When I watched HBO’s Betty recently, I saw something I never saw growing up: a show that centred fully developed, nuanced queer female storylines. Set in New York City (pre-pandemic), it follows a girl gang of skateboarders who hang out every day; getting into trouble and seeking out new adventures. Aside from being a feel-good show that romanticizes New York and all of its possibilities, it also tackles important topics like white privilege, sexual assault, and open explorations of queerness.
The series opens with two friends, Kirt and Janay, who are seeking out a larger crew of female skateboarders to accompany them in the male-dominated skateparks. They soon establish a friend group made up entirely of female skaters, most of whom are women of colour and queer, and the plot develops from there. Throughout the course of the show, we see how female skateboarders are treated as outsiders in the male-dominated sport, and how girls thrive in solidarity with one another when navigating these spaces.
Despite repeatedly being treated as “other” by their male skater counterparts, the girls continuously make space for themselves, and in doing so inspire other girls to put themselves in spaces that aren’t traditionally welcoming towards women.
Skateboarding has a way of gifting the rider a sense of escapism. By loving the sport unconditionally despite its challenges, Betty displays the girls’ clear thirst to break free from the restrictions of gender roles. This refusal to conform allows the girls to explore their identities and encourages them to grow into their authentic selves.
All of the girls are not actors by trade but are skateboarders and friends in real life. The depiction of complex dynamics in their friendships gives viewers an honest look into the beauty of female friendships.
HBO’s Betty shatters norms we’re used to seeing in shows and movies that paint female characters as rivals, or introduce female stories simply to further male plotlines. On the contrary, every female character in Betty is three-dimensional, unique and lovable in their own way, while the male characters are there to further the girls’ storylines. Betty demonstrates how women are the greatest allies to one another and how instrumental female friendships are in supporting journeys to self-discovery.
Betty gives viewers a realistic look into skateboarding culture and how girls are pushing back against years of exclusion from it. While watching this series, I couldn’t help but wish there was a show like this when I was growing up. It would have been so inspiring to see girls around my age who were defying gender norms by making space for themselves in a sport where they’ve never been welcome. Betty is about more than skateboarding, it’s about representation and the importance of community love for marginalized women.