I joined the Mary Kay team in 1991, when I was 20 years old. I am from Dallas, home to the Mary Kay headquarters, so it was inevitable that I would run into a Sales Consultant sooner or later.
I was working as a part-time teller, going to college, and barely making ends meet. So, when my coworker and I were invited to a free glamour shots photo session (remember, this was 1991—Glamour Shots were aspirational then), we jumped at it. It turned out to be a Mary Kay party/sales meeting for new consultants.
The Sales Director who was having the party, and we'll just call her Marykay for our purposes, did half our faces and had us do the other half. Then, while her new consultants were meeting, Marykay sent us into the next room where a guy with a camera, a graduation drape, and a black background was waiting. My mother still has the picture hanging in her living room. Me, in a soft focus headshot, half my face impeccable, the other half...well. Thank god for soft focus, and the shimmer of the dainty, pink lipstick Marykay had chosen for me.
Marykay was a petite, birdlike woman whose powers of persuasion were enough to sway skeptical me, and I bought into the lure of easy money hook, line, and sinker. She told my coworker and me her own rags to riches tale, which included how she had kept her family afloat during her husband's layoff. She talked about financial freedom, economic success, and then showed us her newly earned pink Cadillac. I was sold, and I was going to sell Mary Kay cosmetics to all my Goth and Grunge friends, and I was going to make a killing.
I borrowed start-up money from my mother to buy into the line. Marykay had convinced me that even though I could start with samples, I needed to really have product. She wanted me to get into it for $1200, but the thought of that made me sick, so I went in at mid-level. It was around $500 at the time.
I threw myself into the work. I did actually do fairly well with sales. I was able to cover the costs of my products and supplies, and have profit to put into the bank. I wasn't making a great deal of money, but I would say I was on my way to it. However, I wasn't interested in building my down-line. Sales Directors make money in levels. They aren't promoted by the amount of product they sell, but by the number of Sales Consultants listed in their down-line. Every tier of Sales Consultants means more money for the Director. Since I wasn't interested in anything other than making money from my own work, Marykay wasn't happy with me. My sales didn't do as much for her as me building my down-line would. She turned from sweet cheerleader into a shrill harpy, and would call me constantly, demanding that I bring in new consultants.
That was bad, but not bad enough to drive me off from the opportunities I was seeing. Two things finally happened that disenchanted me entirely.
First, I had busted my butt to win a contest Marykay had been promoting for a month. The consultant to book and deliver the most parties (you'd be surprised how many people book and cancel), and the consultant to sell the most product would both win "gorgeous prizes", and if the same consultant won both, they would win "a gorgeous fur piece." The Mary Kay company is known for giving nice gifts to consultants, so it wasn't out of line to expect that winning this contest would mean a lucrative prize. My intention was to win, get the fur, sell it and buy my books for the next semester. I had hoped that this would give me some breathing room financially, and put me in position to stop living paycheck to paycheck.
I did win both contests (by booking parties at college dorms and sorority houses), went to the big party to celebrate and got my "fur piece". It was a live rabbit. This woman was giving away animals. It probably seems silly that I was upset about that, and not about the idea of being given a fur, but I was horrified that she thought a living animal was a good prize, and she was giving away a living thing like it was a keychain, not caring whether or not the thing would be in good hands. When I left the party with my rabbit, I saw her kids sobbing in another room. The next time we spoke, Marykay told me that the rabbit had been their pet, and she would take it back off my hands if I didn't want it. I kept him.
Second, I had found a niche market of people who loved me, loved my product, and would have bought from me forever. Drag Queens. Do you know what Marykay and God did not love? Drag Queens. I found this out when, at a meeting, Marykay asked how I was blowing through so much product. I happily talked about my best clients, what they liked in the skin care lines, and what they loved in the spackle-like cosmetics, and where I had met them—J.R.'s in Oak Lawn. After the meeting, Marykay pulled me aside and told me that Mary Kay did not associate itself with "those people", and told me I could be dismissed as a consultant for being in gay bars.
So, there I was with a rabbit (named Simon LeBun, who had just eaten my art portfolio—he lived for 5 years), and the command to drop my best clients for moral reasons that had nothing to do with my own value system. I quit Mary Kay instead. Marykay bothered me for quite a while, insisting that I give her back all the tokens I had earned (several pieces of gold jewelry and a couple of gems—I did not, I had earned them) and did her best to browbeat me about my lack of character, what a disappointment I was, etc.
I ended up losing money out of my own stupidity, quitting before I sold out my product, not having read my contract regarding being unable to sell back product if you quit a certain way—I can't blame Mary Kay for that. I hated the faux feminism—Rules and Righteousness for women to follow in order to please their men, while bringing home the bacon. I hated the faux cheer. I hated the meetings. I liked the money. I liked a lot of the products. I liked doing parties and selling the products. I loved my Queens and learned a lot from them.
I was pursued by two other sales directors for literal years of my life. I had sold well enough that they knew of me, and wanted me in their down-lines. I just had to keep my clientele on the down-low. I could not make them stop calling! You aren't supposed to be able to buy back in to the company if you quit on it the way I did, but these two directors had figured out ways to sneak me back in, even though I had said I wasn't interested. It took changing my phone number for them to quit calling. Never give a Pink Lady your phone number.
Reprinted with permission from Jezebel.