Identifying With TV’s ‘Ugly Betty’
Wednesday - October 18, 2006
She has a mop of unruly hair and bangs that obscure her face and slide maddeningly into her eyes. Which doesn’t matter, because those eyes are rimmed by cat-shaped glasses tinted a hideous shade of red. And when she smiles, she displays a mouthful of shiny blue hardware on her oversized teeth.
You could be describing the newest TV sensation, Ugly Betty, played by the niftily named America Ferrera. Or you could be describing me. It’s exactly how I looked high school, only my braces were silver and my cat-shaped glasses were blue.
Ugly Betty and I (or at least, the high school me) have another thing in common besides the stunningly plain looks. She is - and I was - a fish out of water. Betty the Hispanic girl goes to work in a place where the rail-thin salad eaters look in disgust at her empanadas and make jokes behind her back about chimichangas. I remember going to dinner at a friend’s house and having her mother prepare for me, the Asian guest of honor, a special bowl of rice. Only the rice was swimming in milk and sprinkled with sugar. I choked it down, not wanting to embarrass my hosts. And I have to say I was touched by her desire to feed me what she thought would be appropriate “Japanese” food.
I think that the show is a hit because there are millions of us who relate to Betty and have similar stories to tell. We are not the fashion-slim swans of society. We are not the rich and privileged, nor do we come close to the “ideal” physical shape or lifestyle depicted in the images that overwhelm us every single day.
We are underdogs.
We are ordinary people.
We are fish out of water, too, and yet we manage to make a place for ourselves in a competitive world.
We do it using smarts and determination. If we are not naturally gifted with beauty we work with and shape what we have. If we are not born rich we use the tools of education, ambition and common sense to acquire what we want.
We aspire to perfection but most of us do eventually accept the person we are, with all our faults, quirks and virtues.
And that’s the beauty of Ugly Betty. She reaffirms what we all fervently hope - that our virtues will see us through life. We hope that diligence, intelligence and hard work will take us where we want to go.
That and a good heart.
It’s our dream. It’s the American dream. And it’s what Betty epitomizes for all the “uglies” out there. Present company included.
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