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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.

tobiasfunke Fri 19-Jul-13 12:12:06

This was a very interesting piece OP. Interestingly I thought the baking/botox thing was more Sralan making a decision about which bandwagon he was going to jump on.

I had huge issues with Leah selling her business as some sort of safer clinical version of what's on the high street. She's only just qualified FFS. I wouldn't trust a doctor who was just out of University setting themselves up as an expert. Essentially the staff in her shops are going to have the same training as any other bog standard outlet. My dentist does botox (apparently) as a side line and she will have had more medical training than one of Leah's staff.

As for the high heels- every week I would watch those poor women and think how ridiculous they looked- is it really empowering to basically be unable to walk properly?

DioneTheDiabolist Fri 19-Jul-13 13:02:15

What a sad and depressing post.sad

Both women reached the final because of their intelligence, drive and the profitability of their business plans. And yet they are being judged by feminists on their looks and the fact that their products are seen as feminine.

Is it any wonder that Luisa and many other young women now do not identify as feminist.

merrymouse Fri 19-Jul-13 13:31:23

And yet they are being judged by feminists on their looks

They are not being judged for their looks. They are being judged for dressing as people on a reality TV show rather than business people and wearing stupid shoes. There is a difference.

OhDearNigel Fri 19-Jul-13 13:37:12

As a professional cake decorator I thought Luisa's business plan was by far the best one on offer, and the likeliest to succeed. Those of you that are dismissing it as "1950s housewife sugary cupcakes" obviously have no comprehension of what she was proposing or the enormous market out there. She was going to self-manufacture and sell mainly to trade customers. That is not a sugary, pink business. I did hate the packaging though.

A one-stop, meet all your requirements online manufacturer would be great. I currently order from some 5-6 suppliers because each one has something the other ones dont. If I want to order sugarveil icing and a particular alphabet cutter I have to go to two different retailers. A lot of online cake decorating suppliers are very small and often run out of stock for months at a time. If Luisa was manufacturing herself she would be in control of the supply chain and the onward sale. I never understood why Sugar had such a problem with her other businesses - they were natural sales windows to launch her brand.

I was quite excited at the proposal on the table and was looking forward to seeing what she was going to be offering. Or maybe I'll just develop the brand myself

OhDearNigel Fri 19-Jul-13 13:56:09

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

Not that I've come across. And I've used pretty much every online sugarcraft supplier out there. Sometimes you get it quickly but it's never guaranteed.

fibrecruncher Fri 19-Jul-13 14:56:13

I haven't watched any of the series but was curious to see the final with two female contestants. I was a tad dissappointed. With regards to the Luisa and Leahs appearances - I would say that they are rather over sexualised, meet a typical stereotype of what a woman should look like and that they looked fairly similar to eachother. I think this is not a conincidence and that in order to suceed on this kind of program this is apparently the only image with which to present yourself. I would say that the two women were clearly driven and intelligent - and if they didn't have to spend so much time blowdrying their hair and applying mascara they may have been able to come up with more intellectually and artistically challenging business plans & brands.

DioneTheDiabolist Fri 19-Jul-13 15:15:33

Oh right, they're not being judged on their looks, *they're being judged on their clothes and shoes.*hmm Well I guess that's feminism in the 21st century for you. Is it any wonder women are distancing themselves from the word.angry

turbochildren Fri 19-Jul-13 16:40:38

Read rest of thread now. It is sad that their looks are being discussed so much. Who cares? Pick a fight with the producers then, who I'm guessing are in charge of the look of the contestants.
Interesting to read Ohnigel's post, I had no idea about the cupcake market, so this gave a whole new depth to her concept for me.
the botox thing is just sad on so many levels. I don't get that there should ever be a need for it but clearly there is.

limitedperiodonly Fri 19-Jul-13 18:10:22

if they didn't have to spend so much time blowdrying their hair and applying mascara they may have been able to come up with more intellectually and artistically challenging business plans & brands.

What a fatuous thing to say. It was the frequent refrain of a woman at my second job when I was 23. I used to wear mascara, foundation, blusher, took great care over my rather conservative clothes and brushed my hair which was usually in a long ponytail. I was hardly Katie Price, but so what if I was?

She simply didn't like me. It may or may not have had something to do with the fact that we were the only two women in an otherwise all-male office and I was younger than she was and she was insecure.

Who knows? I didn't care then, and I don't care now because I was focused on my job, good at it and had a social life that most definitely didn't include the men in my office.

I didn't care for Leah or Luisa's looks, much less their personalities, but that's by the by. If you admire that look, you can achieve it, but it's not compulsory.

As for their business plans: I expect Leah's will make a lot of money, as do the other successful cosmetic chains, whether for injectables, surgery, hair, tanning or other body treatments.

I've no idea about Luisa's but ohdearnigel is her target and seems to think it would have worked.

Business is about making money, I hope legally, and that's what these two women proposed to do. They aren't obliged to be role models as well.

WilsonFrickett Fri 19-Jul-13 18:17:14

I have to say, as a feminist, this is the first thread I've been on here which has made me not want to call myself a feminist.

It's been judgy, reductive and sneery, mostly.

limitedperiodonly Fri 19-Jul-13 18:33:43

wilsonfrickett nothing would ever stop me from calling myself a feminist.

Nothing would ever stop me from judging judgy people either. grin

WilsonFrickett Fri 19-Jul-13 18:54:50

I'll be back on it tomorrow limited. And then I shall take over the world with my feminist cupcakes...

turbochildren Fri 19-Jul-13 19:00:02

Yes, how on earth is it "feminist" to say you don't get to be young and beautiful on the telly? They are far from what I look like, but I see many young girls with similar looks, and it seems to be the way to be pretty for those who follow fashion? (oh dear, I'm totally out of touch. Have spent ages being a frump smile )
From a health perspective high heels should be banned, the damage caused to many a spine, not to mention the bunions. Yuk. Apart from that I really do think that as long as it's within reason people can wear what they like on tv. They were not in their thongs, were they?
If they can make business, good on them. I still find it sad that botox is such big business though. My personal view on "bodysculpting" is that unless you have disfigurement or it is health related, it really is unnecessary. I just don't like the way it makes people look, sort of plasticky. Apart from that, live and let live, please. You feminists too!

PS. i am a feminist. A bit crap at it, but still wanting that eliusive equality for education and work.

limitedperiodonly Fri 19-Jul-13 19:19:15

At nearly 50 I'm still trying to work this out. I imagine I'll be trying to work it out until the day I die.

I love this choon

But the video and the lyrics offend me beyond belief. Thicke and Williams are cunts. And I use that word deliberately.

Do I hate the women in it? No.

We are making our way in the world. If you don't like it, say so, and don't follow it.

russetbella1000 Fri 19-Jul-13 20:52:08

Limited when you said:

It may or may not have had something to do with the fact that we were the only two women in an otherwise all-male office and I was younger than she was and she was insecure.

This is what we, as women need to get away from.....I know you said 'may or may not' but you still have so instilled in you a sense of competition with your fellow woman and it is based on 'image'

This is sad.

Maybe there were issues beyond how you loooked/fact you were younger...Maybe you never think about that because you don't question the conditioning which makes you think as you do...

limitedperiodonly Fri 19-Jul-13 21:42:50

russet Sorry, but I'm going to drip-feed. It's not done, but I'm going to have to do it. Please forgive me.

She was doing a secretarial job and presumably wanted to stay there, whereas I was doing what she thought was a 'man' job which for some reason offended her.

I'd previously done a secretarial job but had switched. It was always my intention to do the 'man' job; I just had to mark time.

Save your sadness because I expect she was the one who was conditioned and had a concept of image, not I.

The reason I think that is because though she was 20 years older than me, my own mother was 42 years older than me and wanted me to be whatever I wanted to be.

Though I note it, I won't excuse it. And I do recognise it in women today. It's depressing.

Now I'm older than her, I don't bitch about women at work who're 20 or 30 years younger than me unless there's something wrong with their work ethic. If that's the case, I bitch about the men too.

I have no problem with people's jobs or the route they take to other careers as long as they're competent.

If anything was instilled, it was in her head and not mine.

yamsareyammy Fri 19-Jul-13 22:20:01

I am getting the idea, from this thread and others, that there is a feminist divide between older feminists and younger ones.
Older ones think it just isnt quite right for feminists to "look plasticy", have botox etc, whereas younger ones either couldnt give two hoots, or go and do it anyway and still think of themselves as feminists.

limitedperiodonly Fri 19-Jul-13 22:26:08

What's older, do you think yammy?

WilsonFrickett Fri 19-Jul-13 22:29:55

Och I dunno yam, I'm an old gimmer. grin

yamsareyammy Fri 19-Jul-13 22:33:53

I didnt think you fitted Wilson! grin

limited. I think you have probably been on MN longer than me. I think you may know the rough ages of some.
2 including yourself have said their ages. I know, near enough 2 more.

I think rl, you can see it a bit too, would you not say?

limitedperiodonly Fri 19-Jul-13 22:40:33

I think rl, you can see it a bit too, would you not say?

Eh? grin

I am knocking on a bit, though wink

WilsonFrickett Fri 19-Jul-13 22:45:18

I think in life there is always a bit of head shaking at younger generations, isn't there? I know I'm guilty of that myself. Shorts with bum cheeks hanging down, that sort of thing. even the music is just noise It's normal to do a bit of tutting. And it is perfectly acceptable to think about this on a broader societal level too. If you look at the group of Apprentices this year and compare it to the group in the first series, you would definitely see a trend towards hyper-polished, hyper-groomed people - and that's just the men.

What's not ok though is then to judge an individual on that basis. When I was taken aside in the workplace and 'counselled' that wearing more make up would make a difference to my career I made it quite clear that that was a crock of bolleaux and pointed to my achievements. The reverse has to be true too.

But I am very much starting to repeat myself. That's a sign of gimmer hood too, no?

yamsareyammy Fri 19-Jul-13 22:46:47


Where is the op btw.
Aren't they supposed to contribute?

yamsareyammy Fri 19-Jul-13 22:51:06

On another thread about the Apprentice, even last years contestants, we decided they were nowhere near as groomed as this years bunch.Cant be bothered to link to thread, or link to pictures of previous years candidates.
We concluded, on the other thread, that there were probably a different group of selectors this year. Or the particular canditates were chosen specifically, in part,so as to make more talking points for the programme. In which case, I think it worked.

limitedperiodonly Fri 19-Jul-13 22:54:05

I'm not sure we had designers in the '80s but I'm bloody sure we had feminism and I still wore things like this

and this

Designed by women, actually.

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