ingrained in them that they struggle with. It is really easy for anyone to feel less than great about their external appearance. Least of all because, to hear it talked about, everyone is ‘too fat’ (It’s an obesity epidemic!) and don’t forget to see slender people in movies and ugly/fat people are made fun of with stunning regularity and etc, etc, etc.

    Be as sweet, intelligent, and hardworking as you want… it doesn’t make anyone immune to the pressures of your upbringing, society, previous mistakes/failures, or anything else. ^^; And not everyone has attainable goals, either.


  16. sbg says

    Oh, of course. That’s probably why the plastic surgery industry has boomed – everyone who feels something about themselves is ugly can “fix” it if they have enough money.

    And I wasn’t suggesting she should be immune to the pressures around her so much as be strong enough in the face of them to continue being who she is – inside and out.

    I spent far too many years longing to look and be like other people before I realized I was perfectly fine as me.

  17. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yeah, but every show is TV’s opportunity to stop taking so much note of people’s appearance. But they just can’t, so they try to throw in an occasional “oh, but we’re sending a POSITIVE message about looks” storyline to shut us up. That’s what I suspect, at best, this will be.

  18. sbg says

    Yep, another hackneyed version of the ugly duckling story.

    People always seem to forget the ugly duckling transformed into a swan due to its natural course of growth, not because the other cute ducklings made it feel so bad it went out and tried to look just like them by changing the color of its feathers and/or replacing its bill. 😉

  19. Spanishgal says

    Again, I don’t know how the American version is going to solve it, but the Colombian writers were very conscious of the irony that you cannot try to send a positive message about looks, and have the heroine surrender to the general beauty mania.

    They did not know at first whether Betty would end up turning into the swan or not, but they were very careful to ensure that she would achieve everything she wanted–love and professional success–*before* the change. The key to the romance in the story was the process by which the womanising boss slowly fell head over heels for her, looks and all. The story was pretty sordid, but the result was quite believable as far as soaps go.

    Then, as I said, the first time she tried to change just to please him, she only managed an exaggerated version of herself; the second time around she was on a (mind-numbingly boring) self-discovery journey, and she managed the change, not forced by the other cute ducklings, but gently pushed by her spiritual mentor as part of the process to get over the tragedy of her life. She came back a beautiful but bitter and distant woman, and everyone, including the male lead, missed the “ugly” but sweet Betty.

    As for the cute ducklings themselves (mostly every executive on the firm), the male lead’s best friend was a chauvinistic pig, his fiancée was a b_tch who would take any amount of cheating as long as she could walk down the aisle with the guy, and her best friend, Betty’s arch-enemy, was Willy E. Coyote in a blonde wig. You could wonder why Betty had not finished the story as “ugly” as she had started it, but other than that, there were no obvious double moral standards.

    Bottom line, I would give this one a chance, and wait to see how it goes before dismissing it out of hand ;o)

  20. sbg says

    Oh, I doubt I would have watched it regardless of a knee-jerk reaction. The story itself holds very little positive interest for me. 😉

    Now I feel like I have to watch it at least once! Hee.

  21. Spanishgal says

    Hmmm, interesting, I have read the review, and I do see some changes. So this male lead is actually a deliberate j-rk from the beginning, until he guilts himself out of it; the Colombian guy simply ignored the hell out of his poor assistant, although he alternated it with touchy-feely moments, so she would turn him into Prince Charming in her head. But the goofiness is quite similar; the scene where she interrupts the meeting (I have seen the video) resembles one at the beginning of the Colombian version, when inadvertently she walks into the middle of the catwalk during a fashion show, before falling off it onto the ground. I guess that they have to make obvious just how inadequate she is, to enhance the value of her victory when she gets to rule over them all 😉 . It takes some patience to see her constantly be embarrassed and take abuse at this point, but that only makes the catharsis all the better when everyone is won over. Cheap, but effective :p

  22. Jennifer Kesler says

    Spanishgal, I’ve really enjoyed hearing your descriptions on the Columbian version. I did used to catch it now and then on a Spanish language station here in Los Angeles. Despite only understanding maybe a tenth of the dialog, at best, I got the sense it was a show that didn’t take itself too seriously. That can also help when a show’s dealing with potentially sensitive subject matter. We’ll just have to see if the American version can do the same, or find a good twist of its own.

  23. Fiona says

    My chief objection so far is that Betty is wearing glasses and braces. That sends the message to girls that wearing glasses and/or braces makes you ugly. Girls have enough problems with self image and self confidence without this negative message added.

  24. Jennifer Kesler says

    That’s a good point. Going a step further, if they hadn’t used glasses a braces, it would’ve been a big nose or acne or beady eyes or something… no matter what they used to convey that she was “ugly”, it would leave any girl who shares that trait wondering if she is, too.

  25. sbg says

    There always has to be a stereotype involved, no? How will we as the stupid viewers know that Betty is a Plain Jane unless she’s so far on the other end of the spectrum from the people she’s surrounded by?

  26. Spanishgal says

    Sorry if I ran away with myself here, it is just that I am absolutely in love with the Colombian version. I had a very limited experience of soaps (for me, mostly stuff to watch only when putting off the moment to go and cram up for exams every ten years or so), and I had a very poor opinion of most. I ignored this one at first, then I found out what I had been missing. This was the first soap I had known which used comedy to move the drama along, and had no purely good or bad characters. There were no deaths, no evil schemes and no shocking secrets, the hero and heroine had huge defects and weaknesses, and even the “villains” had reasonable motives. It gave room for a lot of forum debates :) .

    I just hope the American producers know that it is not enough for the characters to goof around and send a message that “looks aren’t everything”. The Colombian version was made by and for intelligent people, and it was never patronising. I am a little sceptical now that I have seen the character played by Vanessa Williams; she looks a lot like your regular soap villain. The Colombian counterpart was just a jealous girlfriend who felt rightly threatened by Betty. I hope at least they will try to capture a little of the psychological depth of the original characters. Meanwhile, I am pinning my hopes on streaming video from ABC…

  27. A. Barroll says

    If you actually follow the dialogue in the first airing, Betty says that she’s not interested in the fashion mag itself, but wants to work for the Meade publishing conglomerate— she’s knows its a foot in the door, en route to a more journalistic career. You don’t have to want to be part of a particular milieu, to feel lousy if they despise you. Betty doesn’t aspire to being a fashonista, she just wants to be appreciated for the work and talent she has—perhaps naively, she feels her looks shouldn’t matter, bless her little heart. I like the show. It shows a kind of genuine sweetness you don’t see much anymore,among all the police procedural dramas and American Idol/Next Top Model Darwinian freak-shows—you’d think America was completely peopled by sociopaths, if you followed most prime-time TV.

  28. gigio says

    Edited by BetaCandy. 

    This comment is inappropriate.  See posting Guidelines, which state:

    Don’t question the entire purpose of the site, or someone’s motive for writing an article. We don’t come to your site to tell you it’s a waste of time.

    people, people, please it is a show, it is fantasy, forget about stereotypes, making a big thing about putting races competing against each other…it is a comedy can you see is funny…. ugly betty is not a role model or a model for that matter, that makes it funny.
    watch it and enjoy, betty la fea, or ugly betty is going to be the show to watch this fall.

  29. scarlett says

    That logic reminds me of Just SHoot Me again – that Mya, this attractive-but-not-a-stunner feminist, went to work for her dad’s fashion magzine because she was broke. Yeah, the initial explaination worked, but why then did she stay year after year when she was obvious so against what it stood for? Couldn’t she just have found another job? Or sis she secretly want to be part of that superficial world, despite her protests?

    I can see them taking a similar concept – starting anywhere to get a foothold in journalism – and completely screweing up the logic for the sake of a plain jane feminist gag.

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