Staff Writer

January 3, 2024 (Updated )

Before Barbie, there was Betty. America Ferrara may have made history this summer with her iconic performance as Gloria in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, but she was also making waves back in the noughties as Betty Suarez on ABC’s Ugly Betty. Here, we look back at the programme to explore what the show got right — and wrong — about journalism and if anything has changed.

Betty Who?

Ugly Betty follows the home and work life of Betty Suarez — a recent graduate from Queens College in New York, with dreams of making it big in the magazine industry. While Betty does not have a passion for fashion (the woollen poncho she wears to her interview is now a Halloween costume), the very first episode sees her interview for an editor’s assistant position at top glossy fashion magazine MODE. No guesses which mag that is modelled off.

Betty does not know her Gucci from her Prada, but she is willing to learn from the outset. She clearly has great potential as a writer, is personable, and could not have been more prepared for the interview. She also made a lot of effort with that poncho — which, to be honest, in 2023, actually looks kind of high fashion.

As an early-career journalist, I have found that editors appreciate potential and a willingness to learn much more than you might think. Slowly, I’ve realised you don’t have to know everything about everything to be a good journalist, nor do you need to be the finished product when just starting out. There would simply be no room to grow.

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Upon arriving for her interview, Betty is savagely turned away by an assistant who snarkily informs her the “position has already been filled” — before she has even had a chance to speak. The poncho, braces, and thick rimmed glasses were not the vibe they were after (apparently Ferrara tried on around 200 pairs in pursuit of the perfect, nerdy look.)

Luckily, or unluckily — depending on how you see it — Bradford Meade (Alan Dale), the publishing company’s big boss, witnesses Betty’s brutal rejection while loitering upstairs. He hears her desperately reeling off all the reasons she would be great for the role; he also knows his son, Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius), the new editor-in-chief, will not want to sleep with her like he has all of his other assistants.

So, Betty (and her poncho) gets the job.

Does What You Wear Matter?

Once Betty starts, she continues to wear whatever the heck she wants to the office. She feels no need to look like anyone else and frequently resists transformation makeovers from her older sister, Hilda (Ana Ortiz). From the outset, Betty is comfortable not trying to look or be like someone she is not in this new environment.

I’m with Betty. While many workplaces have undergone sartorial shifts following the pandemic (business up top, casual down below to stay, please), I think dressing in a way you feel most comfortable reigns supreme — whether a three-piece suit or pyjamas.

Granted, though, it is not quite this simple. Unspoken dress codes characteristic of modern liberal workplaces can add an additional test. Striking the right balance between showing you understand company culture and communicating individuality through clothes can be tricky. Is the energy spent on judging your own (and others’) clothing, energy away from your work?

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”You don’t have to know everything about everything to be a good journalist, nor do you need to be the finished product when just starting out; there would simply be no room to grow.“
Hannah Bradfield, Staff Writer at Journo Resources

We often hear the phrase “power dressing” thrown around, but there is actually a lot of nuance to it. As this BBC Worklife piece explores, the idea of “dressing for success” is complex. Traditionally, formal attire has been associated with workplace success and prestige, and dressing aspirationally has, in some instances, been seen to boost notability and hireability.

Women are also more likely to be held to paradoxical standards of dress. In an early episode of Ugly Betty, amidst Daniel’s campaign to get Betty to quit, he uses clothes to ridicule her when she steps in for a model at a photoshoot. Meanwhile, in a later series, when Daniel moves to another magazine, he starts wearing markedly casual clothes and trainers. It is reminiscent of the red sneaker effect, which suggests nonconforming behaviours — like wearing red trainers in an office — can lead to others inferring positively about status.

Ideas Are Your Currency

Betty also shows us how important and valuable ideas are when trying to get your foot in the door. Though it might sound obvious, I think those starting out can feel like their ideas and perspectives are not as valuable. In season one, Betty saves the day by speaking up about an idea she has had about an editorial campaign for one of MODE’s most important commercial clients.

Drawing on childhood memories of watching her mother applying makeup, Betty pitches an idea based on nostalgia to capitalise on customer loyalty. She does, however, let Daniel take the credit — which definitely and unacceptably still happens. Regardless, it is a breakthrough moment for Betty’s visibility as a junior staff member.

By this point, Daniel is well aware of Betty’s ability, talent, and humility and knows it is wrong to take the credit. But Betty knows Daniel’s job is in jeopardy, and the more credit he gets, the more opportunities for her. Ethical or not, Betty uses it to her advantage; her ideas are a currency to stay in the game.

Quick Tips From 'Ugly Betty'

• Demonstrate your willingness to learn and volunteer for tasks that are new. Getting outside of your comfort zone will result in more skills that will be valuable in the long run.

• Don’t conform to outside pressure and embrace your individuality! Show the people around you what makes you a journalist with ideas of merit.

• Talking of ideas – don’t be afraid to speak up and volunteer yours if the occasion arises. Keep a bank of them in your mind and don’t undersell yourself; you contribution deserves credit.

• Remember that everyone is a normal person, so try not to be intimidated by the setting. You may be daunted by the star status of an interviewee, but they’re just another human open for a chat. The more thoughtful your questions, the more they will engage, so let your authentic self shine!

So, this is your reminder to keep a bank of ideas and try not to undersell yourself — your perspective always carries value and should be credited accordingly.


When Ugly Betty first aired in 2006, representation of Latina women in the entertainment industry (and beyond) was limited and often stereotypical and tokenistic. Not only was show creator Silvio Horta’s authentic portrayal of the working class American Latino experience game-changing for Hollywood in itself, but the show also brings up real-world issues about representation in the journalism industry.

The show’s ‘villain’, Wilhelmina Slater (Vanessa Williams), a woman of colour who has worked at MODE for 20 years, is passed over for the editor position in favour of Daniel, who has little to no experience in the industry. As calculating as her character is, it would make far more sense for Wilhelmina — the most senior and knowledgeable candidate — to get the position.

“20 years, Marc. No one has done more; worked harder. I have bled for this magazine, helped make it into the icon it is today, and that nasty, nepotistic son of a bitch gives my job to his son,” Wilhelmina tells her assistant.

While a dramatised version of the Nepo baby influx, it highlights a very real, enduring issue. According to the Reuters’ Institute, Oxford, just six per cent of top editors are people of colour. In an analysis of the gender breakdown of top editors in a sample of 240 major online and offline news outlets in 12 different markets across five continents, Reuters found only 22 per cent of the 180 top editors across the 240 brands covered are women — despite the fact that, on average, 40 per cent of journalists in the 12 markets are women.

Although we come to root for Daniel through Betty’s influence, the fact a middle-aged white man severely lacking in experience is hired in this role highlights the very issue of many outlets looking nothing like those they serve.

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Seventy per cent of journalists also come from middle or upper-class backgrounds, compared to 44 per cent of all UK workers, says the National Council for the Training of Journalists. So, although Ugly Betty is set across the pond, Betty appearing to be one of the only working-class journalists in the room reflects a much broader issue still prevalent in journalism globally today.

It’s Okay To Be Grateful — But Know Your Value

When the shitty treatment and patronising comments start to get to Betty, she rationalises them: “I should be grateful I got my break.” A sentiment I think is still widely felt in the creative industries.

Getting your ‘big break’ should never be a free pass for mistreatment, and while you might be grateful for a job or an opportunity, you got it for a reason. Your experience and you as a person got that job — HR has not picked you at random. Well, if you’re Daniel Meade, they might have; but that’s different.

There are parallels here with that Barbie monologue: “You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood.

“But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful.”

Ferrara told Vanity Fair the “always be grateful” line sticks out to her because it was something Gerwig and Ferrara added together after a conversation between them. Ferrara said: “It came out of a conversation that we had: this internalised feeling that we’re lucky to be here “The longer [the monologue] goes, the more meaning it has because it is truly endless, the list of targets and expectations.”

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”Keep a bank of ideas and try not to undersell yourself — your perspective always carries value, and should be credited accordingly.“
Hannah Bradfield, Staff Writer at Journo Resources

Everyone Is A Normal Person

Interviewing people as a journalist can be incredibly daunting, especially at the beginning of your career. When you place importance on the outcome or the status of the interviewee, it is easy to be overcome by the jitters. When Betty writes her first article, she struggles to get going and finds approaching people difficult. She turns to her friend/love interest, Gio, for help, who talks to people with complete ease even though he’s not a journalist — he owns the sandwich shop opposite Betty’s office.

His answer: “I just talk to them like a normal person. They’re pretty much the same as everybody you know.” While this might sound like simple advice, I think we all need reminding of it sometimes.

So, if you’re struggling with what to watch this evening, I hope I’ve made a case for choosing Ugly Betty. With high drama, questionable mid-noughties fashion, and America Ferrara monologues – what more on earth could you want?

Hannah Bradfield
Hannah Bradfield

Hannah is a recent graduate from Loughborough University, where she studied a BA in English and Sport Science and an MA in Media and Cultural Analysis. Alongside her studies, Hannah was on the editorial teams of several student magazines, and was awarded ‘Best Student Journalist, Midlands’ by the SPA in 2018.

She was a BBC Sport Kick-Off Reporter in 2019 and had co-founded and edited a one-off 40-page print and digital magazine in celebration of International Women’s Day 2021. Along with her work for Journo Resources, she is currently studying for the NCTJ diploma at News Associates and freelance writing.

Header image courtesy of Channel 4. Secondary images courtesy of Bravo TV and Facebook.