So, BBC television's latest series of The Apprentice UK has finally ground to it's conclusion.
The entrepreneur and businessman Lord Alan Sugar has chosen his newest 'partner' who will get a QUARTER OF A MILLION POUNDS (that's £250,000) to set up a new business.
For those of us interested in the cause of women, and the promotion of intelligent, enterprising individuals of the 'fairer sex', there was good news because both finalists were female....Luisa Zissman and Leah Totton.
But that, I'm afraid, is where the rejoicing ended.
Both the 'L's' reckoned their proposed business ventures were keying into current 'trends' in society...which when you read their business ideas, says something rather sad about our British culture.
Luisa, an already successful businesswoman, proposed a new baking/cupcake franchise. A little obvious and cliched but, I would argue, fairly harmless.
Leah, or to give her real title, DOCTOR Leah, was advocating something substantially more sinister and suspect - a chain of non-surgical cosmetic clinics and associated skin care products.
I have to admit I watched the semi finals and was convinced that Luisa would take the Apprentice Crown. Not because I particularly thought that the world needed another cupcake business, but because I really did not think that the usually rather sensible Alan Sugar would go anywhere near the cosmetic surgery business.
I WAS WRONG!
'Doctor Leah' won!
First I was incredulous. Then a little angry. And now I'm just sad.
It's an real testament to our shallow, appearance-obsessed British culture and society that Lord Sugar is willing to invest such a large sum of money into an 'industry' (Dr Leah's own words) which perpetuates the myth that 'beauty' can be bought and, more importantly, that to make it in the world, one really needs to be 'beautiful'. Her clinics will also allegedly provide 'anti-ageing' treatments such as botox injections. SO not only do you have to be beautiful, but it's also better to be young or at least pretend to be/look young.
Now, I understand that not everyone in the plastic/cosmetic surgery industry is just in it for the money...I have met and know people who have benefited from essential cosmetic surgery following accidents and disfigurement, illness and disability. But I fear that it will not be these people who Dr Leah will be targeting.
Hers will be the sort of clinics where people (probably women, more probably young women) will walk in to request things to be filled, lifted and smoothed over simply in order to 'look good' and because they can afford it. Or maybe not. While I'm sure a few may well need some treatments for conditions like severe acne and other skin conditions, which can be destructive for self confidence, most likely Dr Leah's 'clients' will be those simply requiring to 'look more beautiful'.
My main problem with Sir Alan's choice is what this says about our sad British culture.
You'll have more a chance in life if you are 'beautiful'? If you're not 'beautiful' perhaps you should just forget being successful and happy? That beauty comes before brains, or that brains ideally should be accompanied by beauty? During The Apprentice, Dr Leah herself admitted on several occasions that her own appearance is very important to her, even though as a qualified doctor, she obviously has intelligence. Luisa and Leah both played on their 'sexiness' and 'beauty' to promote themselves throughout the series. Unfortunately, it appears to have worked.
While I'm all for people making the best of themselves, presenting their smartest face to the world, even making improvements in their appearance (that, after all, is why we visit the hairdressers, wear makeup, like nice clothes etc) Dr Leah's 'success' in The Apprentice sends out all the wrong messages.
If I had a chance to speak to Leah myself I would say something very simple. Please remember that 'beauty' is in the eye of the beholder. We don't all have to be plumped lipped, false boobed, voluminously haired, perfectly whitened teethed, nipped and tucked, skinny would-be clones of some weird Footballer Wife, staggering treacherously through our shallow little lives on eight inch heels, to be part of the human race. Older people make huge contributions to society every moment of the day and growing old should not be a disgraceful prospect.
Leah, of course, witters on, insisting that HER clinics will be driven by ethical and moralistic conduct, and regulation on use of drugs/procedures will be strictly adherred to. She insists that she'll magnanimosly turn down potential clients if she (or her staff) think they really don't need or won't benefit from a 'treatment'.
I'm sorry. I just don't buy it.
Dr Leah's clinics will be profit making businesses and when it comes to the bottom line, cash will be king. If someone is willing to hand over thousands of pounds for a procedure, are you REALLY telling me that Dr Leah will not be tempted to take it to pay for what is likely to be her ever increasingly glamourous and costly lifestyle?
But Dr Leah's 'success' in The Apprentice is even more worrying for a couple of other reasons.
The girl is only 24 yet she's already setting herself up as an 'expert' in the cosmetic surgery/health field.
She apparently only qualified as a doctor in summer 2012. That's just ONE YEAR AGO!
She's working in the National Health Service but according to news reports has still found time to privately also train in cosmetic surgery for two years. Today, leading doctors in the plastic surgery business have condemned Dr Leah's plans, explaining that most professionals train for at least eight or nine years before opening private clinics.
Would YOU take advice from a doctor who's got such limited experience, but who wants to fill your face with botox? Or, more importantly, wants to get her senior nurse practictioner to fill your face with botox? At one point in the selection procedure Leah admitted that although she, the doctor, would be in charge of the enterprise, her clinics would be manned by nurses, not doctors. She insists she'll still be off continuing with her 'research', so presumably when you enter a 'Dr Leah Clinic' for a quick lunchtime treatment, Dr Leah won't be wielding the big syringe!
But give the girl credit, she is, at least, a qualified doctor. And this is my second problem with her success on The Apprentice. She herself boasted that she's spent 7 years being trained, training which presumably has been paid for by the National Health Service and therefore, by us...the British taxpayers. Yet now, no sooner than she's taken advantage of us for years of costly training, she's off into 'private practice' presumably to make loads of money!
Finally, and sadly, Leah could have become such a role model. She impressed the judges, including Lord Sugar, with her intelligence and businesslike approach to life and as a doctor she could have become such a great example, especially for other young women. Who knows, she might have aspired to be a groundbreaking brain or heart surgeon, a 'real' doctor, a saver of lives in our cash-starved National Health Service. Now though, she's chosen, in my opinion, to squander any real potential for lifelong good with a 'career' which ultimately relies on the insecurity of women and peddles the lie that if you've got enough money you can make yourself 'beautiful', ergo successful and important.
This morning I listened to BBC Woman's Hour and heard a really fabulous interview about a new 'popstar' - one Catherine Bennett aka 'live artist' Bryony Kimmings. Catherine is the creation of Bryony's 9-year-old niece, Taylor, who is now her 'manager'. She's the result of Taylor's wish to have a role model who isn't just a clone of someone else's view of what is beautiful and talented, and her songs not just a perpetuation of the sexualised and commercialised music targeted at and influencing the 'tweens' of which Taylor is one.
Catherine is a part time singer. In real life she works in a museum and is a paleontologist - she investigates dinosaurs! She's backed by leading music producers and the Arts Council, and is 'likeable superstar' who wears glasses and 'normal' clothes and sings a sort of euro pop which avoids references to sex, money and love. In her debut song 'Apathy' now posted on YouTube, she encourages young people to get involved in social issues.
Young Taylor has fortunately already recognised the lie that is the world into which Dr Leah has already been sucked and would wish to suck others. A false world where, it seems, appearance and 'beauty' rules above integrity, intelligence and common sense. Taylor said she wants to be a midwife when she 'grows up', to help bring new life into the world. That's amazing!
I don't wish Leah ill but I truly hope that the public, especially those already vulnerable about their appearance, won't be taken in by her hype. But she's already got a PR Agent and undoubtedly she'll put herself on the celebrity circuit, sell lots of stories to the media, be seen at all the celebrity events, where she will rub shoulders with all the insecure individuals who will just love to become one of her victims and pay her handsomely for the right to be plucked, lifted and enhanced to within an inch of their lives.
That is - provided she gets a licence to operate. She's pledged to be driven by regulation so presumably will be expecting to be operating legitimately and within strict guidelines. Given some of the adverse comments coming out of the plastic surgery industry today I just wonder if she will be considered experienced enough to have a licence to open.
But that, dear reader, is another story.