book reviews, business

Repost: Mary Kay Ash’s story…

Here’s a repost of a review I wrote for Epinions.com in 2007, when I was living on a military installation. I also reposted it on the original OH blog in 2015. It appears here as/is.

Comments from 2015

I am inspired to repost this book review because someone on the Recovery from Mormonism Web site compared the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to being a “Red Jacket” for Mary Kay cosmetics…  If the thought of that intrigues you, I encourage clicking the link and having a look at the thread.  It’s very interesting. 

Incidentally, Bill’s TBM ex wife used to sell Mary Kay.  She bought a shitload of products and started off like gangbusters, but then lost interest at a time when they were seriously low on cash.  They ended up taking a loss, which probably contributed heavily to the sorry financial state Bill was in when we first met.  Not surprisingly, Mary Kay cosmetics, while often decent products, is sort of a cult-like organization.  I have often found multi-level marketing schemes interesting.  Perhaps I will repost a few more book reviews on the subject. 

I wasn’t all that fond of Mary Kay’s writing, but figured I might as well repost the review anyway…

Original review from 2007

Mary Kay cosmetics are everywhere when you live on a military installation. As I drive around Fort Belvoir, I frequently see cars with bumper stickers advertising Mary Kay. Sometimes, I see a home with a sign that indicates that the resident sells the stuff. I’ve never used Mary Kay cosmetics myself, but I have heard about the company from former colleagues and my husband, whose ex wife used to sell Mary Kay. I had heard interesting things about the way the company is run and, I have to admit, I’m fascinated by businesses that use the multi-level marketing model. I also like biographies. All of those factors, plus the fact that Mary Kay Ash’s autobiography, Mary Kay, was priced at a dollar at the thrift shop, led me to read about the lady who started Mary Kay cosmetics and put countless women to work for themselves.

On my copy of Mary Kay, there’s a picture of Mary Kay on the cover. She looks disturbingly like Dolly Parton with perfectly coiffed, big hair, a flawlessly painted face, a beaded gown and rhinestone earrings, and a serene countenance. This book was originally published in 1981, but I have a copy from the third printing in 1994. The picture must be from that time. Mary Kay Ash is no spring chicken, but she looks very pretty and confident in the picture. That makes perfect sense, given the book’s subject matter. Mary Kay Ash has made a big name for herself by promoting a good self-image, high self-esteem, an enthusiastic attitude, and dogged persistence. That’s why the picture on the cover should matter to those who will read this book. In this case, you can judge this book, at least in part, by its cover. 

I suspect that Ash’s audience mostly consists of Mary Kay consultants. Ash’s writing pretty much boils over with bubbly enthusiasm for her company and the products it offers. She starts at the beginning, explaining how she went from being a housewife to an extremely successful businessperson. She explains some of her business practices and how some of her more popular products were developed. All the while, she keeps her message overwhelmingly positive and inspirational. Her message to her readers seems to be that they can accomplish anything. Judging by Mary Kay’s success, lots of beauty consultants have gotten that message loud and clear.

To be totally honest, though, I found this book a bit irritating. Maybe it’s because I’m a pessimist. I just found the high energy, overly effervescent, extremely positive tone in this book hard to take after awhile. I appreciate the fact that Mary Kay Ash made her dream a reality and I agree that a good attitude can carry a person far in life. However, while I think dreams are a wonderful thing, I also think they should be grounded in reality. The truth is, not everyone can cut it in sales. Not everyone has the appropriate personality to deal with people and deliver good customer service all the time. Despite Mary Kay’s overwhelmingly positive message, not everyone who tries to sell her products will be a great success… in fact, not everyone has it in them to be a great success in life. If everyone in life were a great success, people like Mary Kay Ash would be just average folks. 

I don’t know how available this book is nowadays. I would guess that the most likely place to find it is from a Mary Kay consultant or a used book outlet. Mary Kay Ash’s story is inspirational and reasonably well written, but the tone was a bit too chirpy for my taste. I recommend it to people who like very positive stories… otherwise, skip it. 

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book reviews

Repost: A review of The Beauty Experiment by Phoebe Baker Hyde

This is a repost of a book review I wrote September 21, 2015. It appears here as/is.

In February 2014, I purchased Phoebe Baker Hyde’s book, The Beauty Experiment: How I Skipped Lipstick, Ditched Fashion, Faced the World without Concealer, and Learned to Love the Real Me.  I don’t remember why I bought it.  I probably read an article about it and decided it would be an interesting read.  I just got around to reading it and finished it the other day.  I see from Hyde’s Web site that she is multi-degreed, having earned dual BAs in English and anthropology at UPENN and an MFA in creative writing from the University of California at Irvine.    

In 2007, Phoebe Baker Hyde was a wife and a mother living in Hong Kong with her husband, John Liang, and their daughter, Hattie.  Hyde’s husband is an accountant of Asian descent and traveled a lot to Asian countries for his job.  Consequently, Hyde was left alone frequently with their daughter and felt bombarded with the idea that she should look a certain way.  She should be thin, wear makeup, and designer clothes, a notion that seemed even more prevalent in hyper fashion conscious Hong Kong.  She notes that when she went to a hospital to give birth, she brought along mascara for the after birth photos.  

As Hyde is trained in cultural anthropology, she started thinking about how women are programmed to abide by the rules of society.  She decided to embark on what she calls “The Beauty Experiment”, which basically meant that she was going to stop wearing makeup, shaving her legs, wearing jewelry, and painting her nails.  She stopped having her hair cut and styled at expensive salons.  Instead, she cut her hair short, like a man’s.  She threw away the night cream and hair mousse, and stopped buying new clothes.  Finally, she covered up the mirrors in her home.  For about a year, she lived this way, chronicling her experiences until she had enough to write her book.

Looking on Amazon.com, I see that The Beauty Experiment gets mixed reviews.  A lot of people gave it high marks because they were able to relate to feeling the need to be pretty all the time.  Some people found Hyde’s writing funny.  A couple of people were dealing with personal issues as they read the book that made it more interesting for them.  

Those who didn’t like the book seemed to think that it was boring to read, Hyde was spoiled (as in, she didn’t “work” for a living), hadn’t actually learned anything, or jumped around too much.  Personally, I agree with those who didn’t like the way this book jumped around.  At different times, Hyde would slip into the future, after her stint in Hong Kong, and write about her life post experiment, after she’d had Orson, her second child.  While I didn’t have a problem following Hyde, I did find the jumping around a bit distracting and occasionally annoying.

On the other hand, there were a few times when I caught myself marveling at Hyde’s ability to turn a phrase.  She really does have a talent for writing vivid passages that, at least for me, were a pleasure to read.  I happen to be a sucker for creatively written prose and I found Hyde’s writing style very appealing throughout most of the book.  She frequently refers to her “inner voice”, which many of us have.  She hears her voice saying things that diminish her confidence or criticize her.  I think a lot of women can relate to that, especially when we stand in front of a mirror and feel ugly or fat.

For those who like facts and statistics, Hyde includes commentary on research regarding the beauty habits of women.  Frankly, I could have skipped those passages because I don’t really care about charts and graphs.  But I realize that some people enjoy those types of visual aids and I appreciate that Hyde took the initiative to back up her experiences with data.  She also includes a reading list.  I was glad to see that I’ve read a couple of the books she suggests, including Naomi Wolf’s classic, The Beauty Myth.

It took me awhile to get through this book.  I mostly enjoyed it, especially since I usually don’t wear makeup unless I’m going out in public.  Even then, a lot of times I’m tempted not to “put on my face”, though the inner voice usually gets the upper hand and I take a few minutes to apply makeup.  The older I get, the more I feel like it doesn’t matter.  I can thank Bill for that, because he loves me regardless.

Anyway, I think I can recommend Phoebe Baker Hyde’s book, The Beauty Experiment.  I’m not sure if the experiment really changed her life, other than giving her something to write about, but maybe others lives will be changed by Hyde’s observations on beauty and the pressure many women feel to look a certain way.  As a matter of fact, tomorrow I am having a tooth extracted.  I dread the way I will look during the months before the implant goes in, even as I realize that I will be healthier without that tooth. (ETA 2021: Implant was quite a success!)

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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