Digital Editor Halima Ahad spotlights The Summer I Turned Pretty protagonist Belly, resonating with the character as she navigates the struggles of adolescence

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The Summer I Turned Pretty has been a pinnacle summer watch for audiences since its 2022 debut. It is definitely one of my favourite shows. I have found that, whilst rewatching it recently, I resonate a lot with the show’s main character Isabel (nicknamed Belly) Conklin. Belly’s character displays all the highs and lows of being a young adult, especially being noticed for your changing looks.

The show follows Belly Conklin (Lola Tung) as she navigates being recognised for her beauty after her adolescence, as she spends her summer at Cousins Beach with her brother Steven (Sean Kaufman) and her two family friends Jeremiah (Gavin Casalegno) and Conrad (Christopher Briney) Fisher. The boys finally notice Belly after numerous summers of growing up with her but this comes with more difficulties than she could ever imagine. 

Belly really resonates with me a lot in terms of recognition for her good looks and appearance. In the beginning of the first episode in Season One, her best friend Taylor (Rain Spencer) says something which really stood out to me.

‘Judging a book by its cover’ is a saying which is very important and poignant throughout the whole show

‘He’ll see you whether he wants to or not. You look a lot different than last summer, Belly.’ The line really stood out to me as it shows how appearances really make a difference, it doesn’t really matter what your personality may hold because looks are what people always judge you by. ‘Judging a book by its cover’ is a saying which is very important and poignant throughout the whole show.

The addition of the Debutante Ball to the show (different from the novel trilogy) brings this altogether. When Belly is offered the opportunity to be a debutante by Susannah (Rachel Blanchard), she is joked at by Steven, Jeremiah, Conrad, and her mother Laurel (Jackie Chung). Her mother calls her a ‘feral alley cat’ which again stood out to me because parents don’t really notice changes in their child until they look at them more deeply. Laurel’s fears and anxieties about the Debutante Ball show how she was afraid of her daughter finally being seen and judged for her looks.

One message stands out, be comfortable in yourself and your own skin

As well as this, Belly’s tackles with young adulthood include her perilous love triangle with the Fisher boys. At the beginning of the first season, she continued with her childhood crush on Conrad but he still never took any notice of her. Coming back to the theme of looks, although Belly’s appearance changed for the better, Conrad only really cared about her personality. The Debutante Ball gives Belly a chance to ignite the relationship between herself and Conrad but many obstacles come in the way of this.

Although Belly faces these numerous obstacles and resurfaced feelings throughout the show, one message stands out in the end, be comfortable in yourself and your own skin. Through her tumultuous turns and discovering herself at the end of the Debutante Ball, Belly realised that she can only be herself and everything will gradually fall into place itself. The show has been a fantastic rewatch as summer finally dawns upon us and I cannot wait for its final season which will be aired next year.

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