Is ‘Ugly Betty’ Changing the Perception of Beauty?

By Sonya Rehman

She’s short, dumpy, dons glasses, wears braces and dresses up like a human piñata…meet Betty Suarez from the current, most highly-rated American television series, ‘Ugly Betty’.

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Ugly Betty

Interestingly, the American series’ concept is derived from the 1991 Colombian soap opera titled, ‘Yo soy Betty la fea’ (meaning ‘I am Betty, the ugly one’) which successfully ran its course till the end of its season, in 2001.

And remember ‘Jassi jaise koi nahin’ (‘There’s no one like Jassi’), a show which (still) runs on Sony Entertainment Television in India? Well surprise surprise, the ‘Jassi’ series also happens to be a version of ‘Yo soy Betty la fea’, just as is ‘Ugly Betty’.

There’s no doubt, Fernando Gaitan – the man who penned the Colombian soap’s scripts –truly hit a gold mine where pretty darn good family entertainment television was concerned. Because look at it this way; just by one sole soap opera, broadcasted in just one country (and then followed by other versions televised around the world), ‘Yo soy Betty la fea’ has managed to set off a massive, global outlook which challenges a pertinent, international stereotype: that what appears on the outside, does not necessarily encompass what is within.
And that stereotype in particular, is what each country’s series appears to tackle in its own unique versions.

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Jassi Jaise Koi Nahin

Therefore, all the ‘Betty la fea’ adaptations seem to follow more or less the same pattern/storyline: nerdy, wallflower girl gets teased by her thinner, prettier counterparts (at work) and winds up sharing a special friendship with her handsome, young boss.
With eleven ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ nominations (this month in July), two Golden Globe’s (in January) and other awards/honours, ‘Ugly Betty’ really is one charming, wittily-scripted and absorbing series.
‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Desperate Housewives’ on the other hand, were no doubt highly entertaining too; even though the former comprised of a – cringingly – huge dollop of smut and the latter revolved around ‘housewives’ with perfectly pinched waists and endless legs! Bah humbug.

Sure, ‘Ugly Betty’ too is full of beautiful, model-thin actors, but the show’s protagonist (Betty Suarez) is different. Okay, veryyy different, if you’re going by (shallow) physical appearances.
Betty, like Jassi, is real – she’s all woman, and she’s beautiful.
With a preponderance of foreign air-brushed fashion magazines, TV shows and Hollywood flicks depicting perfectly chiseled features and anatomy (of the soft, gentle gender), Betty Suarez, with her baggy fringe, techno-colour garb, chubby hips and oversized glasses takes on the world and challenges the concept of beauty. And you know what? Suarez is here to stay.

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‘Yo soy Betty la fea’

One truly hopes Pakistani entertainment television will begin to catch on on to this very idea of what beauty (on-screen) should and should not encompass…although it seems like a long-shot for now.

Why? Channel surf through our local drama serials/talk shows and go figure – a majority of our newer programmes include far too many bimbionic dolly-birds as mouth-pieces.
Sure a PYT (pretty young thing) on TV is bound to lash in a few odd channel surfers, but after a few minutes of dreary, painful banter, you’re bound to switch the channel.
That’s ruthless ol’ television for you – if a host/actor walks the walk along with verbally spewing forth absolute bunk…next!

Look at some of the best hosts the world over – Oprah Winfrey for one. Since the 80s till today, Winfrey’s weight has continuously ballooned and contracted…but she’s never been skinny or knee-knockingly gorgeous. She’s always been Oprah – real, empathetic and humorous…a real treat to watch. Zap out all the freebies (that she regularly gives out to her audience on each alternating episode), and Winfrey will still remain one of the most adored talk-show hosts for years on end because she is who she is – stripped of all facades.

But what do our local talk-show hosts have to offer – save a few? A majority of the presenters are just pretty faces. Even our advertisements propagate looking like a plastic China doll 24/7! Buy this product and get the perfect rishta, the perfect job, the perfect nose, the perfect feet, the perfect saas, the perfect (botoxed) forehead and…you get the picture.
Wrapped up in silk saris with enough war-paint to last a woman a lifetime, throw in a baseless script where the female protagonist schemes continuously against her sister-in-law, chacha, mother-in-law, nani, husband and eunuch maid – that’s Pakistani ‘Indian-inspired’ (numb) entertainment television for you.

When will we quit being so one-dimensional?

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