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Is Mary Kay Inc. a adored abode advantage for American housewives or a artful pyramid scheme? Harper’s anchorman Virginia Sole-Smith went clandestine shilling broken-down cosmetics to acquisition out. (Spoiler: the latter, although the company’s “girlfriend”-heavy approach aren’t too altered from Rush Week, if sororities affected you to go into debt to advertise architecture palettes.)

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According to Mary Kay lore, the aboriginal Mary Kay Ash founded her own aggregation in 1963 afterwards a macho agent she accomplished while alive for Stanley Home Articles got the advance she wanted, but she wasn’t absolutely a feminist leader; in her book, “You Can Accept It All” (hah), she put alternating the Mary Kay manifesto: God first, ancestors second, career third. She’s somewhat of a angel saint for Mary Kay reps; back a adorableness adviser is answer to sales director, she “flies for a anniversary of appropriate training to Dallas, where, amid lectures on administration and sales tactics, she can affectation for a photo in Ash’s own heart-shaped blush bathtub, which originally active one of the eleven bathrooms in her thirty allowance blush mansion.”

Extreme creepiness aside, the company’s tagline is still “Enriching Women’s Lives,” and Mary Kay is still alluring women with the affiance that they can “have it all.” That’s how the aggregation managed to do so able-bodied during the recession; by alluring women who bare to accomplish added money on their own time ASAP. “Discover a part-time best that can advance to independence,” promised a bartering that ran during the alpha of the bread-and-er crisis. “Earn added money. Be your own boss. Charge this now? Discover for yourself at marykay.com.” The cartage to the website’s application folio added 108 percent in the afterward three canicule — and that’s abandoned the tip of the eyeshadow iceberg:

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The company’s sales force has angled back 2003, to added than 2 actor consultants in thirty-four countries. In April 2011 alone, Mary Kay active up 165,000 new consultants, the greatest account application absolute in a decade. The aggregation does not acknowledge sales abstracts above an anniversary broad bulk ($3 billion common in 2011), but a columnist absolution from January 2012 noted, “Mary Kay is breaking records” with “a 15 percent access in sales in 2011.” March 2011 represented the “highest sales ages in aggregation history.”

But Sole-Smith argues that the company’s $3 billion broad bulk is added apocalyptic of how abundant the women who assignment for Mary Kay absorb on stocking up on Mary Kay account than how abundant money they themselves make. Back Sole-Smith clearly became a Mary Kay lady, her aboriginal footfall was to accomplish an “initial account investment” — a move her coach Antonella promised was optional, although she said it had “some advantages.”

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It was true, Antonella acknowledged, that some consultants adopted to delay to adjustment articles until afterwards they had fabricated some sales application the catalogues and samples in the amateur kit. But she didn’t anticipate it was the best advance of activity for me, because she could acquaint I was so austere about my Mary Kay career. “I was aloof like you, Virginia-terrified to abode my aboriginal account order.” At the time, Antonella and her bedmate were alive their way through some ample acclaim agenda debt. “But my bedmate said, ‘Ant, you accept to do this right. How are you activity to advertise from an abandoned storefront?’ ” Antonella ordered $1,800 account of inventory, set up a abundant affectation on the island in her kitchen, and arrive four accompany for a skincare class. She awash out her absolute account of skincare articles that aboriginal night and angry a accumulation of about $2,000 in her aboriginal month.

That $1,800 angry out to be a abracadabra number. Once I ordered that amount, I’d be automatically answer to Star Consultant-climbing a rung on Mary Kay’s ladder after authoritative a distinct sale-which advantaged me to a ambit of perks, including absolute aircraft whenever a chump ordered a artefact I didn’t accept in stock. No active aperture to aperture drop- ping off orders. “Remember that your time is money,” Antonella said. As I became added successful, I’d appetite to accumulate alike added in stock. Antonella had about $2,500 in account on duke best of the time.

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But what if Sole-Smith didn’t accept the money on hand? “I absolutely don’t advance that my consultants use claimed allotment to buy their inventory, alike if they do accept the money,” Antonella told her. “I acquisition that unless addition holds you accountable, consultants balloon to pay themselves.” The solution: a Chase Mary Kay Rewards Visa card! “What you charge to accept is that this is not a debt,” Antonella said firmly.

But for the all-inclusive majority of Mary Kay representatives, it is debt — some of the women Sole-Smith interviewed accusation Mary Kay for ruining their finances, their marriages and their acceptance in friendship. Check out the absolute allotment to acquisition out what happens to Sole-Smith’s makeup-selling career and the Mary Kay victims she met forth the way — and additionally for some fun/incredibly advancing capacity about the Mary Kay lifestyle. For example:

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“These roses are my allowance to you, and they represent your approaching with Mary Kay,” Margo explained, captivation her own rose aloft. “The axis is for the abutment you’ll accept from your sister consultants, your director, and our admirable company. The blooming leaves represent the money you will earn. The thorns are the advance credibility and obstacles you will affected forth the way. The blush represents the ultimate attribute of success in our company-the admirable blush Cadillac! And the aroma of this rose is the candied aroma of your success.”

Cue up the Twilight Zone affair and slather on some crimson while you apprehend the adventure for added effect.

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The Blush Pyramid Arrangement [Harper’s]

Image via Poznyakov/Shutterstock.

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