Mary Kay and Cult Thinking (Part 3)

How cults exercise control over the way their members think… and how Mary Kay might be similar.

Cult expert Steven Hassan, author of Combating Cult Mind Control, provides lots of information about cults. He is a former cult member as well as a certified counselor.

Cults exercise four distinct types of control over their members:

  1. Behavior control
  2. Thought control
  3. Emotional control
  4. Information control

Behavior control can include controlling basic activities of people, including what they eat, where they sleep, where they work, rituals they engage in, etc. Cults have strict schedules for their members, and there is always an activity going on. Every cult has its own custom behaviors and rituals. Behavior control can even become powerful enought that members participate in their own punishment and believe that they deserve it.

Mary Kay connection:

  • Directors and up are required to wear the same suit (as well as pantyhose, black closed toe shoes, etc.). Yet they all believe it is a privilege for them to wear it. Lower levels also wear “uniforms”. These include “Red Jackets” (we’ve all heard of red jacket purgatory), shirts in black or white (depending upon level), and black skirts.
  • There are constantly events going on in Mary Kay. I have seen Directors have as many as 4 meetings a week (attendance is usually dependent upon your level within the unit). There are also debuts, conferences, Seminar, nsd events/lectures, etc. All of these are done to keep the consultants “in front of” the MK opportunity and all it has to offer (i.e. Keep them motivated and reaching for the “dream”.)
  • The punishment in Mary Kay is quite subtle. It is so subtle that many will deny it ever happens. There are stories of people holding rubber chickens or wearing a dunce cap for saying something negative. Most women went along with those shaming rituals because of their fear of retribution or shunning by other members or the sales directors. Oftentimes, they agree that they deserve to hold the chicken, so to speak, because they know they shouldn’t have said anything negative in the first place

Thought control uses the indoctrination of members so that they manipulate their own thought processes. The ideology of the cult is accepted and internalized as “the truth”. All new information received by the person is filtered through these beliefs. Thought control may also include “thought stopping” techniques. This is accomplished by doing things such as chanting, meditating, singing, or concentrated praying. These techniques stop members from thinking about reality, and instead, they are focused on positive thoughts about the group.

Mary Kay connection:

  • Many Mary Kay consultants take what their directors or nsd’s say as “gospel”. They fervently defend deceptive statements like “Mary Kay is the #1 selling brand”and “Mary Kay is taught at Harvard”.
  • Directors hold up large commission checks and tout their larger-than-life lifestyle that was funded by those checks. The same directors never disclose the expenses associated with acquiring those commission checks. The unit members accept the “truth” that that the almighty commission check is easily attainable (they can do it too) and there is no concern over the sacrifices or expenses connected with the check.
  • Mary Kay is famous for its lingo, and I’m sure many have heard numerous quotes and sayings, either those of Mary Kay Ash herself or someone up the food chain. These sayings are mostly what consultants hear when they go to those events, instead of any kind of real information. Just a few: “You have to show up, to go up.” “Short term sacrifice, for long term gain.” “Slow is hard, fast is easy.” We could probably fill a book with these!
  • Consultants are trained from the beginning NOT to speak negatively about MK or their MK experience. Any question about Mary Kay should be answered with the word “great”. This is the only acceptable answer, even if you have had a bad week.

Emotional control is used to manipulate a person’s range of feelings. Guilt and fear are used heavily to maintain control. Cult members do not recognize the control exercised through guilt. Fear is used by cults to create an enemy (us versus them). The fear of punishment is also used to manipulate members who may not feel they are good enough. Cults also instill panic at the thought of leaving the group. Members cannot even imagine a life outside of the group.

Mary Kay connection:

  • To see how much emotional control there is in Mary Kay, replace the word “cult” in the above paragraph with “unit” (as in MK unit). How many of us STILL blame ourselves for “failing” at MK? Many. And there are even more of us out there that just aren’t sure if we really tried hard enough?
  • Directors and up are trained to use inventory as a means of guilt manipulation. If you’re not making money in MK, then it’s because you don’t have enough inventory! If you had a “full store” you would HAVE TO sell and then you would make money! You will never be SERIOUS about your MK business unless you stock a “full store”. How many have bought into the $600 level of Inventory and felt “guilt” about not having the $1800 or $3600 level?
  • How many here have already confessed ill feelings about the very thought of telling their director or recruiter about wanting to leave MK because of the guilt they will feel? This guilt didn’t happen by accident; it has been instilled since day one in MK.
  • The outside enemy in Mary Kay includes your family, friends, parents, husband, or anyone who speaks even remotely negative about MK. You can also be your own enemy in MK. You are NOT to speak of your negative experiences in MK. Do you have a husband who is not in favor of taking out a loan for your $4000 inventory? He’s unsupportive. Is your mom worried about you put $2000 on your first credit card out of college? She’s not being supportive either. Is your best friend skeptical of the MK opportunity and about the claims of big money? She’s just jealous and doesn’t have what you have to succeed. You must alienate yourself from all negative forces to be in good graces with MK. (In other words, you must alienate yourself from anyone who cares enough to tell you the truth.)
  • No, there really isn’t a physical gun held to your head, but rather a psychological one! Everything in MK is emotional… they bring you in because you have a “need”. Recruiters are trained to find the need of each woman and emphasize how Mary Kay will fit that need. The recruit is elated. She wants more money for her family, and MK can provide it. So you sign up, you’re excited, you brag to everyone, you can’t wait to get started. Your business kit comes in the mail… it’s like Christmas! The next day you have your first “career” meeting with your Director where she is about to tell you how to be everything you ever wanted to be with MK… and what does she give you? The inventory talk. No gun. Just her and your decision to make your dreams come true or not. Again, no gun.

Information control focuses on denying a person necessary information to make a sound judgment. Cult members are trapped because they are denied access to critical information that would help them evaluate their situation. Psychological chains can be just as strong as physical chains. Cult members become unable to process any critical information given to them.

Mary Kay connection:

  • Many would like to see this blog taken down. They don’t like what MKS does here. She tells the truth to those who need the information to make a sound decision about Mary Kay. Does MK deny information? Yes! Directors don’t present the $200 level during inventory talks. They don’t offer this site or others like it for some information from the “other side. They don’t tell recruits to seek input from their husbands. You get the idea.
  • If you placed “negative” information in front of a Mary Kay consultant, would she be able to process it for use in her MK decisions, or would be become agitated and maybe hateful in her defense of MK? One only needs to read the posts on this site from MK consultants (or on pro-MK sites) to know the answer.

One more comment about thought control, which can be so subtle. The victim doesn’t know who is the enemy because the enemy seems like their best friend who only has their best interests at heart.

Was your director or recruiter your best friend? Did she say things like “love and bee-lief” and talk about how much she “loves” you? In the same email or conversation, did she also “encourage” you to put in a Star Order? Maybe for the sake of the “team”? Didn’t you want to help your director earn a pink Cadillac? After all, she spent so much time helping you, encouraging you, lifting you up, providing spiritual motivation for you? So you order more inventory, even if you don’t really need it. You don’t have much on your books, but she’s your friend and she deserves that car.

Many completely overlook the debt that is encouraged in Mary Kay, the alienation from family and spouses, the indoctrination by repetitive events, etc. Because they desperately want to help their “friend”.

A group does not have to be religious to be cultic in behavior. Beware, especially if you are bright, intelligent, and idealistic. The most likely person to be caught up in cult behavior is the one who says “It won’t happen to me. I won’t fall for it. I’m too smart.”


  1. CMarie


    I find your comparison to cults very interesting! I would like to offer a counter because I am very interested in your response. First, I have worked in retail positions, most recently at a department store. I am no psychological expert, but I have some very basic understanding of human behavior.

    Now, tell me this. Was I part of a cult?
    Behavior Control:
    I had a specific dress code: Pants must be full length slacks and appropriate colors. Skirts must be below knee length. Shirts had to be a very specific style and I had very strict shoe styles.
    If I did not ask for a phone number or email address I would be reminded that I had a quota (and I was reminded).
    If I said something that misrepresented the company, I could be FIRED. Period.
    If I showed up late too many times, I could be FIRED.
    Thought Control:
    I could be in HUGE trouble for misrepresenting the company to a customer, including being terminated from my position.
    I was encouraged to act in a certain way that fit the company goals.
    Emotional Control:
    I was expected to always have a smile on my face and to not bring my problems to work.
    We were given extra discounts to regularly encourage us to purchase from the department store. If we wanted to buy, we either had to use cash or our store card, which encouraged us to open a store card (do not do this!!).
    Information Control:
    I was given product descriptions by the company, given set prices and set sales, and never once asked what my opinion was by the corporation.
    It was expected that I would give my honest opinion and product descriptions and to push what my managers suggested I should sell.

    So, was I part of a cult?
    I submit, that I was not, but I would like your response. I am now an IBC and though there is a far greater risk than my prior retail positions, there is also far greater freedom. I don’t have to go to the meetings to be successful. However, I found in my prior positions, that I was most successful when I brought an attitude of committed customer service and I paid attention to what my managers said. There is a reason the women are higher up in the company than me. I may not agree with their methods, but one doesn’t change a system from the outside.
    In addition, I have found some useful material here on PinkTruth, but overall I am extremely disappointed in the anger that colors everything you post. If you really care about the women who are hurt by Mary Kay, it would be far more useful to provide your information in such a way that Mary Kay would actually ENCOURAGE potential IBCs to visit your site. My recruiter and Sale Director encouraged me to be 100% sure before I joined MK and waited many months and answered many questions before I decided to join.
    I appreciate that you would like “to provide information to consumers” and that you are “one woman [who] decided to do her part in warning consumers about Mary Kay”, but if you really want to do so, leave out posts like this one, and focus on the facts.
    Please let me know what you think!

    Thank you for your time,

    1. TRACY

      Woh woh… You have been fully indoctrinated into the cult. There is no good or right way to do Mary Kay. The company is corrupt at its core. They make money because women fail at the bogus opportunity. No, our “anger” doesn’t color everything here. But we do see to publish the truth without sugar coating it. Whether you can see it or not, this post is full of facts, and the comparison between MK and cults is very valid. (I’d also suggest that the reason you don’t see that is because you’re fully into the cult.)

    2. Iescaped

      CMarie how do I know that Mary Kay is like a cult?

      Go back and read your post:)

      The way that you defend this Company tells me one very important thing. It is that you are being told how and what to think about Mary Kay. I’m sure in your retail job you did not have to pledge allegiance to that company. But in Mary Kay you do.

      Think I’m wrong? Just go to one of your weekly “success” meetings and try to talk smack about the Company, a SD, or God forbid Mary Kay Ash herself!! You will be tared and feathered with a Pink Boa before you can get out the door.

      And it has nothing to do with “being positive” either:)

      Best of luck to you. We will see you soon. We always do.

    3. Lily in NYC

      What your first job required were simply rules they had in place in order to promote a professional atmosphere. They didn’t care if you actually believed in their policies or not. They didn’t try to get you to think they were your best friends and that these rules were in place to empower you. That’s the difference. MK needs you to BEE-LIEVE and drink the Kool-aid because otherwise it’s blatantly obvious that their business plan is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

    4. Lazy Gardens

      There is a reason the women are higher up in the company than me. I may not agree with their methods, but one doesn’t change a system from the outside.

      Yes, you can … Mary Kay is totally dependent on recruiting new IBCs and keeping them long enough to suck a few thousand dollars or get them to recruit their friends and family.

      Pink Truth is exposing the real costs, the half-truths, and the manipulative methods. That keeps some potential recruits from signing up, and it speeds the departure of some who read PT and realize that they fell for a well-practiced con game.

      The cumulative effect is that IBC churn is way up, recruiting is down, returns for refunds are up, and the structure is eroding from the bottom up.

    5. MLM Radar

      There are two ways to be successful in Mary Kay:

      1. Peddling the products at full retail price. This is nearly impossible because the glut of so-called failed consultants who preceded you have flooded the market with Mary Kay products at wholesale price. Once you exhaust your “warm market” who you can guilt-trip into being supportive, you;ll find it’s nearly impossible to find new customers.

      2. Recruiting lots of other people and persuading them to buy a “full store” so you can get a commission. Once again, this is nearly impossible because most women want to avoid participating in a home party sales plan. You’ll probably find a few by recruiting your customers (which brings your commission on their purchases down to a pitiful 4%), but it’s even harder to find new recruits than it is to find new customers. Yes, you can find ways to recruit them to do what you couldn’t – sell the products – but you’d better set aside a bunch of money for the chargebacks you’ll take when they find out it’s nearly impossible to sell.

      Having a positive attitude won’t change either of those facts. Smile all you want, but your customers will still expect you to give them discounts and free products.

      Knowing about the company won’t change either of those facts. Your Mary Kay training will be full of motivational platitudes and how-to-recruit scripts, coupled with bad tax advice, bad business advice, and blame-the-victim shaming. What you won’t get is training on how to select and use appropriate products.

      But you go ahead and follow the program. You’re brand new but you already know so much more than everyone else, so you’re bound to be successful. Or broke. Or lose your ethics because you took advantage of women who couldn’t afford a “full store” but bought one anyway beause you twisted their arms.

      Come back in a few months and let us know how it’s working for you.

  2. CMarie

    To all comments above,

    Thank you for your response! I am brand new to the company and appreciate that you take your positions here seriously. I have been cautious from the start and I refuse to put down the women who have suffered or been burned as a result of starting MK. I suppose my experience must be unique among many as I haven’t been pressured into going to the success meetings or into purchasing inventory. Thank you for your warnings.

    Also, I think I am far more educated about MK than I was about my previous job (which I did not leave to begin MK). I knew next to nothing about the company, merely that I was supposed to show up and do the work. I have been an entrepreneur as a music teacher and as a musician. I took the majority of the costs and gained what I put into it. I treat MK the same way.

    Again, Tracy, if you really want to educate women about the truths of MK, I hope that you can find a way to present it to where recruiters would encourage potential IBCs to visit your site. My sales director encouraged me to check out EVERYTHING available online and to ask her questions and I did. I think you could do so much good.

    Thank you again for your response,

    1. TRACY

      You can stop telling me how to run this site. No one from MK is EVER going to encourage anyone to visit a site that tells the truth about their scam. I learned that a long time ago. I’ve been around MK far longer than you. Trust and believe that I know plenty about the company.

      There is no “right way” to do MK. Just because your sale director didn’t “pressure” you, doesn’t mean that MK is any good.

      First, MK is not a business:

      Second: 99% of people lose money in MLM:

      Third: The company is built on a grand deception, and you’ve fallen for it. I hope you can recognize that before you lose too much money. No, MK is not like a regular sales job. MK is you buying your way into the right to sell products that almost no one wants, at prices few will pay (for the level of quality of MK, anyway). You will recruit women only by deceiving them (at the very least, lies of omission). That is nothing to be proud of.

      1. Rachel

        Spot on Tracy! I’m a victim of MK, spent thousands before admitting it’s a scam. Been out for 2 years now, thanks to this site opening my eyes and giving voice to everything I thought but was afraid to say. I hope this girl gets out unscathed. So sad to see MK still has a hold on so many. PS I came on here today to read about Arbonne for ammo when I talk a friend out of it!

    2. Lazy Gardens

      Cmarie said, if you really want to educate women about the truths of MK, I hope that you can find a way to present it to where recruiters would encourage potential IBCs to visit your site

      There is no way to frame the material on this site so it would make a recruiter want a potential IBCs to visit it. They need to control the message. They need to use half truths and omission to make the “opportunity” look enticing. They are “selling the sizzle” because there isn’t enough meat for an IBC to survive on.

      Ask your recruiter how many husbands Mary Kay Ash had … she’ll probably say three, Rogers, the guy who dropped dead before the launch, and Mel Ash. Then read this, which is documented from public records and publications:

      Think back on what income they told you was possible. Then read this, which was created from SD’s own publications:

    3. BestDecision

      I’m going to guess that your Director did what all of us did when people found out about this website: Called everyone on here “losers”. If I told my unit members or prospects to come on here, it would have been career sabotage because there are far many more factual examples of people on here who made it way up high in the career path before getting out than there are people who just half-a$$ed it. Yes, there certainly are people I came across that expected a get-rich-quick situation, but, as for myself, I worked over a DECADE as an entrepreneur, modeled myself after every speaker I heard from the podium, went to event after event to learn what “the secret” was, and never made it to NSD. (I admit I did have Offspring Directors, diamond bar pins, and drove a pink Cadillac, though.).

      The biggest problem with the MK business model is that very, very few people make it to “executive income”. Not even Cadillac Directors are all making over $50,000 net profit income! The lies and deceit that the majority boast about (“executive income”, “financially independent”, etc) is what sways so many people to stay in, to keep cold calling, to keep spending time & money going to another event. Sure, there are Iner Cirecle NSDs earning $30,000/month, which is “executive income”. But, do you see how few of those there are in the Applause magazine? Now, pull back on that small number and think how many total people there are in the sales force.

      You frankly have a better chance winning a lotto. Statistically, the odds aren’t in your favor to ever make it that far. Instead, build your retirement elsewhere and have health, dental, and vision benefits from a real employer whose HR department is on your side.

  3. Iescaped

    Tracy this one has already taken the bait from her SD.

    Obviously she must have been cautious about starting MK, had many questions and wanted to do her “research” first. Well of course SD is going to be supportive, helpful, non-pressuring, kind, loving, blah blah blah blah blah.

    CMarie my SD was actually a NSD and she only lives 5 minutes from my house. I spent more time with her than I care to admit. Your wonderful, supportive, non-pressuring SD is using one of the oldest tricks in the con-artists book. She is gaining your TRUST!!!!! But sorry that you don’t see it.

    I’m sure that Pink Kool-Aid tastes pretty darn good!

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