Is Mary Kay Cosmetics A ‘Culture’ Or A Cult? You Decide.

Those within Mary Kay Cosmetics often bristle when detractors compare Mary Kay and its zealous followers as cult-like. Often, they defensively counter that Mary Kay is not a cult but, rather, a “culture.”

Mary Kay Bathtub 2Notwithstanding the bizarre ritualistic ‘tradition’ of new Mary Kay directors being ‘baptized’ barefoot in the Mary Kay bathtub (under the watchful gaze of the company’s founder), when one really examines and compares the traits of Mary Kay Cosmetics and the indoctrination-like teachings of its top leaders to the characteristics associated with cultic groups, the lines between Mary Kay’s “culture” and a cult are almost indistinguishable.

According to Janja Lalich, Ph.D. & Michael D. Langone, Ph.D:

Concerted efforts at influence and control lie at the core of cultic groups, programs, and relationships. Many members, former members, and supporters of cults are not fully aware of the extent to which members may have been manipulated, exploited, even abused. 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. [Emphasis added.]

Below are the characteristics of cultic groups (bullet points) and quotes and teachings of Mary Kay Cosmetics’ top leaders–all of them National Sales Directors.

As there are approximately 200 National Sales Directors in the U.S. and approximately 600,000 women churning through Mary Kay in any given year, the influence these NSDs have over thousands of Sales Directors and consultants is rather large–for they are the exalted ones at the top of the Mary Kay pyramid.

Read them all, then you decide if, in fact, Mary Kay Cosmetics is a “culture” or a cult.

  • 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.

  • “I promise to give my Mary Kay career one full year before I decide if it’s for me or not; because short of one year, I will never realize my full, God-given potential!” — NSD Heather Carlson’s New Consultant Oath

    If I am your new recruit, expect me to understand the MK culture from the very beginning. Ask me to keep the MK Autobiography on my night-stand, highlighted and dog-eared ++ purchase & listen frequently to MK Pearls of Wisdom CDS. BEFORE I take advice from my director, recruiter or even NSD I should be taking advice from Mary Kay herself. You see if I don’t understand the Mary Kay culture I will think I am a cosmetic sales person.

    Mary Kay did NOT create a cosmetic company instead she created the perfect company for women based a lifetime of experiences working in a man’s world. The cosmetics came later. It is only the tool. — NSD Linda Toupin on Facebook

    “The only time I’ve ever felt secure in my life is when I found Mary Kay.” — NSD Cindy Williams teaching at a Lisa Madson retreat

    “You know, we’re really, very, very blessed in what we are able to do, because we’re able to influence so many people. God tells us that we need to be the light amongst a dark world.” — NSD Pamela Shaw in her CD “Success God’s Way”

    “Are you on a personal growth program…are you reading, feeding your mind positive tapes, Mary Kay tapes, are you listening to our great founder on tape, are you reading about her and the great things that she did? Ladies, you must fill your mind in order to take that next step!” — NSD Joanne Bertalan on her CD, “The Gift of a Lifetime”

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

  • “Your attitude MUST always be positive! One of the reasons you can be terminated as a Consultant is for NEGATIVISM.” — NSD Rena Tarbet in her New Consultant Companion document

    “Mary Kay always said, “Cancel, cancel, cancel!” If someone comes to you with negativity, you’re going to look at her with a big smile on your face and say, “Cancel! Cancel!” And you know what? She’s going to be so stunned, she’ll cancel. She’s not going to say anything back to you.” — NSD Joanne Bertalan on her CD “The Gift of a Lifetime”

  • ‪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).

  • (Delivery is intensely rah-rah) “Are you ready to become a Sales Director? I want you to make me a promise…I promise to be the best I can be. I promise to focus on others and not on me. To lead by example every day, to listen closely and hear Mary Kay. I am a winner and I have no fear. And I’ll be a new director this Seminar year, yes you will! God bless you all!” — NSD Joanne Bertalan on her CD “The Gift of a Lifetime”

    “Black Eyed-Peas, maybe some of you guys are confused. For the last two area nights, when Tom has played Black Eyed-Peas, you’ve been having conversations, and I’ve actually gone up to some of you and gone like this, “Black-Eyed Peas is playing,” and I walk away and you continue to have conversations, so maybe I didn’t say this clearly, so let me be clear. When that song comes on, you are to stop doing what you are doing immediately and stand in the front of the room and jump up and down like a jerk. Does anybody have any questions about that? So I should not look up at an area meeting when that song is going on and see anyone else doing anything else other than that.” — NSD Cyndee Gress, Feb 2011 Director Meeting

  • ‪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).

  • “I believe that it is important to “hold the line” no matter what the justifications.
    Is it illegal to wear slacks? … no
    Is it unethical to wear slacks? … no
    Is it immoral to wear slacks? … no
    It is simply a tradition in Mary Kay to dress femininely …
    if for no other reason than that Mary Kay herself asked us to do so!
    NSD SrNSD Pat Danforth, Image – A Mary Kay Tradition

    “I want to encourage you with every inch of my being to use the scripts that we give you. Please, I beg of you, don’t change them!.” — NSD Cyndee Gress, New Consultant Training

    Mary Kay Image is not something we can choose to uphold or not uphold,rather it is expected of us to uphold it by the woman herself. When we uphold the Mary Kay image as outlined by Mary Kay herself we honor her….

    #1 We must wear a dress, a business suit, a skirt and blouse, a beauty coat, or company attire (Red Jacket with a black not too short skirt,hose, and black pumps) to EVERY Mary Kay function….(regardless of weather), every sales meeting, workshop, business debut, skin care class or facial. I do realize that the fashions are quite casual these days and pant suits are very in with Corporate America, but guys, Mary Kay women have always been a cut above and we must always look like we represent the #1 selling brand of Skin Care and Color cosmetics in the land.

    Along with our skirts and suits Mary Kay asks that we wear hose (yes,even in the summer) and close-toed shoes. We need to sport a cute in haircut and manicured nails.

    It is never OK to wear pants to a sales meeting even if you have had a rushed day and no time to change. Think ahead and put a skirt in the car… can change in the bathroom if necessary.

    #2 If you are in a Red Jacket it is important that you attend Mary Kay functions wearing that red Jacket with a black skirt and white blouse if you are a Red Jacket,Team Leader, or Grand Achiever, and a black blouse if you are a Future Director or DIQ. Don’t ask for exceptions….be exceptional.

    Consultants, don’t get upset with your Directors when she enforces these guidelines. It is her job. Directors, you absolutely need to be in your Directors suit at every function with sharp Top Notch Accessories.


    #4 Watch out for gum chewing in public….especially if you are conducting a class or talking in front of the group. Gum can be very distracting.

    #5 We are not to have any alcohol at any Mary Kay function and I love that because it keeps us acting our best in a work environment.

    #6 It is our job to coach our guests at functions that the meeting attire is professional dress and they will probably feel more comfortable if they do not have on jeans or sweats. They will appreciate your honesty,because no woman likes to go to a place she’s not familiar with and be under dressed. Coach them!!! They will appreciate you. — NSD Jan Thetford “Success and Your Image

  • ‪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).

“Someone paid the price for the past 41 years for us to have the Mary Kay opportunity we have today, and we’re paying the price for those ahead to have Mary Kay also.” — NSD Glinda Childress (McGuire) linking martyrdom to Mary Kay via notes taken at NSD Carol Robertson’s debut workshop

My mission every day is to carry on Mary Kay’s dream to all women. It is truly the friendships and guiding women to be the best that they can be to themselves and each other that motivate me. One of the most treasured blessings I received when I began my career in 1981 was to know, to be trained, to be mentored and to travel with Mary Kay Ash. I invite you to allow me to mentor and to believe in you, as Mary Kay did me. Then we can all be ‘Mini Mary Kays’ as we continue to carry on her dream to enrich women’s lives around the world. — NSD Nancy Moser’s I-Story

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

  • “I never say things in my brain like, “Next!” or “Wrinkles to her.” Some people will teach that, that that’s how you go on to the next person…I always think, “Blessings to her,” because…who am I to judge her by her saying “no” to me? She may be going through a divorce, she could have lost her mother, she could be dealing with cancer, she just could be having a bad day, maybe my joy is annoying to her sadness, right? Your aliveness sometimes makes other people’s deadness become real…I just move on and bless her anyway. If somebody is mean to me, as nice and positive and as happy as I am, they got issues. They’re mean to the world, does that make sense?” — NSD Cindy Williams teaching at a Lisa Madson retreat

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

  • ‪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).

  • “Whatever I have to do to recruit them…whatever I have to do to get this chick to get the vision so she wants it herself…whatever it takes. You have to think like a businessperson. — NSD Cyndee Gress, March 2012 Directors Meeting

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

  • “If you choose not to move forward in any level, then you rob everyone of their dream….Not just me, the National, you rob everybody of the dream.” — NSD Gillian Ortega, 2009 Ortega Area Fall Advance

  • 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.

  • “Everybody look at me, I don’t expose myself to anyone else’s poop…I need to believe that this is the most amazing opportunity – which I do believe – for women. I don’t want to know about another opportunity. Do you hear that how you can expose yourself to something that is toxic that will take you down just because…curiosity will kill the cat? Not wound the cat, not hurt the cat, kill the cat. Are you getting what I’m saying? You have to watch, protect, and preserve; “It’s only about Mary Kay, it’s only about Mary Kay, it’s only about Mary Kay, it’s only about Mary Kay”, that’s it. Don’t care what else is out there…don’t care if they think that our pink Cadillac is stupid and archaic, our people will understand why the pink Cadillac is not stupid and archaic, because I only want smart ones and I can teach them why it is not stupid, nor is it archaic.” — NSD Cyndee Gress, Director Meeting

  • ‪The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

  • “And we will produce directors. We will produce. But the one thing you don’t wanna be is the last director that I need. You don’t wanna be that laaaast director, because if you’re that last director, I’m going to be like that grain of sand that you go to the beach, and it gets stuck right in that position, and you can’t wash it out. And I’m gonna be that irritating piece of sand until we complete National. Now who wants to step up to director?” — NSD Gloria Mayfield-Banks on the “How To Get to NSD” training CD

  • ‪The group is preoccupied with making money.

“Cold hard cash wins [men] over, and a lot of it makes them romantic.”

“Look [customers] in the eye and say to yourself, “I’m confident, I’m fun, and I’m taking all your money tonight” with a big smile on your face.

“Get in the zone and get zeal for more…more means better choices!” — NSD Gloria Mayfield-Banks, “ABCs of Consistency

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

  • “Being heart in the bar in this company means that you’re wiling to rearrange life to pursue what you want…that looks like, ‘Someone in your life is sick, and you make it to the meeting anyway.'” — NSD Cyndee Gress March 2012 Director’s Meeting

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

  • If the EVENT IS IN YOUR CITY, STILL stay in a Company hotel. Driving back and forth from your home keeps you 1/2 in the Conference and 1/2 in your home life and responsibility. There is NO WAY you can have an effective ‘thought shift’ or FULL Experience that way [emphasis added]….

    …Be a TEAM PLAYER. Any choice you make that appears to be ‘anti-establishment’–doing your own thing apart from the group, to serve your personal agenda or preference probably is [anti-establishment]. The consequences of this will show up
    in your consultants and offspring imitating that liberty and individualism
    when you have created a ‘group’ opportunity. Your choice will revisit you in a bigger and more insulting way, even if you don’t make the connection. It also results in lost respect from your peers [emphasis added]. — NSD Pamela Waldrop Shaw, Conference & Event Etiquette – Professional Protocol

  • ‪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.

  • “I’m either gonna die trying, and I’m gonna do what Mary Kay Ash – listen to me – Mary Kay Ash told me to do, which was to personally recruit, and mind my own business and keep personally recruiting until people showed up; or I’m gonna get where I want to go because I did what she told me to do. See, you guys have created a third option. “I’m going to do what I’m being told to do, but then I’m going to decide if it’s the right thing to do.” [Bzzzzt!] Game over. You lost, bad strategy…” — NSD Cyndee Gress, Director Meeting

Whether Mary Kay Cosmetics is a cult or a “culture” (as Mary Kaybots claim) is debatable. However, one thing is certain, the characteristics of cults are very similar to the tactics displayed some of the highest leaders within Mary Kay Cosmetics’ sales force.

More importantly, the above quotes are just the tip of the iceberg of example of cult-like characteristics within Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Bearing in mind that the National Sales Directors are at the top of the Mary Kay pyramid and responsible for the training (or indoctrination) of hundreds of Sales Directors beneath them and who, in turn, train thousands of “beauty consultants” beneath them.

Image credit.

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