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Old 10th October 2006   #1
HSG
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Default Beauty meets ''Ugly Betty''


We were initially dismayed to learn that America Ferrera, star of Real Women Have Curves, would be appearing on a network TV program called . . . Ugly Betty (shudder). Viewing the premier episode, two weeks ago, did little to change our opinion. In keeping with the title, the show requires Miss Ferrera to look as unattractive as possible, with bad eyebrows, a mouthful of braces, and matronly wardrobe. Worse, it pits her character against a gaunt work associate (one who fits the emaciated media notion of female attractiveness). These factors threaten to turn the series into a weekly exercise in beauty-resentment.

In a recent post, we called for the day when a show would cast a plus-size actress in a glamorous part--a role that would require her beauty to be explicitly acknowledged. In TV land, this has only happened once before--in the case of Christina Schmidt's character, Terri MacGregor, on Degrassi: The Next Generation.

However, we are now pleased to report a second example of a television character who possesses a measure of Classical beauty. And it just so happens that this character appeared on . . . (you guessed it) . . . Ugly Betty.

We still hesitate to recommend the show outright, as the tone and quality of the series is likely to vary from week to week. Nevertheless, the episode that aired last Thursday (Oct. 5), titled "The Box and the Bunny," not only merits our most enthusiastic praise, but we would even go so far as to deem it . . . Must-See TV.

By way of background, America Ferrera stars in the show's title role, as a newly-hired secretary at a Vogue-like fashion magazine. (This fictional publication is called Mode, and the sacrilegious use of that hallowed name to refer to a straight-size fashion glossy was one of the reasons why we were negatively predisposed toward this series in the first place.)

The storyline of this particular episode involves an actress named Natalie Whitman (with unmistkable Renee Zellweger overtones), who has gained weight for a Bridget-Jones-like movie role.

Sarah Jones--the actress playing the Zellweger-ish part--is regrettably not plus-size. However, to the great credit of Ugly Betty's casting director, she does have the soft, rounded face and fair features that epitomize timeless beauty, giving the episode's weight-gain premise some credibility.

(Sarah is also infinitely more attractive than Ms. Zellweger, which makes the role particularly subversive.)

In this episode's storyline, Natalie Whitman has just been photographed by Betty's magazine at her current, larger size, and the images have become an "issue" for the magazine's editor, and for Natalie's curve-o-phobic publicist.

In the (gorgeous) photographs in question, Natalie appears thin, but not starving, which renders her far too curvy-looking for these industry "professionals," with their collective fetish for emaciation.

In the excerpt provided below (as an online video), Natalie's photographs are being digitally diminished to eliminate any trace of her soft beauty.

- Click here to view video clip #1 (83 sec.)

It is utterly appalling to see the ways in which this attractive photograph is digitally disfigured by size-reduction manipulation. Natalie's beautiful face, arms, bust, and hips are each destroyed, one by one. Natalie's natural, feminine appearance is distorted into repulsive gauntness. (If any plus-size retailers ever resort to such horrifying practices, their customers should abandon them instantly.)

As the above video clip indicates, Betty is the only magazine staffer who sees this nightmarish practice for the horror that it really is. But deference to her boss prevents her from speaking her mind.

Later, in one of the most painful and moving scenes we have ever seen, Betty notices the actress gazing at her pre-diminished image, heartbroken over the disfigurement of her breathtaking beauty.

- Click here to view video clip #2 (30 sec.)

These clips reveal the show's wisdom in presenting Betty as a somewhat dowdy character. The series is not simply rehashing a cliched, Cinderella theme ("Ugly Betty learns that beauty is on the inside," or some such drivel). Rather, Betty represents an everywoman character, a person whose gifts reside not in her photogenic qualities (or lack thereof), but in her ability to look past industry prejudices, and to see Truth in this kingdom of the blind. Wisely, the show gave the Beauty role to a different actress--someone whose physical loveliness is indisputable, regardless of size.

But the episode does not wallow in pity. The very next scene is such a perfect expression of size celebration, that viewers will be forgiven for thinking that we have altered the dialogue to suit the themes of our Web project. But we have not. This is exactly how the scene played on prime-time TV.

- Click here to view video clip #3 (40 sec.)

Did you ever think that you would see an ingenue character on network television admit that she is "starving," and indulge in a calorie-rich delicacy (an empanada)--after the show's storyline has established that this ingenue has already gained weight? It is the television equivalent of a plus-size model finally becoming genuinely curvaceous (size 14 or better), and openly acknowledging a passion for food. One cannot conceive of a more size-positive scene (except with a more visibly plus actress).

The episode suggests that, having gained the weight for her Bridget-Jones-like role, Natalie likes herself at a larger size. Her preference for her non-diminished images signals her awareness that she possesses superior beauty in her current, fuller-figured state. Moreover, her guilt-free enjoyment of Betty's empanadas indicates that she has come to love the freedom of being able to eat as much as she wants, and that she is unwilling to give up this pleasure for the punishment of diet-starvation.

But it gets even better. Regular readers of this forum will discern that Betty's act of offering the ravenous beauty a decadent treat signifies the mythological basis of their mutually-enabling relationship.

Betty is, in fact, playing the role of Ceres to the actress's Venus. As we have noted before, Ceres, the Classical goddess of food and the harvest, was an attendant of Venus (whose characteristics included self-indulgent tendencies). In her supportive role, Ceres was charged with satisfying the lavish appetite of the goddess of beauty.

This subtle mythological reference underscores the healthy nature of the relationship that Natalie and Betty share--a relationship based on an appreciation of their mutual gifts. Betty is not resentful of Natalie's feminine beauty, but admires it. Indeed, she is protective of it. And for her part, Natalie is gratified and inspired by Betty's adoration of her more comfortable appearance.

This mutually-supportive relationship is encapsulated in the following scene. In the episode's storyline, Betty accidentally loses Natalie's unretouched photos, causing friction between Betty's magazine and Natalie's thinness-obsessed publicist, who fears that the photos will harm the actress's career, if they are ever leaked. Betty is on the verge of quitting her job over the trouble that she has caused, when she encounters Natalie once again.

- Click here to view video clip #4 (75 sec.)

Not only does this scene establish Betty's reverential attitude towards Natalie, but it speficifally refutes a claim that the magazine's curve-o-phobic editor expressed in the first video clip--i.e., that Natalie's images must be digitally disfigured in order to be "aspirational."

The fashion industry habitually twists the notion of "aspiration" into an excuse for the continued suppression of plus-size beauty. But Betty's answer explodes this myth. She states:

"I really did think that those unretouched photos were beautiful. And the truth is, I'd kill to look like you."

In saying so, Betty reveals that ordinary women can and would find fuller-figured actresses "aspirational"--more so, even, than underweight celebrities. Fashion is about "aspiration," but Betty's comment reveals that women can and would aspire to look like fuller-figured actresses and models--if those plus-size starlets were as gorgeous as Natalie.

In other words--at least in this episode--Ugly Betty is not calling for an end to fantasy and aspiration, but for better aspiration, and for a more beautiful fantasy. The show is not about displacing "ideal" by "real," but about replacing a false ideal (the digitally-diminished Natalie) with a superior ideal (the unretouched, visibly-voluptuous Natalie).

Beyond these specific scenes, the episode is a thoughtful examination of Beauty and Truth. Several characters in the show--Betty included--find themselves in difficult circumstances due to lies of convenience, predicaments from which they only extricate themselves by admitting the Truth. Natalie's images thus become a metaphor for the oneness of Truth and Beauty. The magazine is effectively lying by digitially-diminishing Natalie's photos. These distorted images are visual falsehoods, and cause pain and suffering, while the true photos, the unretouched images, show the Truth of Natalie's soft Beauty, and ultimately provide the solution to the episode's central conflict.

In pushing for the use of her unretouched photos, Natalie--in her role as Venus, Goddess of Beauty--also becomes an advocate of Truth. Moreover, the magazine's stick-thin secretary (who is Betty's office rival), represents false beauty--the modern, undernourished sort--while fuller-figured Natalie represents True Beauty. Fittingly, this underweight secretary--although she is technically attractive, according to the magazine's (and the media's) mendacious standards--is actually embittered and envious, whereas Betty, although she is personally unattractive, is supportive rather than resentful of the beautiful actress.

This episode compellingly advocates loving your body at your natural size, and never starving yourself for absurd industry pressures, or allowing your timeless beauty to be artificially diminished.

(All plus-size models should take this particular lesson to heart.)

More importantly, in the positive relationship between Natalie and Betty, the episode encourages young women to show a reverence for true beauty, rather than a resentment of it. It suggests that, for Beauty to exist, its living exemplars must be cherished, nurtured, protected, and supported, for there will always be negative forces intent on their destruction.

The episode furthermore indicates that any significant cultural change will require the complimentary gifts and efforts of both the Bettys and the Natalies of the world, of Truth and Beauty, of word and image. Only a harmonious union of the two will bring about an Aesthetic Restoration, and restore the timeless feminine ideal.

- ''Ugly Betty,'' official Web site


Last edited by HSG : 10th October 2006 at 10:31.
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Old 11th October 2006   #2
M. Lopez
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Default Re: Beauty meets ''Ugly Betty''

I initially expected to be disappointed by Ugly Betty, particularly because of the show's title, but this episode was something to cheer about.

I think the Betty character is very well conceived. She shows curvy women who are not destined to become models a way that they can fight for size celebration as well. If more Bettys end up working behind the scenes at fashion magazines, they can influence those publications to feature fuller-figured stars, or not to airbrush away visibly plus features, etc. - the way Betty does, in this episode.

This storyline also sets a great example for all of the Natalies in the industry, the curvier models and actresses, showing them that they do not need to starve, or allow their photos to be altered, but that they should use their influence to push for more size-positive imagery as well.

I only wish the episode had featured scenes showing Natalie being photographed for those beautiful pictures in the first place. The first picture, in the halter dress, is the perfect pose and wardrobe choice for celebrating full-figured beauty.

It would be wonderful if Natalie became a recurring character on Ugly Betty. Having a storyline with a successful, beautiful actress who refuses to lose weight for industry presses would help make such actresses a reality.
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Old 11th October 2006   #3
Kaitlynn
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Default Re: Beauty meets ''Ugly Betty''

Quote:
Originally Posted by M. Lopez
I only wish the episode had featured scenes showing Natalie being photographed for those beautiful pictures in the first place. The first picture, in the halter dress, is the perfect pose and wardrobe choice for celebrating full-figured beauty.

I agree- especially because the outfits that Natalie wore in the episode were not very appealing, while her dresses in the magazine photos were stunning.

That scene showing Natalie's pictures being disfigured was so horrifying! It makes you wonder how often this kind of atrocity happens in the fashion industry, and how many potentially subversive images are ruined this way. It's yet another example of how plus-size beauty is suppressed.

It reminded me of that infuriating scene in Charlotte Coyle's TV documentary, where her agent tries to force Charlotte to diminish her curves. Different methods, but the same effect- an attempt to prevent the public from seeing gorgeous, womanly figures.

How do these industry professionals ever develop such warped perceptions in the first place? Don’t they realize that what they are creating is not "aspirational," but abhorrent? Charlotte at her natural, womanly size, or Natalie's pre-diminished images - THOSE are examples of "aspirational" beauty.

I love how the show set these philosophies in opposition. First, the lie, spoken by the magazine’s editor in the first video clip:
We are not about normal. We are about "aspirational"

And then, the truth, spoken by Betty in the last video clip::
I really did think that those unretouched photos were beautiful. And the truth is, I'd kill to look like you.

The naturally curvy images of Natalie- THOSE are aspirational; to the Bettys of the world, and to almost everyone, except for the tiny fringe clique that makes up the fashion establishment.

The digitally diminished pictures are NOT aspirational, but abnormal. Just because a picture is unnatural-looking, like Natalie’s digitally-altered photos, doesn’t make it "aspirational." It just makes it weird. No one "aspires" to look like a plague victim.
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Old 11th October 2006   #4
Chad
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Default Re: Beauty meets ''Ugly Betty''

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kaitlynn
I love how the show set these philosophies in opposition. First, the lie, spoken by the magazine’s editor in the first video clip. And then, the truth, spoken by Betty in the last video clip.

The anti-plus fashion elite can't even get their stories straight. One time, they claim that models must be emaciated to be "aspirational." Another time, they claim that models must be emaciated "so they don't "distract from the clothes." Hello? These are contradictory statements. The first implies that the models must attract attention, the second that they must not. So which is it? They can't have it both ways.

The truth is, they don't believe their own rhetoric. They're just making up talking points, to spin the story. They only care about their end goal - the continued suppression of plus-size beauty, because of their curve-o-phobic bias against femininity, and against the truly womanly figure. And they keep making up any excuses, any lies, they can think of, to try to "justify" this discrimination.
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Old 12th October 2006   #5
Emily
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Default Re: Beauty meets ''Ugly Betty''

Quote:
Originally Posted by HSG
Betty is, in fact, playing the role of Ceres to the actress' Venus.

I enjoyed this aspect of the episode. It reminded me of the Lucy Snowe/Ginevra Fanshawe relationship in Charlotte Bronte's Villette, whereby Lucy gives her fuller-figured, more beautiful cousin the "lion's share" of her own provender. It also reminded me of the Nancy Drew: Danger by Design video game that was reviewed on this site, a few weeks ago, which has the player baking for a cookie-loving plus-size model. It's encouraging to see the media beginning to associate appetite, rather than starvation, with beautiful models and actresses. I hope this continues.

I think it's important that this show introduced a character like Natalie in its second episode. Otherwise, the show's message could have been interpreted to be an awful one: "Full-figured women belong behind the scenes, in the publishing world, not in front of the camera" (which would have been horrible). This episode demonstrated that some curvy women belong in front of the camera, and some behind it.

I also like the fact that the show made Natalie smart and thoughtful, rather than a ditz, but without turning her into some kind of militant.

There's a sprinkling of fairy-tale themes in the show as a whole. The magazine's new editor-in-chief, the son of the owner (and a heterosexual male, significantly), is playing the part of a prince who will take over his father's kingdom, someday, and must learn to become a great leader. The magazine's former editor-in-chief (an obvious Anna-Wintour-inspired role), now in hiding, resembles a wicked stepmother, like Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty -- banished from the kingdom, but plotting revenge.

I think the complete episode is available for downloading, for free, on the ABC site. (It's not available to Canadian Web users.) It's worth watching, because Natalie's solution to the show's crisis is inspiring.
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Old 17th October 2006   #6
MelanieW
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Default Re: Beauty meets ''Ugly Betty''

Sarah Jones appears to be an up-and-coming Hollywood actresses with a few TV roles to her credit, so far, and a film coming out in the near future. There isnt much publicity about her, but I did find a picture and a short write-up about her hairstyle at the link below. She is called a "beautiful blonde bombshell".



I think its remarkable that the Ugly Betty casting director found someone like her in Hollywood. She has a beautiful round face, and with this fairy-tale hair style, she does have a touch of timeless beauty about her. If she were fuller-figured, she would make a gorgeous plussize model.

http://www.thehairstyler.com/celebr...ame=Sarah+Jones
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