c. 1996 Religion News Service
DALLAS _ Mary Kay Cosmetics’ philosophy has always been:”God first, family second, career third”and founder and chairman emeritus Mary Kay Ash attributes the cosmetic giant’s success to its initial decision to “take God as our partner.” That unique mix of faith and facials, which continues to attract”spiritually strong”people promoting and marketing the product in 25 nations, brought in more than $950 million in wholesale sales last year. Mary Kay sells its cosmetics and skin care products to 475,000 salespeople, called”independent beauty consultants,”who in turn sell directly to consumers in their homes.
The Mary Kay philosophy is simple: Looking good leads to BEING good, both at home and in the world.”(If) a woman feels pretty on the outside, she becomes prettier on the inside, too,”Ash preaches in her best-selling biography”Mary Kay: You Can Have it All”(Prima).”In addition, she goes on to become a better member of her family and community,”Ash writes.”(God) has blessed us because our motivation is right. He knows I want women to be the beautiful creatures He created.” While cleanliness may be next to godliness at Mary Kay _ best achieved with the right toner and soap _ simplicity is no virtue. Like churches that preach that the holy will prosper, the company holds up its top sellers as exemplars, awarding them with diamond jewelry, mink coats and the pink Cadillacs that have become a company trademark. “I believe that God means for us to have an abundant life,”says consultant Joan Finch of Bradenton, Fla.”I don’t feel there is anything wrong with having money as long as you put God first.” Such open discussion of religion, combined with consultants’ strong allegiance to Ash, has led some critics to call the company a cult, according to Michigan-based independent senior sales director Jo Carlson, who is driving her eighth pink Cadillac. “We’re mistreated when they call us a cult,”says Carlson.”Mary Kay is a Christian and she’s proud of it.” Consultants are not blind followers of a charismatic leader, nor do they adhere to a single set of beliefs, says Carlson. They run their own businesses and follow their own consciences, she says, and the company includes Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and pagans.
Independent senior sales director Wendy Gross, who is Jewish, says that most of her colleagues are sensitive about not imposing Christian beliefs on people of other faiths. When someone opens a meeting with a prayer in Jesus’ name, she reminds them politely that there are people of different religions in the group.
Ash preaches equal pay for equal work, but God, she believes, did not intend women to look like men.”I truly believe He made us feminine for a reason, and we should always strive to maintain our femininity.”She is”adamantly opposed”to women sporting”masculine haircut(s)”and wearing”slacks on the job.” The annual awards ceremony is a choreographed spectacle celebrating Kay’s notion of femininity and faith. After the opening prayer and spiritual speeches, the top consultants parade down the aisle in glittering ball gowns to receive the keys to their bright red Grand Ams and pink Cadillacs. This will be the last year leading saleswomen walk off in mink and sable coats. The company, which does not test its products on animals, is ending its practice of giving away fur coats.
Ash was not well enough to attend this year’s celebration. But she continually reminds her consultants that it’s better to give than to receive and she is well-known for her contributions to cancer research. Among her favorite Mary Kay pins is a gold-plated broach depicting two shovels. “(The shovels) symbolized that all you send into the lives of others comes back into your own,”she writes in her book.”God gives back to you with his big shovel.” To bring the point home, Ash writes”Matthew 25:14-30″on the autographed dollar bills she awards to consultants.”That, of course, is the parable of the talents,”she explains.”I really believe that we are meant to use and increase whatever God has given us. The Scripture tells us that when we do, we shall be given more.” Some consultants define the mandate broadly. When asked if Mary Kay consultants were committed to community service, one woman replied,”Oh, yes, we do facials throughout the community.”Others, like Finch who volunteers at a home for unwed pregnant women, say their Mary Kay income allows them to give more to their favorite charities. At this year’s seminar, consultants contributed $518,575 to cancer research.
Finch says she doesn’t actively promote religion on the job, but she will not hesitate to discuss her faith. It is only natural, she notes, for her to mention when she feels particularly blessed, or when God has come to her aid. Mostly, she tries to serve as a model of someone whose life has been enriched by faith.”I am supposed to be a fragrance of Jesus,”she says, laughing at the unintentionally apt metaphor.
Finch believes that Ash epitomizes a service ethic central to many religious traditions. And though it may not be readily apparent, Finch says that Mary Kay of Dallas is a lot like the consultant’s other role model, Mother Teresa of Calcutta.”They’re at opposite ends of the spectrum,”says Finch,”but I truly believe that they both serve in the way they can.” MJP END LIEBLICH