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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.

arsenaltilidie Tue 23-Jul-13 14:32:46

The candidate looking for a job is the sort of person that's likely to conform, whereas an entrepreneur is for someone that offers something a bit different.
Hence Dragons' Den candidates where different to candidates on the old apprentice.
Imagine Levi roots (raggae raggae sauce) being judged by black people because of the way he looks.

Its a shame that even on a feminist forum, women are being judged on how they look and behave instead of their brains.

BlueStones Sun 21-Jul-13 10:01:44

Don - the acceptance of gender equality is a characteristic of all reasonable people (I believe the Aztecs were the first civilisation to write it into law). As you say, it is as natural as breathing to me, and in my view requires no additional label.

DonDrapersAltrEgoBigglesDraper Sat 20-Jul-13 20:05:44

In all my 39 years on this planet, I have never been able to fathom why any woman would not want to identify as a feminist. To me, feminism is as right and as natural as breathing oxygen.

This thread has finally given me that insight.


DioneTheDiabolist Sat 20-Jul-13 19:34:33

I agree Limited, given the outrage regarding John Inverdale and recent comments about Mary Beard, I find it very depressing that so many feminist commentators think it's Ok to judge these women on how they look.

limitedperiodonly Sat 20-Jul-13 19:09:35

I think that if botox and fillers are done well you don't notice them. But then I use them so I could be deluded. Anyway, I'm happy with the way I look.

My job depends on using my personality and personal attributes - as I imagine lots of other people's jobs do. Again, I'm happy with my personal boundaries and don't care what colleagues do.

A straight male colleague used to loudly accuse anyone who beat him to work - either straight females or gay men - of fucking clients. Obviously he discounted the idea of gay women or powerful straight ones wink

It goes on but that said more about him than them.

In short, I don't care what other people do as long as it doesn't hurt me, and I don't consider someone looking like Barbie, as some people have said on this thread, to be hurting me.

If I can be bothered, I'm more offended by the act of dismissing another human being as a Barbie.

turbochildren Sat 20-Jul-13 18:44:41

I'm not old. 33yrs. I still don't like the botox, but then I'm no fashion queen either.
Is this a bit like that article in the Guradian where a woman was complaining about not getting on in the world because she was too pretty. I can now see her point of view, a bit. I don't pesonally find the look of many women in the public domain pretty. The women themselves are, but not necessarily the look they've chosen.
The problem with botox, however artfully done, was highlighted beautifully in a Dawn and French sketch, where one of them could not hold on to her cigarette because she had injection smile There's weird plasticky stuff where there should be flesh and muscle. You just lose out on expressivity (is that a word?) and to my eyes does not look nice.
I don't find it particularly empowering to get a foot forward by playing on sex either, so if that is an issue here I can see why people get all riled up of it. I have tried it in small situations, and it does work, but to me is not something to base lifes achievements on.

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 20-Jul-13 15:46:18

Oblomov you say you found the contestants dim and shallow, yet you seem to be judging them, not on their outstanding academic achievement, or due to their success in business whilst being a single parent, but on their looks.sad

DioneTheDiabolist Sat 20-Jul-13 12:48:56

In what way gotthemoon?confused

yamsareyammy Sat 20-Jul-13 12:33:22

them not the

yamsareyammy Sat 20-Jul-13 12:32:47

That is naive and harsh of the, got!
Isnt it a fact that 40% of women are still single nowadays at 40?

gotthemoononastick Sat 20-Jul-13 11:48:07

Fuel to the fire of many men in my life,who think women waste a precious university place.

Oblomov Sat 20-Jul-13 06:37:46

Well, I am not a feminist, particularly. And I do judge on appearance. I thought we all did, in the first 5 seconds. Appearances tell us a lot about people. Not all , but a lot.
I find a lot of young girls just look the same. Attractive, but all the same. Toned down Barbour doll look.
I found the 2 finalists unappealing. They way they dressed, over attention to hair and make up, the previous cattiness. I found dim and shallow , and I don't have a daughter, but if I did the 2 finalists are certainly not what I would want my daughter yo replicate.
And yes I am a 40 yr old dumpy minger, who wears wedge sandals to my p/t job !!

limitedperiodonly Fri 19-Jul-13 23:24:49

No, that's okay. smile

I liked most of the men I worked with very much. I just don't shit where I eat.

Luckily, I didn't fancy any of them, except one, but I didn't like mixing business with pleasure and didn't have to, so I resisted.

I had a really good social life away from work back then so I had plenty of choice. In another life I might be different. People do whatever's right for them. A relationship with a colleague wasn't right for me.

When I married someone from another world, I invited six of them. They had wives and girlfriends. I'm still in touch with two of them. I also invited four women workmates too and I'm still in touch with one of them.

With that 20-years-older colleague, I decided to save us both the embarrassment wink

yamsareyammy Fri 19-Jul-13 23:00:43

I think we agree, limited, in that women shouldnt be told by other women who are feminists, how to dress.

I keep wanting to ask you why you didnt socialise with the men in your office?
Feel like though, that you may not like the question? If so, dont answer..

limitedperiodonly Fri 19-Jul-13 22:58:56

Think that second outfit was some kind of nurse dressing up kit hangover. Mine had silver polka dots. It was the '80s.

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.

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.

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


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

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?

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

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?

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

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

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

What's older, do you think yammy?

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 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.

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