Guest blog: baking and botox - why I'm depressed by the Apprentice final

(90 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 18-Jul-13 14:35:02

In case you missed it, the latest series of The Apprentice was won last night by Leah Totton, who will now boast Lord Sugar as business partner in her chain of cosmetic surgery outlets.

In this guest post Sara Bran, who blogs over at Notes from the Edge of Motherhood, explains why she found the dramatic dénouement rather dispiriting.


"I have loved The Apprentice this year. As a cultural snap-shot of where we are in 2013, as a Botox frozen moment, the show's denouement has been perfect. Rich in symbolism, its underlying stories have unfolded like a Greek myth. 

Firstly, there is that iconic image of the show; Lord Sugar's podgy finger, the point that accompanies his thunderbolt utterances like the digit of Zeus. There is the mysterious receptionist guarding the frosted screen-doors of the boardroom like the Gates of Hades. And the boardroom itself, a heavenly blue with ethereal under-lighting that intensifies the candidates' eyes so you can see their pupils contract in fear. 

The main story this year, though, was that both finalists were women. The last time there was an all-woman final was 2006, when Michelle Dewberry went head to head with Ruth Badger - but there was nowhere near the level of attention this final generated, largely because the business plans and personal images of the 2013 candidates were so polarizing.

The businesses proposed by Luisa and Leah were a bakery brand and a chain of cosmetic clinics respectively. The Apprentice final pitted the ruthless individuality of the cupcake - designed for one, eaten by one - against a kind of 'medicine' which relies on the broken self-esteem of a largely female consumer.  With both services aimed at a predominantly female market, it was a galling and profoundly soul-less representation of 'what women want'. 

Even more dispiriting was that both businesses touched a deeply emotional terrain around the politics of the body. Lord Sugar had to choose between the illicit, 'naughty', sweetness of the cupcake - with everything that says about women's relationships with food - and the addictive pursuit of Barbie-style perfection. 

How did we get here?  Well, the series' personnel offers some answers, representing what one might - sticking with the mythic theme -  term 'the Three Ages of Feminism'. 

Margaret Mountford, born in 1951, would have been a young girl when Betty Friedan published 'The Feminine Mystique' in 1963. By the time she went to Cambridge to study Law, 'The Female Eunuch' was being discussed in consciousness-raising groups, as Germaine Greer encouraged women to seek equality in the bedroom as a political act. 

Karren Brady, aged 41, is a successful businesswoman, and represents my generation; women in their forties who benefitted from the work of 1970s feminists, and managed - just - to juggle working and family life. When Brady sold Birmingham Football club, an impressive 75% of her senior management team at Director level were women. Karren is presented as a self-assured presence, a woman who has achieved the perfect balance: the feminist dream.
 
Then we have Leah and Luisa, aged 24 and 25 respectively. Like my own daughters, they have had opportunities in education and the workplace that would be unthinkable without feminism. These are smart women, who you would hope might have read 'How To Be A Woman' -  or perhaps come across the idea that pink might stink.  

But Luisa apparently "hates feminists". Leah was "confused" as to why anyone would have an issue with the ethics of lunchtime Botox treatments. Luisa, admiring the cartoon version of herself that forms her brand logo sighed, "I really like myself."  Leah named her cosmetic procedure brand 'Niks' - lacking any contextual awareness about the word's associations with cutting the skin. And that's what struck me most: we have arrived at a point where there is little, or no, wider consciousness of context - or the connection between personal choices made by individuals and the public sphere. 

In the 1970s, women demanding an orgasm in the private space was considered an act of insurgency that could change the world. There was an understanding that our individual choices have a wider effect. And so it is with Botox and tit jobs: they are a personal choice, yes - but they resonate in the wider world.  They feed and disseminate the fantasy of what women feel they should be.  And it is a shadow over women, this tyranny of the body and the complete rejection of what it is; messy, chaotic, wobbly, bloody, changeable.  It worries me with every wrinkle and arse-dimple I possess.

Even more worrying is an increasingly visible correlation - exemplified by the three ages of feminism on display in the show - between women's rising economic power, and their increasing retreat into the world of fantasy and submission.  In books such as '50 Shades of Grey', in the Renaissance of the 1950s housewife, in the ordinariness of the porno-fied body - these things bespeak a generation which seems terrified of their rising power.  

Its like we're pretending we don't really have it. Look... you can still have me... I may earn more than you - but I'll still bake you a cupcake."

Sara Bran blogs at Notes From The Edge of Motherhood, and also at the Huffington Post, where she interviews writers, artists and musicians about the creative process. She's @sarabran on Twitter.

russetbella1000 Thu 18-Jul-13 22:07:57

Yams, I've read through the whole thread and my messages again and I don't think I've been any harsher than anyone else and apart from the 'hot pant pyjama comment' (tongue slightly in cheek there) I think I was just being factual. Stilettos were worn and ok maybe it was just me but their appearance was honestly so distracting all I could do was think about how long it must have taken them to get ready...

WilsonFrickett Thu 18-Jul-13 22:08:07

Behaviour = appearance ^^.

HuwEdwards Thu 18-Jul-13 22:13:53

Yammy, I would've liked that Leah's business didn't prey on some womens insecurities, also that as an A&E doc, she couldn't see how superficial her business is! I honestly didn't object violently to Luisa's business idea, but all the pink was lazy (and stereo-typical) marketing or at best lacked imagination. She did irritate me and was quite unlikeable throughout the series until the last episode.

What I did like, was that by the final episode they had a mutual respect and friendship and the 'cat fight' as I'm sure some areas of the media would've loved, simply didn't transpire.

russetbella1000 Thu 18-Jul-13 22:20:21

I would say I am still not judging them. I am stating how they looked and the fact that I did not feel this was representative or should be used as representative for women. Yes it is an aspect of us all (maybe) at some point in our lives_ I'll prob be doing a bit at the weekend ( bit of eyeliner/mascara -whatever- indeed up to me blah blah...) but it was just the fact that there was no other 'female image' projected (as that's all I am commenting on not the individuals themselves)

...Anyway, it's late :0)

MmeLindor Thu 18-Jul-13 22:23:34

I was so disappointed with the choice of business proposal. I made a comment on Twitter about being back in 1952. Botox or boob jobs. What a choice.

I am not a regular viewer, but watched because I knew that two female contestants had made it through to the final. What a disappointment.

The other thing that struck me was that they both basically built their business idea on their current job/business. It seems a waste of the weeks and weeks of 'training' if they are simply to do a bit of a Dragon's Den pitch.

Great blog, Sara.

yamsareyammy Thu 18-Jul-13 22:39:57

russet, are you ok with them looking and being as they choose?

You did said they were vain and superficial.

MmeLindor. It was the baking business or botox stuff.

And again, I would like to ask almost everyone on this thread, including the blogger, which businesses are acceptable?
And again, why cant women decided for themselves. Why should other women [replacing the men], tell them what is, and what is not acceptable?
What right do you have to do that?

mummy2benji Thu 18-Jul-13 22:55:23

As a doctor myself, I was quite affronted by the fact that Leah referred to herself as an expert in this chosen field of hers, and Sir Alan was happy to accept and agree with her. Most of us don't refer to ourselves as an 'expert' in our chosen field until after a decade or so of postgraduate experience, training and intensive exams. Leah is 24 (the age I was when I graduated medical school) and cannot have been qualified for more than a year or 18 months, unless she was put a year ahead at school - possible, but still only an extra year. So, she is currently a junior doctor in A&E. She has done the courses which qualify you to give botox and facial treatments, which to be honest are short courses and provide the essential facts but do not in any way constitute years of experience and acquisition of skills. So Sir Alan has invested in a botox business run by an albeit talented businesswoman but essentially a junior doctor with little on the job experience. Even if I was considering botox, which I am not, I would boycott this entire franchise as I think they are misleading people into thinking this venture is run by an experienced doctor.

russetbella1000 Thu 18-Jul-13 23:02:40

As long as they understand what they are choosing then of course... But there's the paradox how much do we really know when we're not free...?

Anyway honestly I'm not here to tell anyone what to do/think or anything else just giving my opinion (I guess I could call myself a feminist but that's rather divisive isn't it -just another label- especially when I heard somebody in this stream saying that feminists were telling women what to do....Surely people speak and people listen or choose not to...I would never tell anyone what to do only what my opinion is...I hope we're free to do that (as much as we dare!)

Honestly, misogyny is so ingrained in the social world we live in that people don't even recognise where we get 'our choices' from.

I'm a teacher and there is just so much everywhere which reinforces the ideas for each gender which are so subtle unless you are looking for them you wouldn't notice them but when you start looking it's actually shocking.

Reading a book just last week and two female characters were immediately described with quite contrasting appearances...Words such as, large, ugly, light, beautiful were all included in the description. I asked them if they could give their opinions about the characters from the description so far. The sad thing was that they could and very definite it was too. Of course I then challenged them to wonder if we really could tell what they were like but I do wonder whether it's worth it...

yamsareyammy Thu 18-Jul-13 23:08:23

mummy, I was very surprised too. I think, somewhere in the programme she suggested that she had started her medical training at 16, but I wasnt sure if I heard or understood that correctly.

WilsonFrickett Thu 18-Jul-13 23:15:55

But Russet! You are saying one thing then posting another... Can you really tell what these two women are like simply from their appearance (and the way the programme edited them)? Because you think you aren't judging them, but by your posts you really, really were.

Yams/mummy I'm sure the 'behind the scenes' programme said Leah went to uni at 16? But it was only on in the background so can't be sure. She's NI so the school system is slightly different I think? But yes, agree, very young to be such an 'expert'.

russetbella1000 Thu 18-Jul-13 23:27:04

No I'm judging the image of woman as projected by females on the programme. I have no idea who the women actually are, what they think or anything but what I can see is just the same one-dimensional view that every single channel seems to project...And we are therefore 'invited' to judge them by their appearance by the camera angles etc which you just do not get for men...

That is my opinion.

thismousebites Thu 18-Jul-13 23:43:55

The main disapointment for me was how a great opportunity to reach out to young women was completely missed.

What should (could) have been two strong confident women with unique and innovative business plans turned out to be yet the usual "womens" jobs.
Young women ready to leave school could have been really inspired by this programme. They could have spent 10 weeks watching & following some possible great role models who could have inspired them to throw over the typical female employment choices and decide that they were equally capable of following the same path as men.
Instead, sadly, all they ended up with was the typical female stereotype who is concerned only with making loads of ££££ becoming as famous as possible, and, if need be, pouting & posing for the media.
What message does this send to young teenage girls? The very same message that says " if you have big hair, big boobs, and a vacant expression, you can become famous by sleeping with (marrying a footballer).
A missed opportunity to influence teenage girls big time.

HuwEdwards Thu 18-Jul-13 23:49:33

But mouse they don't go into it to be role models for young people, there's nothing altruistic about it. It's purely for selfish game, that's what Apprentice is about.

thismousebites Thu 18-Jul-13 23:54:27

But THAT is what is so sad about it.
If my DD watched this when she was say 15, She would have been left with the impression that this is how you get on in life, by making cupcakes or filling womens faces with poison.
Very sad.

ringaringarosy Fri 19-Jul-13 08:18:41

im not sure how to put this into words but i dont see what is wrong with cupcakes or cosmetic surgery,if thats what people want.Men can do it if they want to,just as women can be builders if they want to,the choice is there,i also think that judging a woman because she wears fake tan and stilettos is just wrong!!!

WilsonFrickett Fri 19-Jul-13 08:56:17

Personally, I do have issues with cosmetic surgery, as I've said before.

But that aside, there is nothing wrong with women making money out of it - plenty men do. And it is actually quite diminishing to accuse a young woman who already has three successful businesses and the potential for another to simply be 'a cupcake baker', imo. Did I like her pink packaging - well, no. But I think it's wrong to diminish Luiza's fairly substantial achievements because they are based on a traditional female skill.

If feminism means it's OK for women to SAH and bake cupcakes (which it totally is in my book) then it's also OK for women to make a shedload of money out of a cupcake baking business. Don't diminish her because it's 'pink'.

MmeLindor Fri 19-Jul-13 09:06:25

Yes, to what ThisMouse said.

Of course every woman should be able to choose the business that she wants to start/support/invest in.

At the same time, I find it depressing that they chose the businesses that they did, reinforcing the old stereotypes. And not even anything particularly revolutionary or exciting.

The baking was one step up from the thousands of mums baking cakes from their home (not that I am dissing the home baking industry, but it has arisen imo because women are not able to pay for childcare, so look for jobs that fit around having children).

The botox (sorry, not boobs as I said earlier) didn't seem to be very different from the thousands of other clinics offering this already. What was their USP, aside from Sir Alan?

What an amazing example to young women and girls this could have been, had they put forward a proposition in tech, or science.

courgetteDOTcom Fri 19-Jul-13 09:29:05

The USP is that it's not traditionally cosmetic surgery, she's done minimal medical training and using it to make beauty therapy look more official (?)

I don't like the idea that a beauty therapist has been funded through medical school just to work as a beauty therapist. I don't think the problem is what they do but that it's the best on offer. I do feel they got to the final by default. The men who got to the end shouldn't have got that far without having their business plans checked, so I wonder what the last two knocked out would have offered or maybe another one that didn't get into the programme because someone without their own business got in.

merrymouse Fri 19-Jul-13 09:52:18

I haven't seen any of this series - did she explain why she didn't want to be a doctor?

Young women ready to leave school could have been really inspired by this programme.

I only watched the first few series, and I think the last one I saw was the one with Katie Hopkins - has it become more professional since then?

I agree that the business choices are a bit depressing, however, given that, from what I remember, its basically a reality show, and the contestants seem to conform to a stereotype (male or female), is it surprising that they would come up with this kind of idea? I can't remember anybody on the apprentice ever being that successful in business as opposed to media?

MmeLindor Fri 19-Jul-13 10:02:01

That is a good question, Merrymouse. Have any previous winners been successful in business rather than in media?

WilsonFrickett Fri 19-Jul-13 10:09:15

Young women... could have been inspired

But I think that's pre-supposing The Apprentice wants to be inspirational. It's not a serious programme (although it presents itself as one). Apart from inventor-guy from two years ago (who is inventing beauty products and no-one's giving him a hard time about that), no merry I think you'd be hard-pushed to find a business-person ex-Apprentice as opposed to a media-person ex-Apprentice.

I think if Luiza's plan had come to fruition and she'd build a massive wholesale empire selling to the thousands of small bakeries on Britain's streets, it would have been quite a few steps up from someone baking on their kitchen table hmm. And again, Leah is a science/technology candidate - its just unfortunate she's using these skills to inject plastic into women's faces, I suppose.

Personally, I think every young person who opens their own business is an amazing example. I think people are perhaps viewing this through a very UK/maybe even middle-class lens? I have worked with young people in a voluntary capacity and been asked to attend in a suit. Because the young women in the group don't know that women could wear suits.

When we talk of empowering women in developing countries, it's all about micro-business in traditional skill areas. No-one's telling a women's co-op in India they're failures because they're weaving carpets rather than doing tech jobs.

MmeLindor Fri 19-Jul-13 10:33:13

Yes, it would have been a step up, but why did she then present is like every other cupcake bakery website that is on the market? I don't dismiss the actual proposition, but I do think the branding was way off target.

DH also made the comment that 'guaranteed 3 day delivery' doesn't sound like great service. Are there really no wholesalers who offer this?

Comparing traditional 'women's industries' in the developing world with UK isn't all that helpful. They generally don't have the technical and IT skills (or the larger investment) to do anything else.

MmeLindor Fri 19-Jul-13 10:34:16

"I have worked with young people in a voluntary capacity and been asked to attend in a suit. Because the young women in the group don't know that women could wear suits"

That is really sad.

disclosure: I haven't seen the appprentice, nor even read the whole thread. What I have gleaned thoguh, is that the finalist businesses were either cupcakes or botox. Just find that a bit sad. If it was proper artisan baking at least; there's an art and satisfaction in that which is wonderful for anyone (except those with gluten allergy). I worked in such a bakery once upon a time. Lovely smell, very heavy work.
Also have to wave to yams, from the feminist thread a few weeks back. I see your point re office work, and if a mother needing work to fit around childcare options. But I'm straying from the herd, and studying science, hoping to get a job in wave/tide energy = outside working!
I would love it if the telly could highlight women in such roles, working innovatively to secure energy for the future! Working in science or farming or something considered a bit more unusual.

Would that work on the Apprentice?

stopgap Fri 19-Jul-13 11:54:18

Aside from the feminist ethics of botox, there are questionable health ethics regarding these Botox clinics popping up on every high street in the UK. I'm overseas, so can't fully comment on a programme I haven't seen, but cosmetic surgery bodies have for a long time been pushing for stricter regulation of such clinics, with the ideal scenario being that botox and fillers are only offered by plastic surgeons or dermatologists with years of training behind them.

www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/surgeons-put-knife-into-the-apprentice-winner-leah-tottons-plan-for-botox-clinic-chain-8718124.html

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