Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Identifying Ugliness, Defining Beauty: A Focus Group Analysis of and Reaction to Ugly Betty

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Identifying Ugliness, Defining Beauty: A Focus Group Analysis of and Reaction to Ugly Betty

Article excerpt

Beautiful Vs. Ugly? Representation in Ugly Betty

Ugly Betty, a television series which ran from 2006-2010 in the US, is the re-creation of the Spanish telenovela, Yo soy Betty la fea, (loosely translated as, "I am ugly Betty"). The television situation comedy (TV sitcom) was highly successful during its run, winning multiple Emmy and Golden Globe awards. The leading lady of the show, Betty Suarez (played by actress America Ferrera), is a short Latina with a curvaceous shape, frizzy hair, depicted as wearing red eye glasses and blue braces. She is often teased by her co-workers for not being beautiful or attractive. The show is set in New York, where Betty works as the assistant to Daniel Meade--the editor of the fashion magazine, Mode. Betty, who is often featured wearing flannel, polyester, and other styles of clothes that do not match in terms of the colors and patterns, stands out as being one of the few unattractive women on the show because she is surrounded by models and other employees who meet the stereotypical beauty standards. The fact that Betty is often teased for being unattractive by employees of the magazine who are attractive--those who are thin, no visible corrective lenses, no braces, fashionable, with straight hair--also draws attention to the physical characteristics that constitutes beauty and its opposite ugliness.

Ugly Betty was chosen for analysis in this study because it differs in several ways from other TV sitcoms that communicate the ideas of beauty, with the largest difference being that the show's leading actress is a woman that does not possess stereotypical attractive characteristics. This show also defines ugly, while other shows usually only directly define beauty (and thus ugliness is implied as being opposite of the beautiful). Finally, Ugly Betty features a stereotypical unattractive female who is happy, successful, and kindhearted, whereas in other sitcoms, success and happiness are typically linked to those who are also seen as attractive. Thus, compared to most media images, beauty and ugliness are presented differently in Ugly Betty.

For decades, scholars have studied media's influence on audiences. Moreover, researchers have found that media can play a role in shaping and influencing people's identities. Although some of the most cited works about media influence centers on "news" media effects of framing stories, news, and events (Entman, 1992, 1993), news programming is not the only medium that influences societal relationships, expectations, senses of identity, and construction of reality. Entertainment media, such as TV sitcoms can serve a similar function--extending far beyond the function of providing comedic relief for audiences. Within these plots and storylines, messages are often embedded that can create and/or reinforce ideologies beliefs.

For female television audience members, one ideology often created and enforced by media institutions via mediated messages is the concept of beauty. Moreover, several studies have explored the role media play in setting the societal standard for what women must look like to be considered "beautiful" (e.g., Berry, 2007; English, Solomon, & Ashmore, 1994; Goodman, Morris, & Sutherland, 2008; Hendriks, 2002; Jackson, 1992). Television is a medium that has vast reach and viewership, and as such it can create and reinforce beauty standards. Take for instance, the majority of TV sitcoms feature a cast in which the female characters typically exhibit the traditional attributes that are supposed to equate to beauty, including but not limited to being thin and having smooth skin, long beautiful hair, and a youthful look (Berry, 2007).

In recent years, however, a TV sitcom emerged that differed in terms of the leading characters and the images presented. This show, Ugly Betty, featured a leading lady who supposedly conflicted with the ideal beauty image. At first glance, this television portrayal seemed to challenge the high beauty standards that have been set for women. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.