According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, the Mary Kay cosmetic company — known for its eponymous blonde Texas founder and pink Cadillacs — has more and more Spanish-speaking women in its sales force. As writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske points out, getting a foot in the door at the beauty business doesn't require a high school diploma, or even that the salesperson speak English, making it appealing to California's immigrant population. Women like 60-year-old Altagracia Valdez work long hours selling makeup, often trying to convince women who do not have cash to spare. Valdez often deals with this by recruiting the women onto the sales force. Explains Valdez's boss, Sandra Chamorro, a single mother and immigrant from Nicaragua: "Sometimes a woman can have an empty stomach, but she has to have lipstick."
Chamorro already has a convertible Mary-Kay Cadillac in pale pink, something Valdez hopes she can earn someday herself. But first she needs to sell $18,000 worth of cosmetics in four months. Valdez pitches her wares to 19-year-old Mary Lee Mejia, who admits she can't afford to buy the $22 lotion she craves. So Valdez recruits Mejia onto the sales team — which means Mejia has to cough up $108 for a sample kit.
Valdez works to support her children after leaving her husband of 33 years, a construction worker who once beat her so hard he broke her jaw. It's hard not to root for her — and it's also hard not to see that with her success comes with exploiting her poor recruits. Hennessy-Finke notes that Valdez often helps the junior sales team members, giving them free makeup kits and covering start-up costs. "Her generosity binds consultoras to her and helps her feel better about using them to achieve her goal." On one hand, Altagracia Valdez is working toward the American dream: Self-sufficiency, success, a new car. And on the other hand, her work exposes an American nightmare: Why is it that an impoverished woman can be so easily convinced that a new lipstick or handcream is all she needs to turn her life around?
Climbing A Ladder Made Of Lipstick [LA Times]