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Exposing the Toxic Reality in Yo soy Betty, la fea

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Yo soy Betty, la fea is one the most popular telenovelas around the world. Its trend-setting plot and representation of love has captured the hearts of women all over the world, making them swoon and wish for their own Don Armando. Since the original version came out during the late 90’s, there’ve been many adaptations, both in Spanish and English, depicting the troublesome romance between Don Armando and Beatriz Pinzón Solano. Most often than not, people, especially women, seem to think that the love shared between these two characters is healthy. Even more troublesome, Don Armando’s character is seen as a perfect representation of what an ideal partner should be like. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying this telenovela and seeing it for what it is—a form of entertainment—people get so caught up in the fantasy the show promises that they turn a blind eye to all the red flags. 

I was once one of those people, when I was young and naïve and so wrapped up in the fairytale-like fantasy sold to women since infancy to notice the flaws in the story. It was only when I rewatched the telenovela with my grandmother a couple of months back that I began to see all that’s ugly with it: the toxic love, the toxic masculinity, the toxic depiction of female beauty, the toxic everything. I realized I wasn’t exaggerating when my boyfriend joined us to watch it and shared the same views. Yes, it was entertaining and made us laugh a lot, but we were fully conscious of all its unhealthy elements. That’s my purpose with this article: for you to enjoy this telenovela as the fiction piece that it is, while being conscious of its many flaws, dysfunctions, toxicity, and unhealthiness.

Yo soy Betty, la fea centers around Beatriz Pinzón Solano, a woman whose intelligence seems to be the only thing going for her. The telenovela’s main focus is on outer beauty, so when Betty starts working in a publishing company, a place where beauty is measured by models, determined by men in power, and is solely focused on lust, Betty’s unconventional physical features stand out for being extremely unattractive. Despite the bullying she receives from other female workers, as well as the disregard from shallow male coworkers, she finds her place in the company and demonstrates her value to her boss, Don Armando. 

Even before anything romantic starts happening, Betty begins to like Don Armando because she naively believes he sees her as more than just an ugly exterior. She believes he respects her for all the work she does for him, when in reality he’s just using her. Cue in her recurring fantasies with him, daydreams of kisses or nice words or any kind of acknowledgement towards her from his part. But that’s just what they are: fantasies. She’s aware of the impossibility of being with him and does no harm by having a silly, little crush. 

As another example of the show’s unhealthy depiction of love and romance, consider the following situation: As soon as the company Betty works in begins to experience financial problems, Don Armando and his best friend seek Betty’s help. Once again, she is used to save the company. Since she’s in charge of the company’s finance, due to Don Armando’s request, she falsifies financial statements and uses her name to keep the place afloat. From very early on, we see Betty changing her principals and morals only to please the man she loves. The question this arises is, would the love of your life be comfortable with changing you? Would he be at ease knowing he’s risking sending you to jail? The answer to both questions is a definitive no!  

 When Don Armando and his best friend begin to distrust Betty for no logical reason, they create a plan to seduce her and make her think Don Armando is falling in love with her. If that doesn’t sound like the most unromantic thing in the world, the most cruel, then I don’t know what does. Don Armando finds Betty so repulsive, so unworthy of the playboy status he’s created for himself, that he has to get drunk to muster the courage to kiss her on the lips. Same thing when they have sex for the first time. I refuse to call it making love because, although Betty was giving herself wholeheartedly out of love, he went as low as to introduce a form of intimacy that’s so private, so intimate, so delicate, when he didn’t feel the same way. 

Of course, after they do have sex, the telenovela wants you to believe that he indeed begins to fall in love with Betty. From this moment on, Don Armando sees the real Betty: naked, vulnerable, sensitiveーa kindred soul who doesn’t deserve what they’re doing to her. It only took having sex for him to figure all those things out; after Betty having shown us her true colors throughout the whole show. Truth is, he couldn’t see past her unconventional physical features before. To add insult to injury, he had the habit of recounting every single detail to his best friend, who’s also the vice president of the company. Together, they laughed and made fun of Betty for being “ugly”, for being “too trusting”, for falling in love with a man who was “so out of her league” and for believing he loved her back. 

While all this is happening behind the scenes, Don Armando often portrays questionable behaviors. For instance, he’s only kind to women he feels attracted to and wants to have sex with. We constantly see him screaming at Betty and her female coworkers every time he’s mad at them, often making them whimper and cry. Nowadays, this conduct can easily classify as a form of emotional workplace abuse or harassment. Even more jarring is the fact he gets physical with them, often grabbing them by the arm with force or pulling their hair. In other words, Don Armando has no respect for women in general. He treats “beautiful” women as objects and women he considers “ugly” as trash. 

Not only does the telenovela normalize emotional and physical abuse disguised as comedy relief, but it also neutralizes cheating. Since the beginning of the story, we know Don Armando has cheated on his fiancé more than once. He’s thus presented as a serial cheater. His fiancé, Marcela, knows about it and tries her best to keep the relationship together. The telenovela portrays Marcela as a neurotic, toxic partner who doesn’t let her partner live. How can she be anything less than this if he’s the one who’s broken the trust? The major problem is, the story somehow depicts her as the villain and puts the blame of his cheating on her. The message is, if you’re a mean girl, like Marcela is, you deserve to get cheated on and complaining about it only makes you toxic. Which is crazy because no one deserves to get cheated on. No one deserves to end up so broken, you feel the need to constantly monitor your partner’s every move and depend emotionally on them. 

Truth is, Don Armando used Marcela just as much as he used Betty, but people aren’t ready for this truth because they can’t see past Marcela’s mean girl exterior. He was only with her because she also owns part of the company and has been in his family since forever. He had a complete disregard for her feelings, made her think as though she was the one in the wrong every single time, and emotionally abused her for not being what he specifically wanted her to be. I’ll never forgive the telenovela for the ending it gave her. She was left depressed, with no love or company or aspirations. 

When Betty discovers the truth about Don Armando’s disgusting and inhumane game, she exposes the company’s corruption and goes somewhere nobody knows to suffer. Upon her return to the company, and because what was done to her wasn’t enough, she has to come back to save the place from bankruptcy. At this point, she’s a “new” Betty: conforming to the beauty standards of Don Armando, less naïve, and unwilling to forgive with ease. “New” because she’s always been beautiful and her pure intentions were seen as naïve. The only thing that’s new about her is her skepticism when it comes to love… which is normal, given the circumstances. Truly, this is the story of the ugly duckling who turned into a beautiful swan. 

In the end, Betty and Don Armando have their happily ever after. They get married and run the company. The moral of the story relies on seeing with the soul, not the eyes. Don Armando fell in love with Betty once he got to know her soul-deep, something he was unable to do with all those other women he did consider beautiful. While this looks good on paperーall sweet and dandyーit isn’t enough to justify the toxic masculinity, abusive attributes, and disrespect towards women from Don Armando.     

If I were to write the ending of Yo soy Betty, la fea, I would change everything in a way that empowers women and gives justice to its characters. Betty would’ve forgiven Don Armando for her own peace of mind, but she would never get back with him; a man who broke her in the cruelest of ways. She would choose self-love above everything else and realize her worth. Being alone is better than being with someone who’s not right for you, until that healthy relationship comes along. She would decide to own part of the company and only rise from that point on. She deserves it for all her hard work. Marcela would be the new president of the company, and she would find a healthy love who would appreciate her. In my version, women strive, women rise, and women empower.             

Abigail Figueroa Boneta is a fifth-year undergraduate student majoring in English Literature and Modern Languages with emphasis on French and Francophone studies. Currently, Boneta is a Writer and Junior Editor for Her Campus at UPR. She writes feminist articles about female empowerment, femininity, female sexuality, and female beauty. Within her articles, she also tackles contemporary social problems and writes book reviews. As a passionate and ambitious woman, she aspires to be a professional writer, editor, and translator after graduating. Her dream is to write and publish novels about Latino/a characters in genres like Mystery, Psychological Thriller, and Contemporary Young Adult.
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