I have an acquaintance who is a Mary Kay consultant. She once invited me to attend “Glamour Night” with a group of her fellow consultants. I figured they’d give me an egregious makeover and at worst they would try to pressure me into buying some overpriced cosmetics.
They did give me a new face and tried to convince me to buy the supplies necessary to keep my new face, but they also behaved like 10-year-old girls at a slumber party. The consultants were dressed up, made up, and binged on a buffet of sandwiches, pasta salad, and of course, twelve different kinds of desserts. They handed out pink Styrofoam plates cut to look like steering wheels, at which point my acquaintance became particularly giddy; she was the first to jump up and dance when a cover of Pick Cadillac started playing. The ladies turned their fake steering wheels excessively the way people do in the movies and sung their hearts out.
We recited invocations meant to enhance our self-esteem and uphold Mary Kay’s principles including, the Golden Rule, a clean spirit, and a warm heart. In a further effort to build morale, several consultants stood in a line and one by one, recited, “I’m red hot and rolling and guess what I made happen this week?” to which everyone else would call out, “what,” followed by a specific detailing of accomplished sales goals.
It was a night filled with recitation, team-building, and Mary-Kay propaganda. Over and over, the director iterated how great Mary Kay Ash was and her company is. Over and over, she tried to get me to admit I hate my job, am “over-worked and under-pampered.” It soon became clear “Glamour Night” was a thinly-veiled recruiting event. What I learned is that Mary Kay is trying to accumulate not necessarily customers, but consultants, who in turn become Mary Kay’s most loyal customer base.
The company has a strange, insulated quality. It has too many incantations and it’s too ready to preach about itself. In so doing, it bears a striking resemblance to church youth group meetings. The director evangelized about the miracle of becoming a Mary Kay consultant, how it will change your life and you’ll reap big rewards, including some serious dough (never mind you have to buy your entire inventory yourself. My acquaintance actually wiped out nearly her entire bank account buying products she could sell). Throughout the evening, the director riled up the consultants with promises of jewelry, purses, and the grand prize, a Cadillac—the song choice suddenly became clear—which got all the consultants hot and bothered. I lied about my own job satisfaction to relieve the pressure to join what began to feel very much like a cult.
The act of recruiting reminded me of my own experience as a kid trying to get friends to come to youth group with me to see how “fun” Christianity was. Conversion attempts of any kind are now abhorrent to me. But I can understand why my acquaintance enjoys being a Mary Kay consultant, is eager to stick with it and “build her business.” Like an evangelical church, Mary Kay fosters a strong sense of community. She could go to these meetings and receive emotional support from her fellow consultants, and even get a little silly—we did a lot of this when I was in youth group, fervently singing Christian adaptations of songs like Barbara Ann (Bible Man), playing capture the flag, and competing in ridiculous contests like holding seltzer and sprite in your mouth longer than your opponents. My acquaintance is a church-goer herself, 21 years old, and a transplant in the Boulder-area who doesn’t have a lot of close friends. Being a Mary Kay consultant is a way for her to feel close to other people, to feel a strong sense of belonging. I imagine Mary Kay must draw a lot of lonely people struggling with self-doubt, perhaps even struggling with their sense of identity—something that certainly draws many people to Christianity. But having left one cult, I have no desire to join another.
If you’re interested in reading about the pitfalls of being a Mary Kay consultant, Pink Truth is an interesting website that holds nothing back.