Monday, October 4, 2010

Stalked By The Mary Kay Lady Cringe

I was behind a pink Cadillac at a stoplight yesterday and felt the charge of cringe. The memory of my first year in New Jersey (1997), which included an unlikely relationship with a Mary Kay Lady, washed in. The powder pink vehicle reminded me of the vulnerability that often accompanies transition.

I moved to New Jersey after becoming engaged. It was an exciting happy time, but also a big change from singlehood—being surrounded by friends and roommates in my familiar post-college territory of Alexandria, Virginia. My first NJ job as a recruiter for a staffing agency was as stimulating as a bad blister on the back of a heel. Each day was a chafing rub. I would battle traffic every morning wishing for a fender-bender that would keep me from arriving. The position involved matching underemployed mental health professionals with temporary stints at hospitals. It sounds altruistic, but really it was a high-pressure cold-calling sales job which I couldn’t have been less suited for.

Joan was a middle-aged former psychiatric nurse who was the number one go-to for any Psych R.N. position that needed filling. She was sweet and reliable. She liked to work per diem because her main source of income was peddling Mary Kay cosmetics. She spoke at length about the joy and financial reward the Mary Kay Corporation provided her.

I made the mistake of mentioning to Joan that I could use some new make-up. I didn’t realize that I had entered the dizzying frenzy of the Mary Kay machine. Joan immediately invited me to her house for a private consultation. She dipped my hands in some treatment, “Now you have satin hands!”, and applied a painter’s tray worth of eye shadow on my lids. I looked like I had been prepped to be a stage dancer in The Chorus Line. As she blushed my cheeks bright pink, she gushed about her love of her Mary Kay career.

“Sounds great,” I mumbled politely.

At the end of my consultation, I held a bag full of pink and white products, and a cassette tape.

“Please listen to this in the car on your ride home,” she whispered excitedly. “You are just the kind of beautiful young woman I would love on my team.”

On her team? I was glammed up and disoriented. When I arrived back at our apartment, Marty looked confused too. “You look…..,” he searched for the right descriptor, “…different.”

Ill-suited to be a fast-talking recruiter, I was even less fit to sell make-up. I never wore any. Still don’t. I am part of a small population of girls whose mothers actively encouraged them to wear more make-up in their teens. My mother urged me daily to put on a little blush and still pesters me today. In my early twenties, when I complained to her about not having a boyfriend for a while, her suggestion was to put on a little mascara.

The cassette tape was a flowery cult-initiation device. It described a woman’s ascent from broken down trailer-home to being seated at the boys choir concert in Vienna after achieving a top Mary Kay sales award. I passed the tape along to my friend’s husband, Rich, and he found it so entertaining that he listened to the tape regularly on his commutes.

The tape was only the beginning. Joan called me regularly. She really wanted me on her squad. She saw that I had what it takes in our one meeting. You see, Mary Kay is a multi-level marketing operation, and Joan is more likely to drive the pink Cadillac and listen to the Austrian choir when she gets a cut of every tube of concealer that her underlings sell.

I still needed Joan to hand out thorazine at psychiatric facilities, so I wasn’t very forceful about my lack of interest. I was vague. Joan sent me little notes at home. She told me I was beautiful and smart. She drew hearts on the edges of the paper.

It was getting creepy. I was being stalked by a Mary Kay henchwoman.

I finally broke the news to Joan that I would never pursue the Mary Kay dream. She told me how sorry she was and that she would always be there for me if I changed my mind.

I wonder if it was her in that pink Cadillac yesterday.


  1. Those ladies who drive the pink caddies are very persuasive! Hysterical!

  2. do you watch "Weeds"? they do a funny take on this. these parties are always going on at our school-- make-up, jewelry, gold, tupperware, sex toys-- and the women HATE them and talk about how much they don't want to go and how you have to buy something . . . yet they still get roped into going. men would never be so rude as to have a party where you try to get your friends to buy something (except beer).

  3. Dave, you could start up a male home party business movement: beer, sports memorabilia, personalized poker may be on to something....