"Ugly Betty," a TV show about an awkward young woman fighting for her professional survival in the unforgiving world of high fashion, is...

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“Ugly Betty,” a TV show about an awkward young woman fighting for her professional survival in the unforgiving world of high fashion, is one of the most-watched new series of the season.

The Uglydolls, homespun monster toys with stubby limbs, missing eyes and names such as Ice Bat, are showing up in the company of A-list celebrities.

A teenager with green skin and bad hair has taken the theater world by storm as the heroine of the subversive Oz remake, “Wicked.”

Even high fashion, having survived its initial shock at Marc Jacobs’ “lumpenly ugly” fall 2005 collection, is showcasing military boots with $3,000 cocktail dresses.

Hey, is it just us? Or is Ugly suddenly looking pretty good?

“A breath of fresh air”

“There’s definitely something going on out there,” says David Horvath, co-creator of the Uglydolls, who says he gets fan letters from people who see his frumpy, asymmetrical monsters as an alternative to mainstream beauty culture.

“I think a lot of the fashion dolls and a lot of the magazines that are there for kids and teenagers and even adults, if you take it for what it really is, an advertisement or a promotion, it’s fine,” he says.

“But I think when you get too into it and try to change yourself so you can look like that or act like that, it’s a breath of fresh air to have something come along that tells you, ‘You’re totally fine the way you are. In fact, you’re beautiful the way you are.’ “

Beauty vs. beastly

No one is saying that Ugly, which, in this case, is used affectionately or satirically — to connote something that is different from the current beauty ideal but by no means worse — is going to overtake Beauty any time soon.

High fashion is flirting with one aspect at a time of the Marc Jacobs aesthetic — the combat boots, say, shown without the chunky socks, nouveau-grunge layers or baggy wool shirt.

Real women are wearing short, black nails, but not the eerie white face paint and tattered black corsets that complete the ugly-is-beautiful Goth look.

As refreshingly real as Betty is, with her braces, curves and heavy spectacles, she’s surrounded by the usual towering size-2 beauties, both on her own show and in a television landscape peopled by “Desperate Housewives,” “OC” babes and “Gilmore Girls.”

Breaking free

Still, some see the current interest in Ugly as significant.

“I just think this generation [of young people] is tired of being oppressed by the prison of, ‘Your waist has to be this, and your hair has to be this, and your eyes have to be blue,’ ” says Winnie Holzman, who wrote the book for the play “Wicked.”

“That’s a prison that people can literally die in.”

“Wicked,” an unexpected hit due, in part, to a strong following among teenage girls, speaks to the need to break free from narrow definitions of beauty with its depiction of a green-faced young witch who feels unattractive until she discovers the talents and convictions that allow her to — literally — soar.

“Betty,” similarly, emphasizes the intelligence, decency and competence of its fashion-impaired heroine.

“I think there is a reason that [ugly] would catch on,” says Holzman, noting that the “Ugly” in “Ugly Betty” is being juxtaposed with the ferociously demanding definition of beauty promoted by fashion magazines.

While Holzman insists on the importance of inner beauty — what do white teeth mean when children are starving? — Horvath takes a somewhat different tack, finding actual physical attractiveness in the asymmetrical and unusual.

“Ugly’s not the new beautiful,” he says. “Ugly’s always been the only beautiful. All the little funny twists and turns and the things that make us who we are, are things that should be celebrated.”

Beautiful choices

No one really knows how far Ugly can go in transforming the culture, with some saying that Paris Hilton has nothing to worry about at the present time.

“Whatever ugly trend there is, is being played out along gender lines,” with women, not men, being portrayed as ugly, and the understanding that the “ugly” woman will compensate by being a good woman, according to Andi Zeisler, a co-founder of the feminist magazine Bitch.

“I don’t think it represents any kind of progress, and I don’t think it changes the beauty culture that has been intensifying over the last decade,” Zeisler says.

But Holzman says she’s upbeat about where young people are headed on the Ugly issue, and Horvath sees Ugly, by which he really means a broader definition of beauty, gaining ground.

Horvath predicts that in the next 10 years we will see a diversification of beauty standards not unlike what has already occurred in television, where network domination gave way to the many competing choices of cable, or in music, where young people’s tastes went from single-mindedly loyal to wildly eclectic.

In this vision of the future, you’ll hold up a picture of the current beauty ideal — say, Jessica Simpson — and 20 people will give you 20 very different opinions.

Instead of one type of beauty reigning supreme, as, say, one type of band might have reigned in the 1970s, 10 or maybe 20 distinct ideals will hold sway with various segments of the population.

“It’s going to be harder to nail down what everybody considers to be beautiful or ugly,” Horvath says. “It’s just going to be, everyone is into their own thing.”