Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Ugly Duckling Steals Colombians' Hearts ; A Plain-Jane Soap Star Gives an Ethics Lesson to Her Country, Known

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Ugly Duckling Steals Colombians' Hearts ; A Plain-Jane Soap Star Gives an Ethics Lesson to Her Country, Known

Article excerpt

The front page of Colombia's leading daily, El Tiempo, sported the following stories one day last week.

The first-time visit by Madeleine Albright. The first appearance before the press in 10 years by the world's oldest living Marxist leader.

Oh, and there was another headline: "They Want Her Ugly, But Not Corrupt."

No reference to cocaine or civil war here. Just a soap opera. And we're not talking "The Bold and the Beautiful."

The front-page story referred to "Yo Soy Betty, la Fea" (I am Betty, the Ugly One). For several months now, this clumsy, but bright and honest, woman has invoked the passions of editorial columnists, politicians, academics, and millions of TV viewers across Colombia.

Beatrz Pinzn - the maladroit, yet noble protagonist - is striking a chord with an entire nation. This unlikely soap star apparently embodies the ideals and values that Colombians yearn for, but find so lacking in their society today.

In a country with some 300 beauty contests, the idea of a television series based on an "unattractive" woman is, well, revolutionary. Betty has braces and lacquered hair. Despite her job as executive assistant at a fashion company, she wears gawky soda- bottle glasses.

According to journalist Alvaro Perea, writing in the newsmagazine Cambio, "Colombians put appearances before substance." Job applicants here are required to paste a photo onto resumes, for example.

Nearly every day of the year, somewhere along its three Andean ranges and two coasts, a beauty queen is being crowned. Just a week ago, on the shores of Lake Tota, the town of Aquitania chose the first Miss Trout. In this town's province alone, there are already Miss Potato, Miss Onion, Miss Sunshine, and Miss Steel contests. Apparently, the only natural resource not honored by feminine beauty was the trout.

Still, several months into the plot, Betty La Fea has doubled all other programs in ratings, and has been sold to two other countries in the region. Why?

According to former Vice President Carlos Lemos Simmonds, "In Latin America, where calamities are commonplace and prosperity is the exception, the anti-hero is the triumph of the genuine over the artificial. …

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