Gender & Sexuality

The Pink Pyramid’s Digital Trail

Mary Kay advertisement

After Investigative Fund reporter Virginia Sole-Smith's cover story in Harper's, “The Pink Pyramid Scheme,” hit newsstands three weeks ago, a deluge of outraged and appreciative blog posts and interviews with Sole-Smith soon followed.

The blog Diary of a Corporate Wife discusses Sole-Smith's article in comparison to Anne-Marie Slaughter's recent controversial Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can't Have It All.” Posting an excerpt of Sole-Smith's accompanying blog post on Harper's, the blogger writes that Sole-Smith “caused me to adjust my enthusiasm for Anne-Marie Slaughter's Atlanticpiece... If you want or need to work and support yourself or your family, don't think like a woman. Don't think like a man. Think for yourself.”

Cynthia Ruccia, writing on Women Win Too, blogs that the article enraged her. A Mary Kay employee of 28 years, Ruccia's post is an ad hominem response, to be read for comedic relief.

Tracy Coenen, the founder of Pink Truth, a website devoted to educating women about the potential perils of multi-level marketing companies, who was interviewed for “The Pink Pyramid Scheme,” writes for the blog Fraud Files: “I have interacted with thousands of former Mary Kay consultants and sales directors, and the failure rate in Mary Kay is astronomical.”

On July 23, Sole-Smith was interviewed on NPR's On Point, which devoted an entire hour to investigating Mary Kay. On the show, Sole-Smith gives listeners a behind-the-scenes look at how she grew suspicious of the cosmetics giant and how her reporting validated her fears. The show included lively interviews with a former May Kay director, an attorney who has defended victims of multi-level marketing schemes, and a heated debate between Sole-Smith and a Mary Kay representative. Here's one of their exchanges:

Mary Kay Rep.: All beauty consultants are independent contractors. They sign a beauty consultant agreement for the purposes of selling products to consumers. We can't, and don't track, their retail sales.

Sole-Smith: You can't say, “We're only a only wholesaler,” and also market it [the Mary Kay products] as a lucrative career opportunity, and then say, “We can't tell you how much you're going to earn.” You're either misrepresenting the business, or you're just being irresponsible to your workforce.

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, writing for The Beheld, blogs about the Marxist principles she sees in Mary Kay's quasi-pyramid scheme, but the best part of the post is the accompanying image, of a pink-hued Karl Marx; its caption reads, “Karl is wearing TimeWise® Firming Eye Cream, .5 oz., $30, marykay.com or your nearest Mary Kay lady.”

Sole-Smith was also interviewed on NPR's KERA Think on July 26, where the reporter again went toe-to-toe with a Mary Kay representative, this time the make-up company's Director of Corporate Social Responsibility. As Sole-Smith described it later on her blog, things got “spicy” as they debate whether or not Mary Kay mistreats its female workforce.

After the interview, Sole-Smith blogged about her outrage upon hearing Mary Kay's defense. On both radio shows, Mary Kay's representatives argued that often women join their sales team “just to make a little extra money,” not as a full-time career. But, as Sole-Smith writes, the company's website says selling products can be a “lucrative full-time opportunity.”

About the reporter

Robert Owen Brown

Robert Owen Brown

rown is a journalist who has written for the Charleston City Paper, the Washington Examiner, the Huffington Post, and New York magazine.

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