Facts, opinions, and the real story behind Mary Kay Cosmetics.

The Sneaky Truth About Mary Kay

Written By Frosty Rose

One of the things that first attracted me to Mary Kay was the equal opportunity aspect of it. We all start with the same Starter Kit. And each of us has the opportunity to make from that kit what she wishes. It could be a “free” car. It could be fabulous trips all across the world. It could be the ability to stay home and raise your kids. Or it could just be some extra girlfriends and fun money. That was the pitch that sold me. And it sounded good. I wanted to be able to be myself, my authentic self, and to drive my own success. And Mary Kay sounded like the perfect opportunity to do that.

The retraining of my authentic self started gradually with quasi-motivational sayings like “She doesn’t have anything you can’t get fixed.” I can’t tell you how many times my director intoned those words.

And at first, the changes were very small. Dress professionally (always in a black skirt and white top). Have your makeup done every time you go out. After all, you wouldn’t get your hair cut by a slob, would you? Be image-conscious! So I scraped together a professional outfit that I wore to every event. And I learned how to apply makeup (my previous routine had included clear lip gloss and mascara on fancy nights). And I started having success. The success proved the validity of the tropes I was being fed, so I kept following my leaders.

Like an abusive relationship, the demands to “fix myself” grew increasingly insidious. It makes me sick to think back on some of the things I thought. And some of the things I said.

There was the Success Meeting early on that I finally convinced one of my new recruits to join me for. She was eager, but so self-conscious around all the glamour. A skunk had snuck under her house the night before and everything she owned smelled like it. But she came anyway. She showed up to go up, just like our training said to do. The Cadillac (now dational) director made an exceptionally rude comment about the smell and I could see the light leave that consultant’s eyes. I never saw her again. But I was told it was just a numbers game—enough numbers and I would find the lifers. It was her choice to disappear.

Then there was the Red Jacket Retreat—for the elite consultants to gain extra training. At that retreat, the national made a mean comment about the waitress’s choice of career—she could be doing so much more with her life, why was she wasting it here in this dumpy little restaurant? By that time, I agreed with the national and laughed along with the joke.

The most shameful moment was when I made the decision to continue hounding a new consultant for her inventory order. She said she was committed to a $3,600 order, and her financing was approved. She just needed to hit send. And I needed her to. It was the last day of the month and that order would have put us into car qualifications. But her daughter was in the ER. And I kept calling. She, very rightfully, ghosted me. For a long time, I just couldn’t understand what had happened.

It took ten years for me to be sucked into the fog enough, to lose myself enough, that I really started fitting in and doing what everyone else was doing—asking consultants who were never going to sell to order more and more. Bringing on fake consultants and activating them “with their permission.”

And loading up my own inventory to the point where I was suffocating. And guess what? It worked! I earned directorship. And all the accolades that came with it. What I didn’t realize was that the achievement also came with a near total loss of integrity on my part. The woman I was before Mary Kay was a vague memory, barely recognizable under the layers of glitter and makeup.

At DIT week, I came to grips with the fact that I had put my family over $25,000 in debt for this “job,” much of which my husband was unaware of. I broke down to one of the nationals who was training that week. She empathized. She’d been there, too! She knew how I felt. When she completed her Cadillac, she was $75,000 in debt and her husband was clueless! But what she found was that she paid all that off easily with her commissions. Wait, what?? She was in that deep going into CADILLAC? The pinnacle of success for a director? Something wasn’t adding up. But I wasn’t ready to question it yet.

I came home from that week and made a tearful confession to my husband. I laid out the extent of the mess I had created. And I promised—no more ordering on credit cards! I scrounged around for odd jobs I could do while I was building my unit, working my business, and raising my family. I was berated for taking those jobs—a cat who chases two mice won’t catch either! I needed to focus on growing my unit. But the truth was that my unit wasn’t paying me.

Inevitably, we came to a moment of truth. My unit was over $2,000 away from minimum production, and if we didn’t hit it, I’d lose it all. I agonized over the decision. My director told me I HAD to make up the production somehow, even if it meant ordering the whole thing myself. If it was to be, it was up to me! After all, if I lost my unit, I didn’t get to keep any of my second- and third-line consultants. My husband agreed—just this once—to let me put it on a credit card. So I did. And I nearly threw up. Because this time, I went in with eyes wide open. I knew how hard that was going to be to sell. I knew the financial tailspin I was creating for my family. And I did it anyway.

And I regretted it almost instantly. I had a meltdown over the next few days and decided it wasn’t worth it. I refused shipment of the order and all five of those boxes went back to corporate. In that moment, I gave up on directorship.

It’s taken me nearly three years to come to terms with my time in Mary Kay. To (mostly) stop beating myself up for my failures. I wasn’t failing forward to success—the sneaky truth is, no one actually does. We all just fail. And in our failure, we feed the machine with the consultants and orders it needs to keep it running through the next cycle. It’s a numbers game, after all. It was my choice to disappear.


  1. Destiny Angel

    I wonder if Stephanie (Pink Truth critic 27th May 2022) thinks that the first two anecdotes are cute stories by amazing directors that are nothing like the women you tear down and degrade on your site or does she have the self-reflection to understand that these amazing directors ARE the ones who neg, tear down and degrade other women for the most trivial of reasons.

  2. NayMKWay

    Frosty Rose’s article struck me with all the slogans and clichés that sucked her in deeper and deeper. I’m so glad she got out. The thing about the thought-stopping clichés is: they sound like wisdom when you don’t know they’re scripted. But if you mentally push back a little…

    “A cat can’t chase after two mice at once”? What utter nonsense! Ever see a nature film where a lioness chases an entire herd of prey? It happens all the time. What’s really goofy is that Mary Kay first presents itself as a viable “side hustle.” Doesn’t that make Mary Kay the “second mouse” they’re now warning about?

    “Fail forward to success”? What does that even mean? Sure, it sounds good, but it’s bad advice. It implies all failures lead to success, when in fact failure should be a teaching moment: a hint that maybe what you’re doing isn’t going to work. But that’s negative thinking. We can’t have that, can we?

    I’ve found that a good way to warn people away from MLMs is to tell them the scripts they’re likely to hear at the meeting they’re about to attend. People don’t come off so clever when you find out someone else put words in their mouth. I’ve seen it on Reddit plenty of times. Someone will post a question about a “chance” meeting at Target, and everyone will respond with: “Did they talk about their rich mentors? If they did, it’s Amway!” And the OP (original poster) will often reply that their newfound knowledge changed their entire attitude: they were no longer intrigued by the chance to learn from rich mentors because they now knew it was all a script.

    Warnings like “They’ll use scripts on you” are often ineffective. But if you can be specific with particular stories and phrases, the would-be marks are less likely to be impressed. I was having trouble getting through to a naive waif on behindmlm until I warned him: “The next thing you’ll hear is that you should stop questioning ‘The System.’ He’ll say it was designed to be ‘duplicatible’ and you should just shut up and follow it.” That turned out to be exactly what happened, and it finally convinced the guy I was telling the truth.

    1. Data Junkie

      This is a very clever observation, NayMKWay. And the MLMers already use this technique to ward off the nay-sayers by warning new recruits of the objections they will encounter. This makes the up-line look like some sort of sage, and sets the stage for the us/them conspiracy underpinnings of their cult-grooming.

      But what you’ve suggested here is brilliant. Taint the well before the up-line gets the chance to do the same in reverse. This will make you look like some sort of sage, while exposing the MLMer’s tactics as rote and uninteresting, not to mention lacking originality.

      In a way, you are pre-emptively undermining the credibility of the individual MLM recruiter, instead of challenging the merits of the MLM. This now becomes personal, and likely much more effective. I have spent decades tearing apart the claims of MLMers, and have created numerous models and tools to expose the folly of MLM, with only limited success against the indoctrinated. But my attacks go after MLM from a intellectual/business/mathematics standpoint. What you are recommending here is personal and relational, which is very powerful indeed.

      Simply brilliant.

  3. Data Junkie

    “I wasn’t failing forward to success—the sneaky truth is, no one actually does. We all just fail. And in our failure, we feed the machine with the consultants and orders it needs to keep it running through the next cycle.”

    This, my friends, is what an MLM looks like…by design. The money comes from the consultants, and a high churn of consultants produces a steady stream of those big initial orders. Guilt-based re-orders are just gravy on top.

    Mary Kay is just like every other MLM. The most lucrative money maker is that “starter kit”. Everyone is buying while no one is selling. Buying and recruiting are the name of the game. Selling by the consultant is not even part of the Mary Kay corporate business plan! Nor the business plan of any other product-based MLM, for that matter.

    Just notice how there are no incentives or bonuses or anything else tied to sales, because Mary Kay does not care what happens to the product after the consultant purchases it. From the perspective of Mary Kay corporate, they made their sale to their primary customer…the consultant. THIS is their direct selling model, and what the Mary Kay corporate business plan is built on.

    No outside sales necessary.

  4. Juliet

    NayMKWay has the key. Saving the scripts to a folder and then actually reading one to a potential believer is worth its space on the device lol. You read a script, and they already heard it, that will be a stomach sinking moment for the targeted person. They will struggle with hearing what they heard from the magic man speech coming out of your mouth, not necessarily word for word but the sum of the meaning MATCHES.

    If the person hasn’t yet been to the meeting, and you read a script that they then hear – well, you’re likely not clairvoyant so the mark will hopefully wonder at how the great leader wanna be is speaking the words they first heard from YOU, who wants nothing from them.

  5. NayMKWay

    Data Junkie and Juliet, thanks for your kind words and keen insights.

    I learned about getting through to people back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth: my college years. A few friends warned me about a rather notorious cult that had sent recruiting teams to our little college town. They warned me about their tactics. I saw a few of them on street corners and behind folding tables outside the two (2) supermarkets in town, and stayed away. I kept hearing more stories.

    But not everyone got the word, and soon a member of our small circle of friends was excitedly telling us of his “chance encounter” with a really cute girl on a street corner. I told him his encounter was a set-up. He was shocked, but unconvinced.

    He told us about this meter they had that revealed his psychic health. I told him what was inside the meter, and how his being able to make the needle move only looked mystical. That didn’t fully convince him, either. I was offering alternate explanations for what had happened, but maybe it was I who was wrong.

    So while our friends looked on, I told him everything else I knew. It wasn’t much, but it was new information for him. And sure enough, the things I warned him about happened to him in due course. It took several months for him to come to his senses, but he told me later that it was seeing my predictions come true that convinced him to get out. (This particular cult is big on revenge against those who leave. They really put him through hell, but he prevailed.)

    So that’s the story of my first life lesson in “forewarned is forearmed.”

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