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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.

yamsareyammy Thu 18-Jul-13 15:34:12

Nobody has posted yet, so I will give your educated blog a try.
What sorts of things would you like their business plans to have been about.
I have been on threads on MN before, and have come to the stark realisation that men are in almost infinitely more diverse jobs than women.
From drilling, to fishing to tiling, to central heating engineers to bricklayers to roadmen and on and on.

Whereas womens jobs, even in 2013 are very much limited on the whole, to indoor and desk jobs.

musicalmum40 Thu 18-Jul-13 15:42:14

Great blog - thank you! I was depressed by their vanity, eye-rolling and sheer cattiness even before they reached the final. They had no gravitas. And I like your conept of the polarised business plans. I thought they were naive and weak, but then again young

thismousebites Thu 18-Jul-13 16:19:24

I love this show but did not watch the final as both these women left me cold. Very dissaponted that they were chosen to go trough as- saw both their ideas as a huge step back for women.
(Here are so many options out here now for women and they could have chosen something that would have helped to dispel the myth of "mens jobs" instead they chose to strengthen it even more.

pilotbecky Thu 18-Jul-13 16:20:23

A great post. I can't tell you how disappointed I was that Alan Sugar chose to invest in a Medical Cosmetic Improvement business - or whatever Leah called it. You mentioned Luisa's cartoon, but Leah in person looked like a parody of herself, with her over-inflated and glossed lips, and her bouffant blonde hair.

In all honesty, I was really saddened by the whole thing. Bring back Ruth Badger!


mamaonion Thu 18-Jul-13 16:37:02

Throughout the series I was just dumbstruck by the female candidates! Superficially the amount of hair, leg and cleavage on display was not to my taste,. The towering heals they tottered around on for entire days made me wince, with a fair bit of surgical enhancement already undertaken I'd say. As I've been out of the world of work for a while woth small ones and have never been a city worker I asked my OH 'Is this how women dress in the office?' (He works in the city). 'Errr definitely not' he reassured me. Eeeew girls,

Flibbertyjibbet Thu 18-Jul-13 16:46:18

I haven't watched the final and don't know if I can be bothered.
When the apprentice started a few years back, the women wore trouser suits and were just like the usual women in any office.

Then in recent years the contestants have been wearing skirts (nothing wrong with that) but the hemlines have gone higher and higher as the hair extensions have come lower and lower.
When Ruth Badger and Michelle were in the final, were they all over the papers for how they looked, no they weren't. They were judged on their business ability.

This year the two finalists bodies/looks/hair has had more attention than their business acumen.

Coming a week after John Inverdale's comments on the tennis player (sorry don't follow tennis I don't know her name) I want to throw my hands up in despair.

I am very disappointed that Sralan has decided to put his money into a plastic (non)surgery clinic and saddened that a young woman with all those brains, and her medical training (after uni) supported by the nhs and taxpayers, now wants to make her living by injecting women with botox.

I gasped in the interview round when the male interviewer asked her what she would recommend for him in the way of facial improvements, and she rattled off a list!! I thought he is a pretty handsome chap and didn't need any improvement!!

Does anyone else think that Sralan looks at the business plans at the application stage, works out which ones he thinks will make money and then doesn't sack those contestants all the way through? I'm sure that's what happened with Tom Pellereau, cos he didn't perform very well during the tasks yet ended up winning...

anklebitersmum Thu 18-Jul-13 16:46:21

I read this. Mum read this.

Mum wanted to know who on earth was having to 'go public' to demand private orgasms in the 70's. Insurgency in her era apparently was being married in the 60's and trying to get the contraceptive pill from your doctor.

One is capitalising on the ongoing trend for women who aspire to be a vapid, physical charicature of themselves. Distasteful. Exactly like those dreadful over-preened cupcakes the other one totes, a sweet, sickly mouthful of fluff with no actual depth of flavour.

Neither awe-inspiring and both a little niave as musicalmum40 said.

Fozziebearmum2be Thu 18-Jul-13 18:12:59

I found it depressing too, on the one hand Luisa, who is anything but a feminists dream, all over the tabloids for going to sex parties and being part of threesomes and on the other a practice to make people feel bad about themselves and turn into plastic people...

What a choice! Sir Alan would have to stay away from Luisa for any level of credibility, but not that he has any with the other business either....

Rock and a hard place.. I'm sure he would have known all this though if the researchers had done their job properly and the cynical me thinks that they knew this would make high viewing figures...

WilsonFrickett Thu 18-Jul-13 18:48:35

Well, yes, but... I don't disagree with the overall thrust of the blog but
1) why are we focusing on these women's appearance? Surely the whole point of feminism is free choice (albeit against a background of 'how free are our choices?'). I would be uncomfortable with people criticising women for not wearing make-up, so it follows that I'm uncomfortable with people criticising women for wearing make-up. Their appearance is up to them. And the men were - ime - hyper-groomed as well.

2) musicalmum No-one had any gravitas - not just the women. There was not one single person in the programme I would have trusted with £25 of my money, let alone £250,000. To single the women out for this criticism is unfair.

3) yes, personally the rise of cosmetic surgery disturbs me greatly as a woman and as a feminist. But while bemoaning the fact these places exist, why should the only people to make money out of them be men? (I do realise there's some fairly muddled thinking going on there but bear with). Criticising Leah for being involved in this industry just because she's a woman isn't really fair.

4) It's common I think for small-scale entrepreneurs to begin by looking inward. Both Leah and Francesca (the third place contestant) are taking their personal skills and looking to spin those into businesses. I really don't see what's wrong with that. Yes, perhaps it would be preferable if one of those skills was less 'pink' but you can't blame them for that. Again, it's a tv entertainment show - not a documentary.

5) A number of the men were actually quite stupid. No-one's calling them on that, are they?

SauceForTheGander Thu 18-Jul-13 19:04:16

It's disappointing for sure. One contestant looked like she was a parody of a business woman - off to a stag night rather than to a boardroom.

However I'm equally reluctant to make women responsible for other woman .... Until the male contestants are seen as speaking for men then we shouldn't think these young women do either. I'm unsure on this point though.

For a state educated, NHS trained doctor to secure financing via a publicly funded TV show to set up a chain of Botox drop in shops tells me all I need to know about vanity, greed and reality TV.

yamsareyammy Thu 18-Jul-13 19:09:34

Rarely do women do science, technology, inventions even social enterprise, which is what other male winners have done or are doing.
The only one on the list they do as much as men is the restaurant bunsiness like Simon Ambrose.

MN is chocabloc with lawyers, teachers, accedemics and desk job workers.

As Wilson's point 4 says, they looked inwards.

Very interesting blog Sara.
The only thing I slightly disagree with you about is at the end where you mention "the rise of the 1950s housewife"
I think feminism is about choices for women.
If it suits some individuals to have some time in the home environment raising their own children then I think that's a perfectly valid choice.
Of course working pressures and realities mean it's not always a completely free choice, or what any given woman would ideally choose.

I'm not working at the moment.
Ideally I'd like to work P/T and be well paid for the valuable work of educating and caring for young children - which is my area of professional expertise (with much experience and good qualifications)
I have had some success with these aspirations, but some frustrations - in an imperfect world (especially for women) - as well

Dozer Thu 18-Jul-13 19:14:02

"Mum wanted to know who on earth was having to 'go public' to demand private orgasms in the 70's"

grin anklebitersmum

Good blog!

The cupcake business was so pink, and unoriginal, and botox etc is depressing, but probably good for money making.

WilsonFrickett Thu 18-Jul-13 19:40:03

yams not saying I wouldnt have preferred it - loved it in fact - if one of the women's business plans was based on technology, science, etc. I would have infinitely preferred it. But until a critical mass of women are 'in' these skills at school/uni level we're not going to get that level of female entrepreneurs who are

Although there is a parallel point that Leah is a science/ tech person, what with the doctoring and all.

WilsonFrickett Thu 18-Jul-13 19:57:05

And the guy from two years ago (Tom? Inventor guy?) is inventing nail clippers. Beauty-related. No-ones giving him a hard time for that.

yamsareyammy Thu 18-Jul-13 20:39:41

That is a good point with Leah being a science/tech person.
Which has made me think quite why women with those skills still largely end up in the caring profession.

Another point this thread has made me think, that as Juggling says, isnt feminism about choices?
Because it was say men telling women what to do, and now it is feminists.

russetbella1000 Thu 18-Jul-13 20:41:28

Also agree with Mamaonion and others of you who talked of the vanity and superficiality of the women. I feel that such women just do not understand how much they are manipulated by the sexist marketing etc and the general conditioning which we are ALL subject to. Indeed they are completely naive to who is actually in control of them-(it's certainly not them). They can be part of this business game but it comes with conditions and they are perfect specimens of the coquettish individuals who are allowed in that world because when all said and done they fulfill the 'idea' of female for the men (and so are never a real threat) and hate their fellow woman seeing her only as rivals for the prize!

Grown up women don't do this. I'm 37 but I've felt this for a long time...Competitiveness between these kinds of women is very ugly but in a man's world some feel it's the only thing to do. They evidently have fallen prey to. They will believe that they are emancipated 'modern' women but the reality is that they have become caricatures hardly recognisable as living breathing human beings as they are waxed and plucked to within an inch of their lives and don stilletoes 24/7....They made me shudder.

WilsonFrickett Thu 18-Jul-13 20:48:16

Not all feminists yams wink

I suspect that every single person who goes on to the Apprentice is looking for a media career (and I expect that drives a lot of the appearance stuff too) but I believe just as I choose to rarely wear make-up, it's fine to choose to wear a face full of it if that's what you choose.

Granted, always with the disclaimer that free choice isn't usually free, but I completely refute for example russet's post above. It's not on to slag people off for their appearance in my book.

russetbella1000 Thu 18-Jul-13 21:33:53

I am not slagging off anyone for their appearance (I think I spoke factually-maybe they did kick off the heels when they slipped into their hot pant pyjamas??:0) and indeed I do question the idea of free choice that women (and men) think they get (MYSELF included. I of course am subject to the conditioning of our society which we all feed into/off. ) and I just felt the women there represented were as usual rather one-dimensional and not anyone I could identify with and were merely who I now expect to see on the sofa with Lorraine or indeed one of the newsreaders on GMTV/This Morning...

And I'm certainly not bashing the individual women but the media machine which I feel these women by the particular (one-dimensional/ cliche) choices they make help oil.... I digress, but don't we all just do a dis-service to each other when we allow ad breaks which feature waxing of hair-less legs on air. When will we all just be honest about who we are as women?........Not sure, meantime I do believe that the Apprentice does nothing to progress the cause.

Of course they are women and they have every right to 'think' (promote) what they do but given the air time they have you would be forgiven if you did indeed believe they were at least representative of women...

I just felt that the women cast were so similar to each other in terms of their appearance and personality whereas I didn't feel this the case for the men. Camera shots were also deliberate (yes perhaps i do look for these things and once you do it's really annoying...)taking in length of legs/cleavage before focusing on one of the women talking...

Anyway, I do of course agree that probably the bottom line is that this was a media stunt. Both businesses probably aren't even theirs and someone, not them, will be making even more money...

...But then it's announced in the news for goodness sake and that's what I mean-kept as entertainment it's fine but it's sold on as actual real and important-it is none of these.

HuwEdwards Thu 18-Jul-13 21:52:46

Neither idea, from a purely business perspective (i.e. demand and supply) was weak.

I do think that if the 2 finalists had been more 'ordinary' in their appearance, then the disappointment many of us feel would be softened. The idea that these 2 young, intelligent, fairly gorgeous and advantaged women, chose business ideas that typify female sexual sterotypes, is was bites.

Had Alex (or any of the men) had the cupcake idea, or had Leah been a 5ft 2inch 40-odd something with a nice bob, would we have felt the same?

HuwEdwards Thu 18-Jul-13 21:53:52

what not was

yamsareyammy Thu 18-Jul-13 22:01:25

russetbella1000, it does come across to me that you are very much slagging them off for their appearance.

Huw, what specific business's would you have liked to see them promote?

russetbella1000 Thu 18-Jul-13 22:02:49

...I'm not even that concerned about the actual business ideas. They are both purely to make money, so yes Alex could have had the cupcake idea, and Leah be somewhat different but the businesses were neither here nor there. Business is there to make money and does so based on supply and demand of course. That said whether it's a man or woman heading a cosmetic surgery business, it will be more women than men manipulated...Also, it is well known that while men might control business it is women who are the biggest consumers and so women must be led to believe all sorts of lies so they continue to pay for it in more ways than one...

WilsonFrickett Thu 18-Jul-13 22:07:05

^ they have become caricatures hardly recognisable as living breathing human beings as they are waxed and plucked to within an inch of their lives and don stilletoes 24/7....They made me shudder.^

russet how is that not judging someone based on their behaviour? Or bashing the individual women? Your second post is really interesting, but if we are to have this debate I do believe it has to be on general terms. Your point about this bring on the news is extrememely valid. I despair of the news in this country, it surely has to be more than another channel in the media mix?

And I don't agree the men were more 2-dimensional.

huw as a 40 something 5 ft 2 with a bob, I dunno. You tell me. I think people either buy this kind of beauty treatment from a male Harley st plastic surgeon oozing gravitas, or someone who looks like Leah. No-ones gonna buy fillers from me. Leah's marketing is very, very strong in that respect.

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