Latin Pop Culture and Fashion (Pt. 1): Ugly Betty

Image from

A while ago, one of my readers, Serg Riva, left me a comment saying that he'd like to know what I thought of Latin pop culture's influence on fashion. I posted an interim response saying I'd have to think about the topic a bit more. My thoughts leaped in all directions and are probably too verbose to be contained in a single post, so I'm splitting them up into a series of posts. This first post focuses on Ugly Betty and its influence on fashion.

What most of us know as Ugly Betty began as a popular Colombian telenovela called Yo Soy Betty La Fea. While the American version puts its unattractive heroine to work at a fashion magazine, the original series made a fashion design firm Betty's workplace. Both locations provide fodder for fashion-oriented storylines, as well as emphasize how the heroine's looks make her a fish out of water in an industry where looks are all-important. Although the telenovela achieved great success throughout Latin America and spawned spin-offs in multiple languages and countries, it took the influence of Salma Hayek to bring the show stateside. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ugly Betty's influence on fashion is not based on its accurate portrayal of the fashion industry; that notion is laughable. Instead, its influence lies in its mainstream appeal and its ability to concurrently serve a dose of fashion fun and Latin pop culture to mainstream America. The show's antics may be crazy, but it does draw on aspects of the industry that it portrays. Ugly Betty provides models such as Rebecca Romijn and Naomi Campbell with starring and cameo roles, respectively. A plotline involving a company softball game against Elle magazine grounds the show in reality by referencing a real-life fashion magazine. Designers such as Kenneth Cole and Vera Wang make brief appearances, while Marc Jacobs's current muse Victoria Beckham has an amusing role as fictional creative director Wilhelmina Slater's friend. The fact that a Latina actress and producer was responsible for bringing this show to mainstream North America, and for providing models and designers with another platform for reaching middle America, is a significant indication of how Latin pop culture has influenced the fashion industry.

The growing popularity of Ugly Betty has also made a style star out of America Ferrera. Ferrera embodies a full-bodied attractiveness and vivaciousness not usually seen in mainstream media, but she has proven time and again that she has the style chops to outshine skinnier starlets on the red carpet. I can definitely see Ferrera giving young Latina girls with body image issues a major self-esteem boost by proving that you don't have to be Caucasian and thin to succeed in the entertainment industry. It's no coincidence that her breakthrough role was in the indie film Real Women Have Curves.

America Ferrera in Marie Claire

Further reading:
Yo Soy Betty La Fea on Wikipedia
Ugly Betty on Wikipedia

NEXT UP: Mainstream Latin celebrities making their mark in fashion

1 comment

Back to Top