ugly betty and the ‘be ugly’ campaign: a healthy pendulum swing?

be ugly.jpgi’m a bit confused on this one. i’ve been so frustrated, for so long, at our culture’s obsession with super-skinny as the perfect archetype for girls and young women. i think it’s so destructive and so pervasive, and every teenage girl (and many of the guys) get impacted by it in one way or another. so, i’ve really enjoyed things like the dove campaign for real beauty that produced the amazing videos many have seen.

now, usa today is saying that the makers of the tv hit ‘ugly betty’ are leading a campaign (called ‘be ugly 07’) to counter the harmful messages girls receive. here’s a bit from the usa today article:

Ugly is the new beautiful. That’s the message behind a new public service campaign, “Be Ugly ’07,” being announced today by ABC off its fall hit comedy Ugly Betty.

The purpose — aside from drumming up new viewers — is to promote a positive message for young women: “Be real, be smart, be passionate, be true to yourself and be ugly.”

The campaign is the latest entry in a backlash to the images of rail-thin models that bombard young women daily.

Redefining beauty “is in the cultural zeitgeist,” says ABC Entertainment marketing executive Michael Benson. “Be Ugly 07,” launching Dec. 30, will encompass appearances, a website ( and events.

so, i am glad there are loud counter-messages surfacing into the popular cultural stew. BUT… and here’s where i’m struggling, and would love to hear responses from others… i’m not sure the helpful counter-message is “be ugly”. maybe i’m too caught up in the cultural norms myself, but ‘be ugly’ still seems to be a continued focus on external appearance. i suppose it’s such an outlandish, almost goofy notion, that it’s supposed to make it clear that it’s over-statement, and actually re-directing to more important issues for girls. but i just don’t know if that’s what’s actually being communicated or heard.

i think of my own daughter. i don’t want her to think about ‘being rail-thin’ or ‘being ugly’. i want her to think about ‘being myself’ and ‘being passionate about who god made me to be’ and stuff like that.


24 thoughts on “ugly betty and the ‘be ugly’ campaign: a healthy pendulum swing?”

  1. I think both campaigns are equally unbalanced. I tell my students to love being you. Of course, that kind be a tad difficult because no teenager knows EXACTLY who they are…crap, I still don’t know exactly who I am…meaning, I’m still in pursuit. The point that I make to them though is that the only way they will ever discover more about themselves is to look in the reflection of Christ…in Him we find our true identity. And our true identity doesn’t have anything to do with the external.

  2. marko, unfortunately they are playing off the name of their show, “ugly betty”. if it was “real betty” then it would “be real”. so the marketing spin here is still their main focus but the heart of this message may be something we can use well with our students.

    maybe showing the kids this campaign we can have them come up with a better description of what they can “be”! i can remember back in the early 90’s a road trip to mexicali with a half dozen high school girls in my van listening to them talk about the struggles they have being the plain, regular girls. my message to them is that the best word for them is “quality women” and that boys in high school don’t yet appreciate or see the quality in them. they were the girls that guys will come to appreciate and love, they are the girls that the guys will want to marry because they had substance, made good choices, had heart and deapth and their was a real beauty to them, not a fleeting “barbie” beauty. i think of each one of them now 10 years later and they are exactly the women we talked about during that van ride. they are well adjusted, happy, fulfilled quality women, wives and mothers. not because of what I said, but who they continued to be because hey where and learned that they could relax and fit in their skin better.

    this is what we should use “ugly betty” and “be ugly” for with our guys and girls.

    there has got to be something for ys and the convention to get us to think about.

    blessings, ty in holland, mi

  3. i understand what they’re trying to do, but i HATE that they’re using “be ugly,” since ugly has such a negative connotation and no one wants to refer to themselves as ugly. It’s a good theory on paper, but when they threw the t.v. show marketing into their theory, they kind of mucked it up a little. the dove campaign is great because it talks about real beauty, where as this just says “it’s okay if you’re ugly,” falsely reaffirming what some girls already think of themselves.

  4. The word “ugly” needs quotes around it for the show. If they really are campaigning against media-hype on uncommon, rail-thin, “flawless” women then their shouldn’t be a true “ugly”. To break the pattern of focusing on outer looks, there shouldn’t be a focus on outer looks. I fear this will become just another reality show where now people will be watching those they consider freaks. I hope the show proves me wrong.

  5. I, too, think the word “ugly” is too powerful in our society to revolutionize cultural patterns. I don’t see this campaign taking off soon.

  6. I totally agree with what has been said. I like the idea of it…but not the word “ugly.” Although, they have made a very un-ugly America even less “ugly” as the series has gone on. Not in personality, etc. but I read someplace they changed the wardrobe a bit and her hair isn’t quite the mess it was at the start.

  7. Three thoughts:

    1) It’s a marketing campaign with money and ratings as their driving force. They may have no agenda other than ‘keep our brand in front of people.’

    2) When I hear ‘be ugly’ I tend to hear it as ‘be who you are’. Through my filter I would hear it as a more catchy, fun way of saying it’s okay to be you….cute, ugly, whatever.

    3) I agree with the thinking that our culture is way too concerned with appearences. Go back a few years to the grunge look. I’ve never seen people work so hard to look like they didn’t care.

  8. Yeah, I’m stuck in the same spot. “Ugly” is not the new “beautiful,” no matter what the campaign might say. This doesn’t solve anything. It still says that your self-worth should be tied up with how you look. Any benefit from saying that “ugly” is ok is more than offset to the negative by re-enforcing the need to define ourselves by our looks.

    Great idea in theory, horrible implementation.

  9. Quick thought…I think you hit on the biggest struggle today’s teen girls are fighting against. Truly, in defining who they are, they must first understand who they are not. In doing so, they end up in this catagorization struggle…they MUST fit somewhere and wherever that falls, their catagory must be “cool” somehow. I wish there was a way to blow the entire catagorization system of “ugly” and “besutiful” out the window. I have a few disabilities, as you may know, and I’ll be the first one to say, they have truly been the boldest testimony I have to the teen girls I come into contact with today. Hence, I have coined the motto: “Bought as is, Used as HIS” for myself and whatever ministry God allows my dust to enter. The reality is simple, it is not the problem of teen girls not understanding themselves or where they fit. The problem is forgetting WHO they belong to…that message is an extremely hard one to get through in such a world as this.

    –Bought As Is, Used As His—

  10. isn’t the key issue just to ‘be’? Be who you really are and find contentment there? I agree though that the campaign does keep putward appearances at the forefront and misses the point of true beauty, and true identity, being on the inside. I agree with your comment marko about your daughter, I feel the same way for my two girls.

  11. Well having visited the website of the campaign I don’t really think most of the comments have accurately reflected what the campaign is about.
    If you visit the website they very clear say “We’re not focusing on outward appearances” the “Ugly” moniker is referring to the show’s name and saying that Betty is able in spite of societies standard of beauty stand out because of deeper truths about who she is.

  12. Although the producers may be using the term “ugly” to reference the show, the word overpowers the intention. I think it’s hugely ironic that the campaign passed out “Ugly Betty” masks. Again, the intention might have been good, but here is Hollywood passing out a new model to emulate, rather than doing something which would have affirmed each woman and girl’s uniqueness.
    I don’t know why some of the respondents have an issue with the Dove Campaign. Unlike “Ugly Betty,” which to me seems more self-promoting than helpful, the Dove Campaign seeks to widen the definition of “beauty” to include all girls. Recently they were at a group home in the Portland area to photograph a mentally handicapped girl as one of their “models.” Now that is a campaign I can get behind!

  13. One thought – Why isn’t the girl that plays Ugly Betty in reality ugly? They are using a very pretty young woman to play “Ugly Betty” and that just seems to fly in the face of this new campaign.

    The Dove commercials were great!

  14. I am a fan of the show “ugly betty” because betty is such a real character in many ways, slightly socially awkward, but in her true heart of hearts she wants everyone to be treated in a way that makes her beautiful.

    I can’t say I am fan of the “be ugly” tag line though. Why do we have to “be” anything at all? Can’t we just be ourselves?

  15. Not sure about it yet either. However, if it is successful I guarantee there will be some Christian marketing group out there who will begin using the slogan on t-shirts, bracelets, hats, coffee mugs, etc.

  16. I know as a teenage girl I didn’t want to be super-thin or ugly. Maybe “Be You” would be a better idea? Just a thought.

  17. I see where you’re coming from Marko… And on one hand, I agree, but I wonder if any of us would be skeptical (or cynical) if this didn’t come in the form of an announcement from the very network that airs Ugly Betty. It reeks a bit of shameless self-promotion.

    On first read, though…I’m inclined to look at it through the same lens that I view Yac’s familiar suggestion that Jesus “ruined his life.” The argument there could be the same…holding up the cultural norm of “success” as the ultimate goal for life–and then having this Jesus guy come along and ruin the whole thing. From the outside, would you (rhetorically speaking) really want to follow a guy who “ruined” your quest for the perfect little life? Probably not much more than you’d want to subscribe to a program that encourages you (again, rhetorically speaking) to “be ugly.” I mean, who actually wants to be considered “ugly”? Isn’t that a bit like making a conscious decision to worship a false God?

    It’s probably best not to get into a discussion on semantics, but my thought is that this “be ugly” thing is more a suggestion to run against the flow of common culture and to embrace uniqueness, difference and our own unfinishedness. And if that’s the case, I’m for it.

  18. Marko, I have to agree with your sentiments that on the one hand I am glad to see the “be ugly” campaign as an arch rival of the “thin is sexy” thing. I also agree with some of their motto but not all. Again we must remember that they are trying to capture an audience and this is a marketing scheme by a secular world that is focussed on the almighty dollar. Their motto missed the point that each person is an individual BECAUSE of who God made them. The song by Jason Mraz is pretty good for a discussion starter at youth group. check it out. thanks for the opportunity to write in. James

  19. Hey I will be honest, I am a guy..and I watch Ugly wife and I are now hooked on the show. We never miss it!! The campaign from a world’s side of things is well intentioned but misguided in that they aren’t seeing the whole picture including the spiritual. I think the campaign is taking the cultural norms and going to the other extreme. I think we can use it as a teaching moment for our girls and give the God perspective on the who things. Especially us in the JH ministry, where girls are truly at that “ugly” duckling stage:-)

  20. Great comments from eveyone. This is a hard one. I agree with Marko (no suck-up intended)
    I do not believe that we will ever live in a society that allows you to be you. There is ALWAYS a “cookie cutter image” that someone whats you to fit into. This is where I struggle. As a Father of two teenage daughters, both dealing with the pressures of fitting in, my constant message to them and the students I speak to is God has created you for a reason and a purpose. Both girls and guys struggle with the whole apperance issue, but so many go though out this life never discovering the fact that they are made in the image of a living GOD.
    As a wise person once said “Make-up and clothes only cover so much – the real person is underneath.
    We as youth workers/speakers need to convey to this and future generations to “Be Real”.

  21. I suggest visiting the website
    It puts the campaign in perspective, about what it means to “be ugly”. It’s all positive and not about physical beauty. It’s about embracing the qualities of Ugly Betty on the show, which are all strong character traits….true to yourseld, real, passionate. etc.. I love it. It’s fun. “Be Ugly”!!

  22. I think it’s goofy that they have taken the stereotypically “ugly” person and called her “ugly”. If they want to redefine what the world sees as “ugly”, they should have taken a stereotypically, outwardly beautiful person with a bad attitude and called her “ugly”, or called the show “Beautiful Betty”. Hello?

  23. I like the idea of keeping the focus on being passionate, real and kind, etc. When I think of being ugly, though, my thoughts immediately turn to what’s on the inside vs. appearance. This goes far deeper than what a girl (or guy) sees in the mirror. I want the young people I work with to see themselves, first and foremost, as beloved children of God and to love and live Jesus. It’s in those moments that the beauty of Christ is revealed!

    True, jr. high is probably the most awkward time in a person’s life with a huge focus on appearance (even though the aim of the campaign seems to strive to go beyond appearance). This age group needs people telling them they’re okay and identifying them not by how pretty they look or will look, or even how athletic or gifted they are. They need adults helping identify them as awesome children of God… just b/c they are!

    I won’t be sporting a “Be Ugly” T-shirt any time soon, regardless of good intentions. But hey… they got us talkin’! Not a bad thing & lots of opp’s for teachable moments.

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