Four Mary Kay pink Cadillacs in San Diego

There's a face for us

Pageant Night, a cross between the Miss Universe contest and Queen for a Day.
  • Pageant Night, a cross between the Miss Universe contest and Queen for a Day.
  • Image by Helen Redman

MEN, READ NO FURTHER. THIS STORY CONTAINS THINGS YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, things you probably don’t care about anyway. The heaviness of face cream has never been a big concern of yours, for example. Coating one’s face with walnut shells seems like a strange thing to do. Spending half an hour at a cosmetic counter is incomprehensible and, if you happen to be on the waiting end, intolerable. You have never experienced the thrill of using a virgin tube of lipstick, nor do you expect to.

Persuading someone to spend 46 dollars on the Basic Skin Care kit takes talent.

Persuading someone to spend 46 dollars on the Basic Skin Care kit takes talent.

Then again, you may be curious. You’ve noticed behavioral changes in women when they gather together. Maybe they were getting ready for a night out, fussing over each other’s outfits as much as their own. Your wife or girlfriend was part of the crescendo, and she was flushed with an excitement you've never observed before. You’ve gotten pretty good at faking interest in her clothing purchases, but it’s hard to show enthusiasm over a blouse, even if it was crepe de Chine silk on sale. What is the definition of preoccupation? you ask yourself. These traits are perplexing, but at the same time, endearing. Read on.

The top sellers are rewarded with tote bags and emerald rings and free vacations and the use of new cars.

The top sellers are rewarded with tote bags and emerald rings and free vacations and the use of new cars.

Mary Kay sales meeting, the meeting room of the Plaza condos in Pacific Beach. Before the facial demonstration starts, the Mary Kay ladies are doing what they enjoy most: talking about commissions. This is a company where each worker’s salary is the opposite of a secret: it’s broadcast material. Mary Kay saleswomen buy their products directly from the company and then sell them for twice as much. The top sellers are rewarded with tote bags and emerald rings and free vacations and the use of new cars, including the eye-popping pink Cadillacs. Part of the Mary Kay philosophy says that a fur coat is going to make a woman feel good about herself. And the woman who feels good about herself will sell more products.

The saleswomen in Dee Ground’s unit meet every Monday night, same time, same place. They were brought into the business by Dee, a “director” in the Mary Kay company. Dee is originally from Houston and has a slight Texas lilt to her voice. She’s lived in La Jolla for the last twenty years and also sells real estate. On her Mary Kay time, Dee wears a periwinkle blue suit made by the company. “That way Mary Kay knows her management team is well groomed, even if they have bad taste,” she explains.

Dee has been with the company for five years and has twenty-five recruits in her unit. Each time one of her recruits sells something. Dee is paid a commission by the Mary Kay company. The women with the most recruits (a.k.a. “beauty consultants”) generally make the most money. In return directors act as mentors to their consultants, constantly instructing, encouraging, cajoling, and nudging their people in the art of selling Mary Kay. They do this by telephone, seminars, and weekly meetings. Mary Kay ladies are big on philosophies like “You Can Have It All,” “The Sky’s the Limit,” “Dream the Impossible Dream,” and so on. “We don’t allow negative talk,” says Dee, explaining how directors discuss problems with consultants only in a whisper.

Dee does not start the meeting with the official Mary Kay song, sung to the tune of “I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” Instead she distributes rubber bands to the consultants and urges the women to wear them around their wrists for the next week. Every day they should stretch the rubber bands to remind themselves how far they can go. There’s no reason why they can’t all sell $1000 worth of products in one week, as Dee’s daughter has done. Then there’s the Mary Kay saleswoman in Texas who supposedly has three secretaries helping her. “That girl’s incredible!” says Dee. “She sells $12,000 wholesale a month. And she puts her panty hose on the same way the rest of us do.”

Dee runs her training sessions with another Pacific Beach-based director, Suzy Tietjen. (There are no sales territories, however; Mary Kay ladies can sell and recruit across the country.) Suzy became a director two years ago. Her blue suit contrasts nicely with her long, creamy blond hair, her pink lipstick, and her pink cheeks. She has a flawless round face and resembles a very pretty baby who is wearing makeup. Suzy comes from a Mary Kay family: her mother, who lives in Minneapolis, has driven pink Cadillacs for the last fifteen years.

Suzy reminds the consultants that every woman loves cosmetics. “As little girls, we played with our mother’s make-up,” she says. “It’s something that comes natural to us.” Another natural female skill is their sales ability, according to Suzy. She runs through the chronology of a woman’s life in sales, starting with her parents: first it’s a new toy, then a dress, then staying overnight at a girlfriend’s house, followed by permission for the first date, which of course leads to the second big customer in a woman’s life: her husband. He must be persuaded to buy new furniture, to go on vacation, and so on.

Like all Mary Kay directors, Dee and Suzy began as a beauty consultants. They bought the Mary Kay “showcase” (a starter kit that currently costs eighty-five dollars) and persuaded friends, relatives, and total strangers to have “beauty shows” in their homes. At a typical beauty show, a small gathering of women (usually four to six) sample the Mary Kay products as the consultant demonstrates skin care and make-up techniques. The five-step ritual — cleanser, revitalizing mask, freshener, moisturizer, and foundation — is referred to as a “facial.” After the facial, the consultant tries to sell the products. If she’s halfway good, she can sell $300 worth at a two-hour party — and pocket $150 for herself.

Leading the women through the facial routine is fairly simple, and teaching them new ways to apply make-up is easy, if the saleswoman acts authoritatively. But persuading someone to spend forty-six dollars on the “Basic Skin Care” kit (or $164.50 for “The Complete Collection”) takes talent.

Suzy demonstrates an effective facial on a woman brought by one of the new recruits. The woman, a co-worker of the recruit, seems surprised that she is the model, that the other six women in the room all work for Mary Kay, that Dee won’t stop trying to recruit her as a consultant. She plays along nervously and insists on keeping her sales clerk job at the Broadway in Fashion Valley.

On the model’s face, Suzy demonstrates the importance of “masking” (coating the face with a gritty cream and then washing it off) to remove a layer of dead skin cells. “Ever notice how men look younger than women when they get older?” she asks. Everyone looks at each other. No, they hadn’t, but now that she mentions it.... “It’s because they shave every day, which removes those dead skin cells,’’ Suzy explains.

Men are lucky in other ways, too. They aren’t doomed to a face of regret and retribution. Says Dee, “From birth to thirty, you have the skin you’re given. From thirty to sixty, you have the skin you create. After sixty you have the skin you deserve.’’

For the men who may still be reading this story, a woman’s make-up collection could be compared to a tool box: everything in it has a purpose, yet the items can be played with. There is always something else to buy, something you don’t already have. A man with a cheap set of wrenches can rationalize buying a better set; a woman with five shades of blush, all of them pink, can easily purchase a new color called primrose.

Combine this predilection with one of Mary Kay’s best marketing strategies — female camaraderie — and you will understand how the company sold $277.5 million worth of products in 1984 (the last year the company released sales figures). Mary Kay ladies give their customers something women can never get from men: constructive criticism of their feces. In a world striving for androgyny, Mary Kay ladies have retained the capriciousness of the Fifties housewife; nothing is too vain, or too inane, for attention. If referring to women as “girls’’ is ever okay, this is the place.

Mary Kay Ash, founder of the company and chairman of the board, is the corporate mother to her girls. Employees speak of her in hallowed tones, remarking how young she looks for her^ge, how nice she reportedly is, how thoughtful it was for her personally to sign the letter of commendation she sent them. Directors like Dee say they wouldn’t hesitate to ask Mary Kay for a personal favor. Dee is about to call her, in fact, and request that a friend of hers be allowed to rejoin the company. When a consultant or a director quits, Mary Kay buys back the unsold stock at ninety percent of its cost. But it’s company policy that the woman can never sell Mary Kay merchandise again. Dee thinks an exception should be made for her friend, who quit because she didn’t get along with her director. So Dee is going to appeal to Mary Kay herself and ensure that the founder will return her phone call.

In 1985 Mary Kay and her son, company president Richard Rogers, completed a leveraged buyout that returned the company to family ownership and control. In the year before the buyout, sales decreased by fourteen percent. Mary Kay’s face held up, but her stock started falling. While the company spokeswoman, headquartered in Dallas, cannot give out current information on the company’s fiscal health, she is willing to go back to the beginning and retell the Mary Kay legend.

Born seventy-odd years ago, Mary Kay does not reveal her age. Her standard reply to the question is, “A woman who will tell you her age will tell you anything.’’ Raised a Baptist in a small Texas town, Mary Kay married the local hunk and was deserted by him eight years later. She found herself with three youngsters to raise and a living to make. In 1938 she began selling Stanley Home Products at small gatherings of womenfolk. During a product party in a small house in Dallas, she noticed that the women there had especially beautiful skin. Curious, she asked their secret and learned they were all using a skin lotion supplied by the hostess, who mixed it up in the kitchen. The awful-smelling formula had been developed by the woman’s father, a leather tanner, after he noticed that his hands were much younger looking than his face.

Mary Kay took some home and began using it. Ten years later, she bought the rights to the formula and, with $5000 in savings, put her company together. She opened a small store in Dallas in 1963 and hired nine of her friends as saleswomen. From the beginning, Mary Kay had definite ideas about how she wanted her company run: it was going to be a place where a working mother could put her family before her job.

Mary Kay recruiting brochures frequently mention the job’s flexible hours — no one is going to fire you because you stayed home with a sick child. Mary Kay women are in business for themselves, the literature boasts. They decide whether a certain product should be discounted or what kind of gift would entice a hostess to invite her girlfriends over. (Often it’s a set of make-up brushes or discounts on Mary Kay products. Dee Ground has, on occasion, given mink key rings.)

The Mary Kay company has 150,000 independent beauty consultants nationwide (no figures are available for San Diego County). All of them have a shot at being crowned in Dallas on Pageant Night, a cross between the Miss Universe contest and Queen for a Day. High achievers come from across the country to receive furs, diamonds, and other lavish gifts in a glitzy, spotlighted ceremony. Mary Kay presides over it all, putting tiaras on the heads of those who make it into the “Queen’s Court.” Many of them cry. Part of the weekend festivities is an afternoon tea in Mary Kay’s opulent Dallas mansion, where she lets the women take pictures of each other at her desk and in her pink marble bathtub.

SATURDAY MORNING AT THE Mary Kay training center at Sixty-fifth Street and El Cajon Boulevard. A dozen women have gathered in one of three conference rooms that hinge on a wallpapered room with a couch. They are of various ages and have spent varying amounts of time getting dressed for this two-hour training session. Saturday morning is also a good time to take karate lessons, rent sickroom supplies, and get trophies . engraved, so it’s hard to find a parking place in the L-shaped shopping center lot. Some people missed the Mary Kay training film on how to book a beauty show and keep the hostess from canceling it.

Today is Wanda Ennis’s turn to demonstrate a well-run beauty show. She is one of eight directors who rent the offices and pool their time and train the consultants. The recruits have provided two models from their ranks of friends and relations. Wanda seats them at a folding table, facing the Mary Kay ladies.

“Dead skin cells fall off every four days,” Wanda says as the two ladies clean their faces with Gentle Cleansing Cream. If these cells are not removed with a mask, they can settle back into the pores and create “that cloudy look,” she explains. As the models put the Revitalizing Mask on half their faces (so the other halves later know what they’ve missed), Julie Okonski comes in late and sits next to Julie Zeddies, who is taking notes.

Julie O. just recruited Julie Z.; she peers at the new girl’s neat squares of handwriting. “I’m so proud of you,” she says, rubbing the middle of Julie Z.’s back and hugging her around the shoulders. Wanda moves ahead with the “glamour” phase of the demonstration.

Glamour is the catchword Mary Kay women use for make-up. They offer the usual embellishments for the eyes, cheeks, and mouth. According to the Cosmetics, Toiletries & Fragrance Association, a trade association in Washington D.C., more than sixty percent of American women wear eye make-up, sixty-five percent wear blush, and fifty-two percent wear foundation, a facial lotion designed to match a woman’s skin color. Mary Kay sells twenty-one shades of eye shadow, eight shades of blush, and thirteen shades of foundation.

Determining the optimum shade for each woman is a skill that takes some time and practice to develop, Wanda says. “You should go through that showcase and put every color on your face,” she tells the consultants, who laugh at the thought. While the consultants are experimenting, she suggests they recommend a neutral color for their customers. “If you sell them all Natural Beige, they’ll live,” she says. Beauty consultants should never touch a model’s face, Wanda says. Let them do it themselves, but make sure you give them guidance. “If you turn them loose on their own, you’ll have problems,” she warns.

While Wanda is talking, one of the models goes too far with the eyeshadow brush and put an isosceles triangle above her lid. Some erasure work must be done with a Q-Tip. The model rears her head back when Wanda holds out the mascara wand. “She doesn’t use mascara,” explains the woman’s friend, who sits in the front row of chairs. So Wanda gives her the option of simply dragging the wand across her eyelashes for a light touch of mascara. The model decides to go all the way and laboriously combs her lashes with color.

When both models have been glamoured up, Wanda says, “Take your clips out, ladies. You have arrived.” Everybody claps. “Don’t they look pretty? And natural?” asks Wanda. The women do look striking, or at least a lot different from when they started. People remark on how well the pink and blue colors on one model’s face match those in her blouse. The model looks at herself in the mirror and does not seem so sure of the improvement. “You’re just not used to it,” Wanda tells her.

Julie Z. the neophyte, wonders aloud why Wanda did not outline the models’ lips with a lipstick pencil. Julie O., the veteran, answers that you should save something for the second visit to a customer. “You have to tease them a bit.. Tantalize them,” she says. Five minutes later, when Wanda is explaining how to close a sale, she recommends saving some beauty tips for later visits. “Don’t give them everything at once,” she says. Julie O. glows with that Mary Kay confidence.

After the session, the ladies engage in their second-favorite Mary Kay pastime: telling the stories of how they joined the company. The tales usually start with a girlfriend who brought them to a beauty show, where they never expected to buy any Mary Kay stuff, let alone sell it. But they were impressed with the products and liked the Mary Kay women they met and decided to become one of them.

One woman who had bad acne as a teen-ager says that Mary Kay has the only product that effectively covered her scars. She now works behind a cosmetic counter in a drug store and sells Mary Kay in her spare time. Another woman needed money but had no job skills. She joined the force six months ago. “Everybody is so positive and uplifting,” she says. Her husband can’t understand why she’s so chipper when she comes home from doing a show. Not that she doesn’t get depressed sometimes; but when this happens, she just calls up a Mary Kay crony for a pep talk. A third woman, who recently separated from her husband, says, “As women we tend to want to become emotionally involved. In the business world, you have to control that. But not in Mary Kay.”

Julie O. adds her testimonial: She had her starter kit for only one day when her director talked her into going to Dallas for a national Mary Kay convention. “I didn’t need a plane to fly back,” she says. “I was in tears, I was so changed.” Soon she hopes to quit her job as a purchasing clerk for the county and go into Mary Kay fulltime. “When a woman is ready to get into this business, she just knows,” says Julie O. “Everything leads her there.”

SALLY RATTRAY DRIVES A PINK CADILLAC through El Cajon. She has lived there for the last fifteen years. As best as she can estimate, there are three pink Cadillacs sliding down the streets of San Diego County at this writing. (Make that four. Trisha Swift of Poway got one in December.) Neither Sally nor the company’s headquarters can supply an exact count of pink Cadillacs or pink Buick Regals awarded in the county. Sally owns her Cadillac because she is a national sales director — a woman who has spawned many “generations” of directors. San Diego County has two national sales directors (the other is Gayle Carmichael of La Jolla); the company has a total of fifty-eight in the U.S. and claims that they average $100,000 a year in incomes.

Sally has been in the business for seventeen years, and you can bet she isn’t doing facials every weekend. She spends her time overseeing her offspring directors, which means her recruits brought in more recruits, resulting in more sales, income, and prizes for Sally. But don’t say the word “pyramid” around Mary Kay ladies, because it makes them shudder. Since all commissions come from the company (and not a slice of the recruits’ profits), the saleswomen look upon the marketing plan as an extremely wide ladder that can be climbed by everybody at once. The directors simply give their recruits a yank now and then. “Everybody’s promotion means your promotion,” explains Sally.

While Sally takes care of the forty ladies who came in under her, her husband, a retired air force officer, now manages the finances. The question begs to be asked: Are there Mary Kay men? “We’ve had a few,” says Sally. “They don’t really last that long.” Mary Kay does boast, however, of having a large number of minority women in its management ranks, where employees supposedly make at least $50,000 a year. At those altitudes, Mary Kay becomes a way of life for its women, who attend multiple conferences in Dallas and elsewhere. “My best friends are in Mary Kay.” says Sally.

JULIE O’S BEAUTY SHOW IN A Spring Valley home. Julie O. wears white pumps, Julie Z. wears red. They arrive late and have to scurry to get things ready. By 7:30 p.m., the six female guests — half of them high school students and all of them under the age of twenty-three — are sitting around the kitchen table with green goo on their feces. They stare into the mirrors in front of them, serious as an appellate panel. Julie O. explains the mask routine authoritatively (“Twice a week, we retexture”); Julie Z., a receptionist at a heating and air-conditioning firm, has not started selling Mary Kay yet. She is observing tonight in preparation for her first show and helps Julie Z. by distributing hot, wet pink washcloths. How do their faces feel? asks Julie O., after they’ve removed the green mud? “Clean,” they answer.

At every Mary Kay party, there is one obstreperous woman who loudly announces that she doesn’t like to wear a lot of make-up. At this party, a girl rejects the idea of applying her liquid foundation. Julie Z. assures her it won’t have a heavy appearance, and the girl points across the table and says it doesn’t look very light on her girlfriends’ faces. But they haven’t blended it into their skin well enough, Julie Z. says, gently. Julie O. blames it on the bright fluorescent light above the table. Highlighter cream is placed, in dabs, on nine places on each face. Before Julie can stop her, one of the girls connects the dots by smearing her finger between them. Instead of strategically positioned sheen, she now has a roving shine. Which would be okay for an evening look, Julie O. says, bouncing back from her distress.

After they are made up, the girls retire to the living room to look through the Mary Kay products catalogue and order form. Three girls depart for the 7-Eleven to break a twenty. Two others disappear into the bathroom and make hair-dryer noises. They exit with a curling iron. A girl who just bought blush from Julie O. wonders if it will join her collection of unused cosmetics. The father of the hostess arrives home from a Masons’ meeting. A co-worker of his has been urging him to attend, and tonight seemed like a good night.

The hostess and her mother start dishing out apple pie and coffee and hot apple cider. Consultants ask hostesses to serve refreshments after the facials so they are not disrupted. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited by the Mary Kay guidelines. Dee Ground attributes this rule to the founder’s Baptist background, although she thinks it’s a wise practice. Liquor loosens women’s tongues, she says, and they become too talkative. “It becomes more of a social, and you lose control.”

Julie O. gives the hostess her present, a bottle of Mary Kay cologne. But there is another reason why she held the beauty show, the hostess says. “I just love having parties,” she admits. Also, she says, “I want a husband. I figure if I look beautiful, maybe I’ll get a man.” She laughs impishly as her girlfriends explain that she’s only kidding, she’s always acting silly, and the last thing she needs right now is a husband.

It wasn’t an especially good night for Julie O., who didn’t sell very much. A lip gloss here, an eye-shadow there, the purchases added up to fifty dollars. Julie O. nets half that amount for three hours of work. She leaves the house carrying her Mary Kay showcase and a portmanteau of regrets and insecurities: the facials didn’t go as smoothly as they could have, she wasn’t always in control. But she was able to book another beauty show with a girl who said she was interested in the products but didn’t have the money right now. The girl promised to invite some of her friends.

IT IS CHILI NIGHT AT THE PLAZA CONDOS in Pacific Beach. Dee and Suzy have both made chili, although Suzy suggests that everyone eat Dee’s chili because it is probably the better of the two. Dee does not refute this. She touts her chili as a cure for anything, including the flu that seems to have kept most of the consultants home.

While waiting for more people to arrive, the directors eat their chili and exchange beauty tidbits. “Eighty percent of our house dust is dead skin cells,” someone says. “That’s an awful average” Everyone agrees. Dee and Suzy tell tales from the Mary Kay trenches. They’ve sat next to their showcase for a half-hour, waiting for someone to arrive. They’ve heard all the hostess excuses for canceling beauty shows. They’ve been stood up by six women at once. But Dee also remembers the shows where four girls came, two of them teen-agers, and she sold $400 worth of products. “I’ve done $600 beauty shows in navy housing. Enlisted navy housing,” she says. Dee accepts Visa and MasterCharge and allows customers to postdate checks to their next payday.

Dee marvels over the variety of Mary Kay saleswomen. Some of them, especially the new recruits, are a little ragged around the edges, she admits. Mary Kay consultants are expected to wear a dress or skirt to their beauty shows; this insures that they’re wearing something decent when they represent Mary Kay. “A woman, no matter what size she is, looks better in a skirt,” she explains.

Dee especially likes the story of Pam Buffington, a director in Vista who bought her Mary Kay showcase with her welfare check; last year she made $79,000 in commissions, according to Dee, who regrets not having done better herself. “I should have had the Cadillac long ago,” she says. But in January, Dee was awarded a 1987 red Oldsmobile Firenza, which she gets to drive for a year. (The company picks up the cost of insurance and registration.) For Dee to get the Cadillac, she often reminds her unit, they have to sell $75,000 worth of products in six months. Although Dee teaches the official Mary Kay philosophy to her recruits — “God first, family second, career third” — she admits that “If you want to make a lot of money, you have to move career up.”

As an incentive to her consultants, Dee buys them gifts for good sales performances; one of the most coveted awards is the mink checkbook cover. Jane Lynn, one of Dee’s top sellers, has one; she pulls it from her purse at any reference to the words “checkbook” or “mink.” Dee first saw Jane in La Valencia hotel, where Dee was having lunch and Jane was modeling clothes in the dining room. Dee recalls saying, “She’s perfect for Mary Kay. I’m gonna get her.” Dee introduced herself, and the rest is Mary Kay lore. Jane had worked at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, where she introduced the line of Chanel cosmetics. She had recently relocated to La Jolla and paid $1500 for a career evaluation; the counselor suggested that she- sell cosmetics.

A former Hollywood model and actress, Jane still looks as though her last name could be Mansfield. Her hair is silvery white, but it’s the shade you see on Prospect Street, not Grandmother’s. Her jewelry is also silver; her bracelets, pendants, and earrings must weigh in at ten pounds. Jane and Dee wear big diamonds on their fingers and exude a finely honed elegance, a polished superiority that only comes with years of looking their best.

While every Mary Kay lady has her own style of selling, the successful ones share one trait; they’re relentless. Mary Kay ladies are unusually candid about their sales techniques, especially with new recruits. They don’t consider themselves competitors because there are hordes of women out there who have never had a Mary kay facial. “And we haven’t even touched the men yet,” says Dee, referring to the new line of male skin-care products called “Mr. K.”

Mary Kay women must learn how to approach total strangers and get invited into their homes, which runs against people’s natural xenophobia. Dee’s method is to make eye contact with a woman in a supermarket and smile at her. Then she’ll engage the woman in what she refers to as “warm chatter.’’ Dee might compliment the woman’s necklace and say something like “Hmmm ... that would look good with a suit I have.” One thing she always says is “Have you ever tried any Mary Kay products?” She’ll offer the woman a free facial, asking, “Is there any reason we can’t get together so you can try our products?” It’s a trick question, because if the women say no, it can be turned into a yes, especially when Dee has the upper tongue.

Any reason that woman gives to slide out from a facial will run smack into one of Dee’s well-practiced foils. Too busy? It will only take a few minutes, and she’ll work around any schedule. Remodeling your house? You can come to hers. Unable to drive or arrange a ride? She’ll come get you. Dee is very agile at throwing the ball back into the opponent’s court. A woman will run out of excuses or just get too tired to continue sparring. If she isn’t able to pin you down to a time and place. Dee will at least get your phone number and try again later.

Jane has a story of a friend she had been trying to hook for four years. The lady called recently to chat and mentioned in passing that she just had a facelift. Jane saw her opportunity and booked a facial before the woman knew what happened. Recalls Jane, “I pinned her down. I got her. I heard her catch her breath.”

It’s possible to say an effective “no” to a good Mary Kay saleswoman, but you have to match her assertiveness: the only way is a flat refusal, a look-her-straight-in-the-eye response. Women who avoid confrontations, who try to be polite and conciliatory, might as well

get out their checkbooks when they see one coming. And hope that it’s not a Mary Kay director on the loose, because these women aren’t selling single tubes of lipstick.

Dee aims high when she closes a sale. She offers entire collections that she puts together and names herself: her favorite is the “I Deserve It All” package, which she sells for $225. When the facials are over, the make-up is applied, and the women are gazing at their new, improved faces, she asks, “Ladies, don’t you deserve it all?” Suzy’s packages are called “The Basic Woman,” The Complete Woman,” and “The Total Woman.” She closes sales by asking, “Okay, ladies. Which one are you?” Jane’s calls her collections “Plain Jane,” “Basic Barbara” and “Glamorous Gloria.” Her closing doesn’t need to be strong, not after she shows her three prunes, each in its own baby food jar; one floats in water, one bobs in oil, and one languishes in nothing at all. Jane’s self-styled visual aid dramatizes what happens to a woman’s face when she uses the wrong products, the right products, or no products.

JULIE Z.’S FIRST BEAUTY SHOW. Her cousin’s house in Chula Vista. Julie Z. thought she was playing it safe tonight. All Five women at the party have known her, and each other, for years. They are either relatives, neighbors, or classmates from high school. She thought they’d be an easy bunch.

“This is supposed to be a fifteen-minute process?” they ask, an hour into the facial. Julie Z. has contended with a dozen interruptions, half of them from the five young children who came with their mothers. Instead of watching television in the living room, the children have been jumping up and down on the new couch, driving the hostess into a screaming fit. The mothers take turns threatening the kids with a group spanking.

The women, whose ages range between twenty-five and twenty-six, are still recovering from Tuesday night, when one of them had a birthday celebration at the Dance Machine in Imperial Beach. “Nine hundred guys to one hundred women” is how they describe it. Not that they were carousing, as all of them are married or practically married.

Julie sets the women up with their Mary Kay kits and gets them through the cleanser, mask, and refresher stages. She elaborates on the camouflaging abilities of the Mary Kay concealer cream. “Is this a zit hider, or what?” asks one woman. Julie Z. looks embarrassed, which makes them laugh harder. The hostess uses all the concealer in her tray and asks for more. Is she trying to conceal her whole face, her friends ask? They agree that it might be a good idea. One woman balks at putting highlighter on her nose because it is crooked. Julie explains that the highlighter doesn’t necessarily accentuate, but the woman is skeptical. Her friends tell her she’s the only one who notices her nose. Finally someone says, “Shut up and put it on.” She does but complains about her nose for the rest of the night.

A fight erupts in the living room. Two children run to their respective moms, sobbing over the indignities they’ve just suffered at each other’s hands. They are sent back to the TV, as the women are anxious to apply the blush. Where is it? they ask. They speculate on why Julie Z. hasn’t put it in their trays. “She forgot.” “She wants to keep her kit new.” “She doesn’t have any.” Actually, Julie is waiting for the hostess to finish applying her Day Radiance foundation. All eyes turn to the hostess, who is busy discussing something with her little girl.

“Do you want to know how I’m going to break that whistle?” she is saying.

“How?” asks the daughter.

“Never mind,” says the hostess, turning back to her face.

The woman with the crooked nose doesn’t like the blue eye shadow she’s wearing. “I look like I’ve been punched out,” she says.

“Then you look normal,” says one of the women.

“I could just see if Michael hit her,” the hostess says, rolling her eyes.

“She’d beat him to a pulp,” speculates the first woman.

“He’d have divorce papers the next day,” says the wife, shifting her baby to the other knee. But she soon leaves because her husband is supposed to call from Hawaii, where he is stationed with the navy. Her friends tell her she looks beautiful and isn’t it too bad he can’t see her over the phone.

After her departure, the other women sit for a few minutes, discussing the Dance Machine again, realizing that they’re all dolled up and have nowhere to go except home. One woman laments that her boyfriend won’t even notice the difference because he’s colorblind. “He was bom without cones in his eyes,” she explains. “One in twenty-five million, and I got him.” Her friends remember the time she frosted her hair pink and he didn’t know it until she told him.

Julie is able to sell seventy-five dollars’ worth of products to her friends and relatives, and two of them promise to hold shows for her. Before the cosmetics are packed up for the night, the hostess pulls her two-year-old girl onto her lap and puts pink lipstick on the baby’s mouth. “Don’t you look beautiful!” she exclaims. Everybody laughs as the baby looks into the mirror and kisses her painted face. □

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