Ugly Betty was one of those shows I was late on the bandwagon about (read: I played catch up during the writer’s strike). Produced by Salma Hayek, this is an adaptation of a popular telenovela for stateside viewing.
“I can’t walk in there looking like me.” –Betty
Self-consciously unfashionable Betty Suarez had a dream of working for a fashion magazine. Through a series of events, magazine mogul Bradford Meade (Alan Dale) has just turned Mode over to his playboy son, Daniel (Eric Mabius), who quickly finds himself in over his head. Betty ends up getting hired as an assistant (so that Daniel wouldn’t be tempted to sleep with his assistant). With Betty being so constantly sweet and wise, America Ferrera saves the show from her character’s earnestness. Her own beauty hidden behind braces, bad hair, and bushy eyebrows, she charms us with this fish out of water tale.
Our over the top hero, too adorable, too good, too endearing, is buoyed by her family and persecuted by her co-workers, often finding herself in the inadvertent crosshairs of her equally over the top villainess boss, Vanessa Williams. Playing wicked step-mother to Betty’s Cinderella, Williams’ Wilhelmina Slater would be a hammy performance in lesser hands.
“They have a way of taking the truth, twisting it around. We always have to protect ourselves. Twist it around ourselves if we need to.” –Daniel
The American culture has an unnatural predilection with beauty, usually missing the point of what true beauty is. We have reduced beauty to surface matters, not thinking twice about being retouched, computer enhanced, reimagined through surgery in order to achieve the makeover of our false selves. We’ve reduced beauty to that with is merely pretty, setting cruel standards (impossible thinness and youth), the endless pursuit of which changes us and our definitions of beauty.
“Then maybe your concept of what’s beautiful is a little narrow.” –Betty
There is truth and goodness in beauty, one that we recognize without having to be told (much less needing it plastered all over magazine covers). Beauty should touch a primal chord within us, captivate us, and spur us to adoration, even worship. I’m reminded of what Rich Vincent said in his article The Beauty of Holiness – The Holiness of Beauty:
To worship is to experience and express divine beauty. When we participate in beauty we come into the presence of the Holy. All the beauty found in nature and human art reflects God’s glory and shows us something about God. Therefore, “Whenever we awaken beauty, we are helping to make God present in the world.” Conversely, “those who destroy the beauty of God’s creation or who create ugliness may be sinning against the Holy Spirit.”
Sometimes it takes a spiritual eye, a discerning eye, to truly appreciate beauty. A spiritual perception of glory, the loveliness of holiness, and the preciousness of grace … all the things that come with being created in God’s image. All beauty reflects its source, namely, God. When we experience beauty, we experience God. When we create beauty, we reveal God to others. Or as Rich put it:
To know God is know beauty; to know beauty is to know God. Just as God is the source of all truth and goodness, God is also the source of all beauty. God is the Supreme Artist – the Creator of all. Thus, everything that is beautiful reflects God’s artistry. Indeed, God is Beauty itself.
Ugly Betty has a campy quality to it, much like the telenovelas Betty’s father, Ignatio (Tony Plana) watches. While the cast of characters are little more than a collection of stereotypes, they are humanized by solid performances. The show careens unevenly during the course of the season, as if the show wasn’t confident about itself (Daniel alone seems to undergo several personality changes over the run of episodes). However, juggling romance and mystery, the writer’s may not be used to painting in broad strokes. The show, and Betty in particular, grow on you to the point of overlooking its few missteps.