The Mary Kay Cult

Mary Kay

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.  

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14 comments

  1. That night sounds like my worst nightmare O.o Then again, church attendance is also high on the list of “Things I really, really don’t want to do”. Cult-like, indeed!

  2. Thanks for the comments! Megan, Normally, such a night would’ve been a nightmare for me, but somehow, I was able to sit back and just be amused by the whole situation.

  3. I like this. Interesting that you compared this to a church youth group. I remember our church having a youth/teen overnight lock-in and one of the activities for the girls was doing Mary Kay makeovers. Make-up was never my thing; playing basketball in the multi-purpose room was far more appealing, but I got stuck participating in the makeovers anyway.

    Also interesting that you were so into church back in the day. I think that had a lot to do with the church you attended. We didn’t start going there until I was about 11 or 12; went to a smaller church before that with far fewer kids. Dan snd I just never got into church or youth group much. Sometimes we went to things becsuse mom and dad made us, but we definitely weren’t eager. Might have been different had we always attended Faith from as young an age as you.

    • Oh, I don’t know Rach. Chris never got into church and youth group the way I did either. I view my strict adherence as the result of brainwashing. Obviously I’m not religious anymore, and I don’t support religion or church, particularly evangelical factions that do try to recruit and covert everyone. And I think a particular kind of person is more susceptible to such conversion. For me, I was always so shy and awkward and didn’t necessarily have really good friends at school. Church made me feel like I belonged at a very young age. You and Dan may have had a stronger sense of belonging outside of church. I think you guys were lucky not to get roped into all that.

  4. I’m a 24 y/o male in the business. I have a good paying job and I’m a HR Management grad student. This business isn’t for everyone, but people who have strong business acumen can be successful if they can see beyond the smoke and mirrors. I’m they type of consultant that would rather be able to BUY a Cadillac because I have a large and faithful clientele than to always be in the hunt for recruits. Just saying: There is a minority of consultants that actually SELL the product and not a dream.

    • Fair enough. If you’re making it work for you, that’s great. Success in a business like Mary Kay definitely depends on an individual’s savvy business skills, and not all consultants are cut out for it.

  5. A co-worker of mine invited me to her “Dove Chocolate Discoveries Independent Chocolate” party. I’m sending her some of the links you provided about Mary Kay and advising her to not invest too much.

  6. I know this post was a while ago but I am moved to comment on it. First I really enjoyed your eloquently written post. I enjoyed every word.

    A Mary Kay consultant myself, it’s probably not in my best interests to admit that I agree with you but you’re exactly right that it provides a community for women (and men) who might need a little more I their lives. Be it emotional support, extra cash flow, or even just a little more silly.

    Before I “converted”, if you will, I seriously thought these ladies were crazy. Like unnaturally scary perky 24/7. But where you call it a cult, I’ve likened this opportunity to one big a$ sorority. You can be as active as you want, when you want, and no ones gonna get upset if you don’t drink the punch.

    Plus I like that I can go out and sell a bunch of shit…I mean…beauty products… and pay for the little extra things I want.

    Thank you for your honest well worded opinion.

    • Thank you for reading and for your honest response! I really appreciate it. I like your idea of likening Mark Kay to a sorority. I was being a bit hyperbolic comparing it to a cult, but a sorority is a very apt description.

  7. I am a Mary Kay consultant and this sounds like a nightmare to me too. Not every Mary Kay consultant/meeting is like this. I’m sorry you had a bad and weird experience.

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