I have watched every single episode of the BBC’s The Apprentice. I’m delighted that two strong women have reached the final, and I’m looking forward to the day when that won’t even be a ‘thing’. As Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, writes in her brilliant book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead: “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”
But I’m disappointed that it’s these two women.
Both have touted that ‘pink’ brand of female entrepreneurship. As the Daily Mail (sorry!) reports, both have put “their womanly charms to their advantage”, with Luisa looking for £250,000 of Lord Sugar’s investment in her cupcake company and Leah for investment in her cosmetic surgery business.
And it’s this that I take real issue with. The 24-year-old doctor wants to bring nip and tuck procedures to the masses, offering affordable cosmetic surgery. As much as I’m not a fan of Luisa, I’d take baking over botox when it comes to rooting for one of these finalists.
Because if Lord Sugar chooses Leah’s business plan, he – and the BBC – are sending out the message that it’s ok to play on the insecurities of men and women who will go to extreme lengths to alter their bodies to conform to an arbitrary, societal view of what is beautiful.
Both Luisa Zissman and Leah Totton have made reference to their looks during the course of the show – a show about entrepreneurship – which reveals just how deeply ingrained in our culture the idea of how someone looks is.
In an interview with Margaret Mountford in last week’s episode, Luisa, 25, said: “People look at me and assume I’m a bimbo with hair extensions, fake boobs and nails.” No, Luisa, you just made reference to them on national television – helping to perpetuate society’s idea that that’s what they should see when they look at you.
If Leah wins, we’re affirming the idea that you should a) be dissatisfied with how you look and b) do something about it if you have the cash.
When criticised during last week’s gruelling interview with Claude on the show, Leah replied: “I think if you’re going to tar me with the unethical brush then you also need to tar every single cosmetic surgeon currently working in the UK.”
Yes, of course, cosmetic surgery is an important part of the medical profession. There are people who desperately need reconstructive surgery following accidents or illness. There are people who feel they need cosmetic surgery to be able to feel like functioning members of society.
But let’s be clear about the fact that we glamorise such procedures as must-dos for the well-to-do. We live in a society where if we don’t like our bodies, and have enough money, we can get a little help to create the perfect version of ourselves. In 2011, for example, the United States saw 13.8 million cosmetic procedures performed – up five per cent from the previous year.
From breast augmentation to nose jobs to buttock implants, millions of people were going under the knife to change the way they look. Facelifts were in the top five of cosmetic surgery procedures for the first time in that year. And although recent years have seen an increase in the number of men altering their appearance this way, women still make up 91 per cent of those having cosmetic surgery.
Let’s not make things worse. Sir Alan, do the right thing.
Chine is the author of ‘Am I Beautiful?’ – a book about body image and self-esteem among Christian women, which is due out next month.