Comparing Mary Kay to a Cult

This part of our cult series compares Mary Kay to cults with a Cult Checklist from the International Cultic Studies Association.

Does Mary Kay fit the bill?

“The following list of social-structural, social-psychological, and interpersonal behavioral patterns commonly found in cultic environments may be helpful in assessing a particular group or relationship.”

1. The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

Blind allegiance to the Mary Kay way. Closed toe shoes, pantyhose, skirts, and all. Mary Kay Ash did no wrong, in the eyes of the Kaybots.

2. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

Shunned if you say anything considered “negative.” Shunning includes being made to hold/wear embarrassing items like a dunce cap or skunk toy. Alternatively, you may be told to lie down on a table so that everyone else can “perform surgery” on you to remove all of the negative things. (We’re not joking about these things. Former consultants report having been made to do these things at unit meetings.

3. Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

Yes. Singing and dancing to the song “Pink Cadillac,” including strange hand motions and conga lines. When in doubt, hold hands and sing “I’ve got that Mary Kay spirit down in my heart, down in my heart…..”

4. The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry — or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

Sales directors engage in mind control regularly, and many even have a daily “inspirational” hotline that members are encouraged to listen to. The core of the mind control is “positive” thoughts about Mary Kay. Additionally, one must possess negative thoughts about mainstream jobs (referred to as J.O.B.s – Journey of the Broke). No formal education or mainstream career is respected. If your husband expresses any concerns over Mary Kay, he is immediately labeled as unsupportive and you may have to consider divorcing him.

5. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar”or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

Women are encouraged to be part of the “Big Girls” and recruit enough women into the cult to be called sales directors. One more holy status exists above that: national sales director. These sales directors and national sales directors all have a special purpose in life: To bring soap, lotion, and makeup to the masses, and proclaim “We make women feel good about themselves!”

6. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

With Mary Kay, you’re in or out. There is no in between. If you are not “in”, then you are to be avoided at all costs. Kaybots are only to associate with Kaybots or non-Kaybots who verbally support the Kaybot mission. Once you quit Mary Kay, you will be asked to “fade away” (or some other more impolite phrase). You are not to contact anyone else in the cult, as your contact with them may cause them to question their personal involvement in Mary Kay.

7. The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).

Well, Mary Kay is dead, so I guess she’s not accountable to anyone now. While she was alive, Mary Kay Ash created a reputation for herself that caused people to NOT question her. They admired her and her chutzpah, and so they didn’t challenge her. That worked out nicely for her and Mary Kay Inc.

8. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).

Any behavior, recruiting practices, or sales tactics in Mary Kay are justified. Leaving out information during the recruiting process is for the benefit of the recruit, to not “overwhelm” her with too much information. The true cost of getting involved in Mary Kay is never told during the recruiting process. Stealing the recruits of others is condoned because it is assumed that the other consultant wasn’t really working with her.

It is okay to lie to your spouse about the money being spent on Mary Kay and/or the amount of debt you are accumulating because of MK. When you make it big, that will all be paid off, so there is no need to worry him with the facts. The justifications for unethical behaviors go on and on.

9. The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

Mary Kay has long relied on peer pressure to achieve its ends. Directors regularly use guilt trips to get consultants to buy inventory. Particularly when the director knows that a consultant does not need any inventory. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Be a part of the team. Help “us” win this car. Help the unit achieve a goal. Set an example for other consultants.

10. Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

Non-Mary Kay goals are not respected or approved. Family time must be kept to a minimum in order to pursue moving up the career ladder. This is justified under the “short term sacrifice for long term gain” theory. It’s okay to miss your child’s birthday for a Mary Kay event, because the kid will have another birthday next year. You have to meet your Mary Kay goals now.

11. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

Recruit, recruit, recruit. Need I say more? It’s all about the recruits. The big advertising campaign in the spring? It wasn’t really about products. It was about recruiting new consultants. What more proof of the company’s goals do you need?

12. The group is preoccupied with making money.

Making money via recruiting and frontloading defines true success in Mary Kay. It is advisable to flaunt all material goods that may attract others and get them to become a recruit. Material goods such as money, jewelry, cars and homes and consistently waved in front of consultants so they will “do what it takes” to have those things too.

13. Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

Please discontinue family events until further notice. Your kids should be your reason (to work), not your excuse! We’ll keep telling you that it is only for a short period of time. But it’s not really a short period of time. There are women who have been on this hamster wheel for over 20 years, and aren’t even close to being a national sales director

If you’re really committed to Mary Kay, you’ll spend one night per week at unit meetings. One morning per week at a recruiting event. One night per week on a conference call. All other nights at skin care classes. Time during each day should be devoted to finding new potential customers (also known as stalking or warm chatting or getting phone numbers). Time during each day should also be devoted to “making phone calls” and “interviewing” women to help your recruiting efforts.

Ignore the “few hours a week” or “10 hours a week” that were pitched to you in the beginning. Plan on at least 20 hours per week, and more preferably 40+ hours per week if you really want to “move up.” If you have a job, be prepared to do Mary Kay while you’re there. If you have kids, ignore them and tell them to go play so you can do Mary Kay. Nothing else matters!

14. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

Mary Kay consultants are told that they should avoid anyone “negative” at all costs. Negative is anyone who doesn’t believe in Mary Kay or suggests that it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Don’t talk to others about your “business” unless you know they’ll be “supportive.” (Supportive means encouraging you even in the face of common sense.)

15. The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

Once you leave Mary Kay, you are shunned. All those “girlfriends” you thought you made will avoid you. Why? See #14 above. Once you leave MK, you are a loser and a quitter. If you dare to tell anyone about your (negative) experience and why you left the company, you are a whiner. Most importantly, it will be said that you “didn’t work”. You were lazy. You didn’t work the plan as it was designed. You quit working full circle. You neglected your business. You didn’t have what it takes.


  1. Char

    Did you read all 15 bullet points about cults and wholeheartedly agree? Okay good. Now go donate $200 to the leader to keep the cult going . What???????

    If you use any Mary Kay/MLM product, even if you like it, you are donating money to the scam to keep it alive and kicking. No ifs, ands, or buts.

    Can you seriously not find a comparable or BETTER product with the thousands of other non-mlm brands available? Are you possibly hanging on to something tangible to justify being duped, or helping a friend/family member to continue being duped? Just something to think about.

    By all means use up what you have, but don’t give this MK cult any more new money!

    1. TRACY

      Yeah, I can’t stand it when people say they just buy from an MLM for themselves because they “really like the product.” You’re supporting an abusive system every time you buy from them. For EVERY MLM product that is offered, there is a non-MLM alternative out there that is at least as good, often better, and usually cheaper.

  2. PinkyTuskMascara

    In my perfect world MLM’s would be abolished. The products would have to stand on their own. How do you think MK would do in the free market at Sephora or Ulta? I’m not sure it would last at all. If it wasn’t for the manipulation of the consultants buying garage and basements full of their ‘dream’ (thanks to the brainwashing of the SD) I think MK would have to up their game or ‘fade away’… yes, I think consumers would ‘shun’ the brand on a level playing field.

    1. Poisonberry_Sparkle

      But they consistently tell themselves and recruits that they’re doing women a great service “enriching women’s lives” by eliminating product overwhelm that you get at Ulta or Sephora, making it simpler for women to try without pressure, etc. (I personally prefer lots of choices) They will say you won’t get the kind of personal service at these places (untrue) and that you can’t try the product before you buy (also untrue). They act like MK products are SOOOO superior (they’re not) to anything you’ll find in a store, and that MK is so far ahead of the industry in terms of new, innovative products (they’re actually behind, it seems ie, bio-celluose mask). To use anything but MK products is akin to heresy, but there are so many other, better, CHEAPER products on the market. And the products don’t “sell themselves”, sorry.

      1. TRACY

        Buy without pressure? Pfft. No one at Ulta or Sephora has ever pressured me. In MLMs, it’s all pressure all the time.

        I can try anything I want at Ulta or Sephora, and return them if they don’t work. EVerything MK says about their products or service, I can get there, often more of it. And they don’t try to recruit me.

        1. PinkyTuskMasacra

          Exactly. The sales person at Ulta and Sephora, unless a brand ambassador for a promo, doesn’t care if you buy one brand or the other. Also, the loyalty programs they offer have so many great perks and free products so you can truly find what works for you risk free.

          MKbots are desperate for sales. I do feel for them. Like us, by the time they figured it out they were in deep. Emotionally, financially, and spiritually.

      2. BestDecision

        It’s interesting how rarely you hear from a retired NSD. If everyone’s life was truly enriched, they’d not leave and then they’d have incredible comments about the brand after they did. All these Directors 20 years in and not NSDs? You won’t hear a peep from them about MK once they leave.

        1. Andrea

          My former director has been in MK for over 20 years — since she graduated from high school. I asked her once if she was an NSD. Her reply : “Not yet.” I asked her the question knowing the answer. I was hoping that she’d get the hint that she would NEVER be an NSD. Can you imagine the retirement she could have built up in 20 years working a regular job? And she’s never in the top 100 commissions for sales directors. And neither does she drive an MK car. It’s so sad to me. She must have a very well-to-do husband to support this hobby of hers.

  3. Cooling Off

    Many retired NDS’s are NOT wearing Mary Kay. They’re curious about what’s out there… and now they can try other brands.
    They’re also not financially set for life. There’s even buzz that the heirs want to sell the company … big concern for NDS and their retirement.

    1. Andrea

      Not using the product — that’s so funny. One time, there was a girl in our unit who had the most beautiful eyelashes. We all complimented her. I saw her touching up her mascara with a Revlon mascara!

  4. Char

    Have you ever heard the catch phrase in MLM “retire on residual”?

    I think they mean, build your pyramid, and then sit back and collect. But why then, are MLMers always working, or worse, hopping from one MLM to another?

    We have this vision of a pyramid – from the top down.

    Picture a pyramid, but this time look at it from the bottom up.

    Those bottom people (the base) don’t have anyone underneath them. That means they aren’t making progress for a myriad of reasons, heck maybe there isn’t anyone left, and they get disillusioned with the opportunity and drop off. This trickles “up” to their sponsor who now sits without downline, also gets disillusioned and drops out, and so on.

    IMO, this is the reason MLMers are always needing to constantly replace downline, as in always working/recruiting.

    “Retire on residual” yet another lie told by MLMers when trying to avoid the truth about their inherently flawed business model.

    A pyramid at only 13 levels deep runs out of people on the planet.

    1. MLM Radar

      Yes, that was one of the lines pitched to me by Primerica: Retire early and live on residual income for life. The pitch was accompanied with pictures of 40-year-old retirees living at ease in fancy, expensive surroundings. “Anyone can do it. You can do it.”

      If you’re a real licensed insurance agent selling insurance for a traditional company there’s a certain amount of truth to this. As a licensed agent its possible to scale back your activity and still collect income from client contract renewals.

      In Mary Kay there’s the NSD Emeritus program, for the creme de la creme de la creme tiny handful of age 65+ NSDs who qualify, and only a few hundred have ever reached that level in the entire 50+ year history of the company. Talk about an impossible dream… And it’s sure not early retirement.

      All the rest of the millions of NSDs and lesser consultants who don’t meet the requirements have to “pay to play” every month. Except for limited carry-forward clauses, you begin again from zero every month. The moment your “production” activity falls below limits you’re gone, and your “residual income for life” vanishes.

    2. Lazy Gardens

      A true residual income does not require ongoing investment or effort after the initial creation. An MLM requires you to keep the downline producing income for the company or the income stops.

    1. enorth

      Cleta-Colson Eyre posted a YT video July 1 where she explains the new/changed MK programs: Great Start, now four months to become “qualified”, double-credit month, additional free-product bundles, etc.

      This will be her 33rd seminar (still aiming for NSD).

      She also says MK had 1M consultants in the U.S. at one time, but is down to around 600K. She ends the video by saying, “Your main focus will be recruit, recruit, recruit.”

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