From the very first episode of the ABC series “Ugly Betty”, the titular character play is described/referred to as “Fugly”, compared to a dog that should appear in “Dog Fancy” and “Is that what you want representing you?” (Pilot). The majority of characters refer to Betty by appearance and as a what, completely removing her individual agency. This proves especially problematic when the majority of those characters are white; their bodies and their appearance revolve on the standard Eurocentric views of beauty. Betty, played by America Ferrera is a Chicana playing a Chicana. She is the ‘other’ in this setting of the show, completely removed from the traditionally attractive values. Jennifer Esposito explores the ‘ugliness’ in “Ugly Betty” in her article “Is Ugly Betty A Real Woman? Representations of Chicana Feminity Inscribed as a Site of (Transformative) Difference.”
While the makeover stereotype is used in story lines – an ugly woman gets waxed, plucked, shaved, and groomed to fit ‘conventional’ beauty standards – Jennifer Esposito explores how not only does Betty Suarez have to overcome the conventional ideas of beauty, but those ideas when applied to a person from the ‘other’. Betty Suarez not only has to become beautiful to fit traditional Mexican standards, she also intersects these standards forced upon her through her identity. In her article “Reconstructing Chicana Gender Identity”, Rosaura Sanchez explains that Chicanas must confront their feminity by “challenging Eurocentric intellectual authority and [the] dominant processes of canon formation and protesting women’s marginalization and repression while countering the particular oppression of women of Mexican and working class origin” (Sanchez 351). She also states that it is a “tendency” to “not only [affirm] gender identity but reintroduces the personal and foregrounds concern for the self” (350).
Esposito continues to differentiate “Ugly Betty” as a show that “explodes some stereotypes about Latinas/Chicanas but reinforces other” and explores “a hybrid space, a place that allows for complex and, sometimes, transgressive representations instead of only reifying stereotypes” (329). As the author praises the show for its “[informative nature of] society’s overall understanding of immigration, language, nation, and identity…the show contributes to and helps create cultural anxieties about the Latino/a place in the United State culture”, she also appropriately condemns its reinforcement of traditional feminine beauty (329). While Betty Suarez does not fit into the standard stereotypes of in Chicanas “US Cinema” which are “harlot, female clown, Latin Lover, and dark lady” (330). Betty, even through her makeover and transformation is turned into these stereotypes, thereby furthering her place as an ‘other’ or foreign body. Several characters, including her conventionally attractive Chicana sister fits into the tropes listed.
Esposito does an excellent critique of the how the Chicana body is framed in the show “Ugly Better” and although she briefly touches on the issue of colorism in her introduction, it is a topic worth exploring. Her essay discusses all the intersections the titular character faces, but she doesn’t bring up the issue of how darker Chicana bodies would be portrayed in this television series. Again Esposito does an excellent job of starting the conversation about feminine Latino/Chicano bodies, but more exploration may be necessary to explore more intersections and issues.
Esposito, Jennifer. “Is Ugly Betty A Real Woman? Representations of Chicana Feminity Inscribed as a Site of (Transformative) Difference.” Performing the US Latina and Latino Borderlands. By Arturo J. Aldama, Chela Sandoval, and Peter J. García. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2012. 328-43. Print.
“Pilot.” Ugly Betty, written by Silvio Horta, directed by Richard Shepard, ABC Studios, 2006 < http://www.dailyscript.com/scripts/Ugly-Betty.pdf>
Sanchez, Rosaura. “American Literary History.” Reconstructing Chicana Gender Identity. Oxford University Press, Summer 1997. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.