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When Tyra tells me a story, I listen. When Tyra tells that same story again four days later to a crowd of 300 women at a Las Vegas hotel, almost word for word, I lean in a little closer.
Maybe you've heard the first part of the story yourself. In 2006, while filming scenes for America's Next Top Model on a beach in Australia, a paparazzo with a telephoto lens caught Tyra Banks on the beach in a one-piece swimsuit. The angle of the picture doesn't flatter Tyra, whose killer bod and red, polka-dot bikini made her famous, and tabloids ran with it.
Weeks later, on The Tyra Banks Show — Tyra's daytime chatfest that aired between 2005 and 2010 and regularly featured stunts like going homeless for a day and recording a simulated date rape on a hidden camera — she showed up on stage wearing the same suit. She looks great in the YouTube clip of the episode, a fuzzy, illegal upload that has been viewed 2.6 million times in the past eight years.
Standing in front of a screen displaying the unflattering bathing suit photo, she uses her own body to illustrate to daytime TV watchers how women are picked over and discarded when they hunch, bloat, or grow. Her final statement on the matter, and it's a long one, went like this:
So I have something to say, to all of you that have something nasty to say about me, or other women who are built like me, women that all the time or sometimes look like this, women whose names you know, women whose names you don't, women who've been picked on, women whose husbands put them down, women who work, girls in school, I have one thing to say to you: Kiss my fat ass.
Raised by television and magazines, I grew up perpetually entertained by Tyra's theatrics, in whatever form they took. Of course Tyra is a joy to look at (though later, in front of those 300 other women and me, she claims she's nothing without makeup, just "a girl with an ass" and a "fivehead"), but it's what she's had to say that's always captivated me. There's some hokey Victoria's Secret commercial wherein Tyra goes, "Don't say it, Karen!" to fellow model Karen Mulder. This commercial aired before I even owned a bra, but for almost a decade, "Don't say it, Karen!" has been looping in my head like an incantation.
I'm not alone. Many women look to Tyra for something, whether it be entertainment, inspiration, or a mix of the two. She's a supermodel, the first black woman to land a Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover, (kind of) a Harvard graduate, and a CEO. (Sorry, that's "super CEO" in Tyra parlance.) She's a woman with a story. She makes great TV. Maybe she makes great makeup, too.
When I scored a 43-minute phone call with Tyra the Thursday before I went to Fierce Up, a three-day conference for her two-year-old direct sales cosmetics company Tyra Beauty, I was honored that she shared a behind-the-scenes look at "Kiss my fat ass" with me. As Tyra explains, the catchphrase was inspired by a woman in front of her at the grocery store who saw some tabloid with the storied Australian swimsuit photo on it. She turned to Tyra and said, "Tyra, if they're calling you fat, then what are they calling me?" Like that, Tyra decided to address the photo on her talk show.
Tyra had her on-set stylist pull the same swimsuit from the America's Next Top Model shoot, and then she marched on stage (with just a little body makeup, she concedes, "because I'm going to be raw, but I ain't gonna be that raw"). Her crew looked at her like she was nuts. Her speech didn't come out like she intended. She broke down in tears on camera.
"I started crying towards the end, and when it was over, I ran to the controls," says Tyra. "I went over to my director and said, ‘We have to do it over! I can't cry! I need to be strong, and I cried.'"
And then, as Tyra tells it, her director dramatically turned off all the monitors in the control room one by one. He said, "Go home." Tyra said, "What?" He said, "That was real. And that will air."
With her signature performance style — a little bit bestie, a little bit unhinged, and lately, a lotta bit CEO — Tyra honestly moved me.
With her signature performance style — a little bit bestie, a little bit unhinged, and lately, a lotta bit CEO — Tyra honestly moved me.
When she told the story again at Fierce Up, I was less moved, though only a little. I'd heard it before, almost word for word, and yet, I gobbled it up. With her charisma, Tyra could sell snake oil. In reality, Tyra is selling cosmetics. I've come to realize that 97 percent of the time, this is the same thing.
The first time I see Tyra up close is a few days after our phone interview, in a partitioned conference room at the Venetian in Las Vegas. Wearing a green toga and a laurel wreath, Tyra descends upon a generically Mediterranean dinner held on the first night of Fierce Up for her highest ranking Beautytainers. "Beautytainers" is what Tyra Beauty calls its salespeople (and is, of course, a portmanteau of "beauty" and "entertainer"). Just as Tyra tied together each and every episode of America's Next Top Model with a theme, usually via Tyra Mail and a cryptic pun typed in a '90s-era typeface, this dinner tells a story.
In the night's mythos, emphasized several times over through Tyra's getup and a (very good) hummus and tzatziki platter, the Beautytainers live as Greek (or was it Roman?) goddesses. Las Vegas's Venetian hotel and convention center would be under their heavenly purview for the next three days, with all the luxury and manufactured daylight a casino in the desert can offer.
When I walk into the dinner, massage therapists (or maybe just paid performers in pink and white togas?) rub the weary hands of the jet-lagged Beautytainers in the corner of the conference room. As Tyra sits down to chat with my cluster of Beautytainers — all of whom's names and marital statuses she knew — and shows pictures of her son York, she is the queen goddess.
Tyra tells us she is "beat for the cheap seats," a phrase popularized by gay black men and those in the drag community to mean wearing so much makeup you can see it glisten from far away. Tyra has to explain this many times throughout the course of Fierce Up, but especially at this Gold-ranking and above training, where her audience of captive Beautytainers is largely composed of white women in their 40s. The Beautytainers are a fun group. They are fanatical about Tyra Beauty, and many a Beautytainer attempts to recruit me for her sales team.
The truth is, I probably can't afford to be a Beautytainer. These women spent a lot of money to be here. Besides airfare (Beautytainers flew in from California, Alaska, Minnesota, New Hampshire — wherever in the US you might find women who put stock in one mascara to transform their lives. So, everywhere.) and lodging ($159 a night, plus a $32 resort fee and 12 percent tax), registration was $299 for the three-day event. Everything at the Venetian is expensive, too. I'll never quite be able to justify buying a $14 margarita at 5 p.m. each night of the conference, but I was trying to keep up.
When I walk out of the banquet ballroom, Stacie Cain is sitting on a bench with a friend right outside. I don't know Stacie yet, but she regards me as a friend immediately. Stacie hasn't yet achieved the rank of Beautytainer needed to attend the dinner; she just wanted a glimpse of Tyra in her green toga. She got one moments before I walked out, oblivious Tyra was alone and paces ahead of me, head down while I texted my sister a forbidden photo of the super CEO I had taken earlier in the evening.
Stacie would become my spirit guide over the course of Fierce Up. On the second day of the conference, when Tyra asks audience members to reveal why we're "flawsome" (that is, roughly, flawed but still awesome), we discover we have the same thyroid disorder.
Stacie takes a photo with me the night we meet, even after I tell her I'm a nobody in the landscape of Tyra Beauty, and she tells me that everybody's someone as she presses samples of Tyra Beauty makeup remover wipes into the palm of my hand.
The day after the dinner, in the same room, senior field director Evy deAngelis has everyone embark on a visualization exercise. The room is a safe space, filled with Facebook friends who have become business partners and soul mates thanks to Tyra Beauty. These women have seen each other through cancer, new marriages, empty nesting, and career changes; Tyra has made that possible.
Evy hands out paper and envelopes. Everyone participates in earnest, except for me.
"Write down what you want for yourself. Think really, really big. Picture yourself."
Evy intones warmly. "Write down what you want for yourself. Think really, really big," she says. "Picture yourself. And when I say picture yourself, I mean actually see yourself in your head achieving everything you ever want. Really think about it."
Evy asks questions: "What are you wearing? What does that outfit look like on the day you actually have that happen? What's your career title? What's your income? What is that going to unlock for you and your family? How is that going to feel? Create a picture in your head."
A few Beautytainers are crying. Someone yells, "I need a touch-up!"
Evy responds, "On that paper, say to yourself, ‘Damn girl, you made me mess up my makeup!'"
She tells the Beautytainers to fold up their papers and seal them away. "The way you're going to get to everything you just wrote down, no matter what," she explains, "the basis of that is achieving Bronzer over and over and over."
The "Bronzer" Evy speaks is one of many levels in the Tyra Beauty direct selling hierarchy. It involves selling a bunch of product yourself and recruiting other Beautytainers to do the same. The message is clear: If you can succeed in selling Tyra Beauty, you can achieve your life's goals.
Tyra Beauty's ethos can be summed up as "natural beauty is kind of unfair." Tyra's long contended this. In the new world of Cool Girl makeup, "skin is in" and "less is more" (but only if your less is already pretty perfect). In contrast, Tyra Beauty's call to cover up and perform visual trickery by way of contouring products like Sculpt in a Stick ($25) and Light in a Stick ($25), and eye enhancers like B.I.G. Extending Mascara and its companion B.I.G. Silk Extensions (B.I.G. stands for "beyond insanely ginormous," and it will cost you $35 for both) is refreshing. Sometimes my skin just isn't good enough to wear a minimal, dewy look. Tyra gets that, and she wants her Tyra Beauty consumers to know that's okay.
I write about beauty for a living, and while I've never quite mastered the art of makeup application, I know good products when I use them. Tyra Beauty cosmetics are fine. I'd put them firmly in the middle-of-the-road Sephora Collection quality pool, and for that reason, I find them pricier than they should be.
All of the pigmented sticks glide onto my face easily and give me a bit of a contour. All of the eye products, particularly the $24 mascaras, make my eyes red and watery. In fairness to Tyra, though, most eye makeup does. I found the removal process with Pop It Clean makeup remover ($12.50) to be quite fun!
Others seem to agree. Take this review of Tyra Beauty's Oops Liner ($24) on Makeup Alley: "I bought this from my cousin as a way of being supportive and because I've been wanting to try liquid liner. Pros: The eraser makes it VERY easy to get a cat eye. Cons: The packaging is way bigger than it needs to be, the liner is about the length of a pencil and twice as thick. It is NOT water resistant or waterproof." The reviewer gave it a very average three-out-of-five-lipsticks rating.
On the second day of Fierce Up, Tyra and her team plan to unveil new product offerings. During the lunch hour leading up to the much-hyped launch, I travel from group to group in the cordoned-off section of the fourth-floor ballroom where Beautytainers and nonaffiliated hopefuls wait to be reviewed for the Tyra Beauty model search, the winners of which will nab a spot in an upcoming campaign.
I ask what the Beautytainers hope will be debuted. Most want a foundation and some skin care. Not only would a base layer complete the Tyra Beauty look, it would also help them push product. Beautytainers swear that the products included in the original 2 Minute Tyover kit, Light in a Stick and Sculpt in a Stick, never run out. And while that's good for customers, it's not good for reaching sales goals.
An hour or so later, their prayers are pretty much answered: Tyra Beauty announces its new tinted moisturizers, which privileged Beauytainers tell me they already know about. There's also quite a bit of skin care, like a foaming cleanser with a built-in silicon scrub brush called the Clean Machine. And the Secret Weapon, an exfoliation wand that uses diamond-shaped microcrystals for home microdermabrasion. And a serum called the Closer. There's also the Instant Gratification mask, an eight-minute smooth-on pack.
Tyra Beauty's ethos can be summed up as "natural beauty is kind of unfair."
On stage, Tyra washes, exfoliates, and hydrates a select few Beautytainers. She does an impression while tending to the face of a Beautytainer named Jennifer from Ohio, who has an Ohio accent. "I don't have an accent," Jennifer protests. "I don't have an accent!" Tyra mimics back. The crowd laughs, and so does Jennifer.
Everyone in the audience is able to try the products and gets to take home a mask and a little pot of tinted moisturizer.
"How do you feel being all Beyoncéd and ‘I woke up like this'?" Tyra asks a makeup-less Beautytainer named April, who demonstrates how the Secret Weapon exfoliation wand works.
"I'm a two-pumper!" she says, dispensing the Closer serum into her hand.
We all have soft hands.
"I was too fat. That was the news that my mother was forced to deliver to me. My agent in Italy gave her a long list of designers that no longer wanted me involved on their runway. They said my body was too big, that I was developing breasts and hips and didn't fit in their clothes."
In the middle of a face wash commercial — one that's being projected on two enormous screens — Tyra is crying on camera about being called fat as a teenager. The audience is crying with her. I'm crying with her too. Tyra's voice breaks on screen.
"I said, ‘Mama, what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed eat salads all the time? Live in the gym? Maybe I should work out two times a day? Three times a day?'"
What did mama do? What did she say?
"‘We're gonna go eat pizza.'" The audience laughs. "And we sat down at a paper tablecloth and she put a pen in my hand and she said, ‘You write down a list of clients in this industry that like ass. Your ass.'"
The story is no longer about face wash (though FYI, it's scented like blood orange because Tyra smelled blood orange for the first time the day she got called fat); it is about Tyra. Most of the rhetoric Tyra Beauty employs isn't about cosmetics, but rather about its 42-year-old founder. And her ass. We have Carolyn London to thank for that.
Tyra was born to Carolyn and Don Banks in 1973. Her parents divorced when she was 6 years old, and Tyra lived with her mother mostly. Tyra says watching Carolyn scrape by as a single mom has been the motivating factor for her entire career.
When Tyra was 15, LA Models signed her, but not without hesitation. Agencies consistently turned Tyra away, explaining they already had a token black model to rep. Plus, she claims, she had that "fivehead." At Fierce Up, Tyra tells us that LA Models took a risk on her, and then launches into a comedy routine of sorts. "My forehead is so large it actually voted. My forehead is so big, with me and Sia having the same length of bangs, they hit at two different places," she says, flashing pictures of an "I Voted!" sticker stuck to her luminous forehead and another of the pop star Sia's face-covering bangs.
"I had so many people tell me, ‘Dang, she got a big forehead,' and I hear it every day on social media, but my LA Models, who is in the house tonight, told me that if I didn't have that big-ass forehead, I'd be too safe, and they wouldn't want to sign me." The room erupts. Tyra drives it home.
"So I believe that beauty is in the smize of the beholder and I'm looking at this room, and this room is full of beauty, unique beauty, interesting beauty, beauty that's not the cookie-cutter!" she yells.
After signing with LA Models, Tyra switched to Elite Model Management and walked her first runway show at 16. Tyra was a high-fashion model for several years, until the Day of the Blood Orange. So Tyra and Carolyn developed a plan. Tyra's transition from high-fashion to commercial modeling, from Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent to CoverGirl and Victoria's Secret, "was truly just business," she tells me. Like that, Tyra became the girl next door.
"So I believe that beauty is in the smize of the beholder and I'm looking at this room, and this room is full of beauty, unique beauty, interesting beauty, beauty that's not the cookie-cutter!"
Tyra and Carolyn studied the careers of athletes like Michael Jordan, but also Tiger Woods, Derek Jeter, and Kobe Bryant, who were all around Tyra's age and scoring multimillion-dollar endorsement deals. "We looked at the similarities between models and athletes," says Tyra. "Athletes get paid for their physicality. They get contracts with a league, and the big ones get the majority of their money from endorsements, similar to a model. They have a limited career. They're ticking time bombs, like models."
Tyra wasn't going to let her career expire. Instead, she dreamed up a career off the runway, pinning her hopes on TV. She guest-starred on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She starred in Disney's Life-Size, alongside a pipsqueak Lindsay Lohan. In 2003, she came up with the concept for America's Next Top Model, which she executive-produced and hosted for 22 seasons, based on her proclivity for The Real World and a then-new show called American Idol. (The CW canceled Top Model in 2015, but the show was picked up to air again in February by VH1; Tyra will remain an executive producer, but she has relinquished Top Model hosting duties to Rita Ora.) In 2005, The Tyra Banks Show premiered, and it stayed on the air for five years.
And then came Harvard. You might not have heard of Tyra Beauty yet, but you've certainly heard that Tyra attended Harvard Business School. Tyra did not receive an MBA, but rather enrolled in a non-degree-granting owner/president-management extension program. Tyra's gotten flak for making it seem like she graduated with an MBA. She didn't, and she's transparent with me about it, though her website still has a description of her education that seems to imply she was a full-time student:
Two years ago, I graduated from Harvard Business School's three-year Owner/President Management Program. So many people were like, "Why the heck did TYRA go back to school?!" I can finally let you in on my secret! I attended Harvard to build and lead my cosmetics business. TYRA Beauty is a 100% self-funded startup.
According to Tyra, he told her, "You sit in my office and you talk about how women need to be their own bosses and the CEOs of their own lives. You spent five years on the Tyra show saying, ‘You can do it; have your F. U. money.' But you're going to start a cosmetics company, and you're going to put products on shelves, and that's only going to put money in your pocket."
And thus, as the story has been relayed to me by Tyra Beauty executives, Beautytainers, and Tyra herself, thousands of women were empowered through selling contour sticks and lip liner to friends and family. With this model, though, Tyra still gets some money in her pocket.
The most used phrase at Fierce Up is "social selling"; Beautytainers expound on how a single Facebook post can transform someone's self-worth. Social selling is an updated version of direct selling in which sales reps sell Tyra Beauty product directly to consumers with the aid of social media. Tyra Beauty encourages Beautytainers to use their own personal Tyra Beauty pages, which live on subdomains on Tyra.com, and social media channels (mostly Facebook and YouTube) to push product.
Beautytainers can choose the way they sell. They can either go the "cash and carry" route, in which they buy products from Tyra Beauty and rely on good faith that customers will then buy from them, or they can send customers to their Tyra Beauty site to buy products after a "TYover." (That's a home visit with a mini makeover component.) If a consumer were so inclined to buy Tyra Beauty cosmetics, she could also go directly to Tyra.com and buy them for herself, without a middleman Beautytainer.
In 2016, it may seem incomprehensible that someone would prefer taking the extra step of interfacing with a salesperson before buying makeup online. Tyra says people enjoy the sisterhood it helps form. "It's a cosmetics line, but it's sold by women making money and creating community," she explains. "You've got a lot of people selling in small towns."
Direct selling, with its "Be your own boss! But also have enough time for family!" sales-pitch rhetoric, has had a stronghold on women for as long as it has existed. It has roots in the traveling-salesman business model of the early 20th century, but direct selling is said to have been popularized in America by Amway, a company that, upon launching in 1959, sold cleaning products and now has all sorts of home and beauty products under its umbrella. Its success helped elevate direct selling companies like Avon (which was founded in 1886), Mary Kay, and Tupperware in the 1960s.
The direct selling industry has had a visible resurgence in recent years, thanks both to the 2008 recession and social media. There's likely someone (or many someones) on your Facebook feed shilling Stella & Dot jewelry, extolling the time-reversing virtues of Rodan + Fields skincare, or trying to sell you Jamberry nail wraps. Tyra Beauty is yet another female-focused company entering the crowded space.
There are two main kinds of direct selling models: single-level marketing, in which salespeople buy product directly from the company they rep and sell that stock to others, as exemplified by Avon or Tupperware. There's also multi-level marketing, wherein salespeople make commission off the products they sell, as well as the products sold by any salespeople they recruit. For this reason, multi-level marketing is controversial, though it is indeed a legitimate business model.
"It's a cosmetics line, but it's sold by women making money and creating community. You've got a lot of people selling in small towns."
"There are certain issues with direct sales, like how their plans function on social obligations and reciprocity, but you need to be careful not to paint the whole direct sales industry with a negative brush," says Dr. George Belch, marketing professor at San Diego State University and author of the marketing textbook Advertising and Promotion. "But you do have companies who are using recruitment models like this, and you start to get into the issue of pyramid schemes built on the idea of bringing other people in."
While multi-level marketing, with its focus on earning commission for sold products, is perfectly legal, the pyramid scheme, with its focus on rewarding those who recruit the most distributors, gets into more dangerous territory.
Belch gives the example of Herbalife, a supplement company that recently came under scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission for its business practices. Over the summer, the FTC and Herbalife came to a settlement, with Herbalife agreeing to restructure and redistribute $200 million to former sellers who lost money due to the company's dubious practices.
As is the case with many direct sales models, representatives had to buy into the company for a fee and were encouraged to buy massive amounts of product in the hopes that Herbalife recruits down the line (usually friends and family) would then buy from them. In its complaint against Herbalife, however, the FTC focused on the fact that despite Herbalife's claims that participants could earn thousands of dollars a month from selling the products and quit their jobs, the reality was that the compensation structure rewarded distributors for recruiting others rather than for actual retail sales.
This sort of plan generally doesn't produce wealth for anyone but those at the top, which is why some wondered whether Herbalife was a pyramid scheme. (In the complaint, the FTC did not outright accuse Herbalife of being a pyramid scheme, and in the settlement, Herbalife neither admitted nor denied any wrongdoing.) In a typical pyramid scheme, money (and sometimes product) transfers hands from recruit to recruit, and in order to make a profit, one needs to be near the start of the sales chain. Eventually, the whole system collapses because there's no one left to recruit.
Statistics vary, but when it comes to multi-level marketing, only between 1 and 3 percent of sellers make any sort of profit, according to Robert FitzPatrick, author of False Profits, a book about questionable multi-level marketing practices. "This is not hyperbole. If you look at a multi-level marketing company after two-and-a-half to three years, you will have almost 100 percent turnover," he says. "Who remains is a small cadre of recruiters, less than 10 percent of the total."
Tyra Beauty works on a multi-level plan, though the phrase is taboo at Fierce Up. The FTC defines multi-level marketing as a form of direct selling "in which a company distributes products through a network of distributors who earn income from their own retail sales of the product and from retail sales made by the distributors' direct and indirect recruits. Because they earn a commission from the sales their recruits make, each member in the MLM network has an incentive to continue recruiting additional sales representatives into their ‘down lines.'"
According to Tyra Beauty's Holmes, the company's model is not that. "We're absolutely not multi-level marketing," says Holmes. "That does have a stigma that is attached to it and that is a very different business model where all you want to do is recruit, whereas we are very much rewarding selling the product. And yes, you get some rewards for building your team, but we are a product sales company, and that's what you earn money for."
Yet by FTC definition, and by Holmes's own explanation, Tyra Beauty is indeed a typical multi-level marketing company; it is not, however, a pyramid scheme. The direct selling industry has been on high alert since the Herbalife settlement, and Tyra Beauty's top brass have discouraged the "cash and carry" model that could lead to deceptive recruiting practices.
But just because Tyra Beauty isn't a pyramid scheme, that doesn't mean the payment structure isn't bonkers to people unfamiliar with multi-level marketing — or even to those involved with Tyra Beauty. Here's how the Tyra Beauty compensation plan works:
Entry-level Beautytainers buy into Tyra Beauty by purchasing an $89 Biz Kit Launch Bundle, which includes promotional materials and a 5 Minute TYover makeup set, as well as a $50 credit to use on Tyra Beauty products. To keep a Beautytainer account active, one must generate $500 in sales over a rolling three-month period; personal purchases can apply to this total. All Beautytainers make a 25 percent base commission, and then additional commission after they reach particular sales thresholds. If a Beautytainer sells more than $500 of product per month, she makes 5 percent of that number as a bonus; if she sells more than $1,000 of product, she makes a 10 percent bonus.
With respect to the compensation plan, she says, "It's the most difficult thing to explain to anybody. So I don't."
Are you confused? I am. There's more.
By enrolling other Beautytainers, the original salesperson can earn 3 percent of her direct recruits' sales. The next level is called Bling Beautytainer, only achieved when the original Beautytainer sells $250 worth of product in a given month and has two active people enrolled below her who each sell $150 that month too. The next level is called Bronzer Beautytainer. The Bronzer Beautytainer must sell $500 worth of product herself, have at least four active Beautytainers under her, and have a team volume of $4,000 in monthly sales.
At this stage, the original Beautytainer makes 5 percent commission of her direct recruits' sales, 5 percent of her entire team's sales, and 40 percent of her own sales. Her team includes anyone that she's recruited, and anyone they've recruited, until the chain of recruits hits another Bronzer Beautytainer. When that happens, that newly minted Bronzer Beautytainer starts her own chain of recruits. When a Beautytainer maintains Bronzer status for three consecutive months, she gets a one-time bonus of $1,000. A portion of sales made directly on Tyra.com, without the help of a middlewoman Beautytainer, is distributed to Bronzer Beautytainers and above. Tyra Beauty calls that "the Hook-Up," to keep all this math sexy.
And it all escalates from there. Silver Beautytainers get more commission and more perks, and then after Silver comes Gold, of course, and then Platinum, then Diamond, then Yellow Diamond. At this time, only three Diamond-level Beautytainers exist; as of now, there are no Yellow Diamonds.
If your palms got sweaty reading this compensation plan, and then you just got bored, you're not alone. Every Beautytainer I spoke to, both at Fierce Up and over the phone, said the compensation plan is the hardest aspect to explain to recruits. Usually, Beautytainers simplify the plan for potential recruits, avoiding the complicated sales-based arithmetic until necessary.
LeeAnne Hayden, the first Beautytainer to make it to Diamond status, is a top recruiter and salesperson. She's been involved in the direct sales industry since 2011 and began selling Tyra Beauty when it was in beta in 2014. With respect to the compensation plan, she says, "It's the most difficult thing to explain to anybody. So I don't." For what it's worth, under the "Can You Really Earn an Income?" question in the "Join Our Crew!" FAQ section on Tyra Beauty's site, the phrase "For more info, click here" isn't even hyperlinked.
FitzPatrick believes the compensation plans for direct selling companies are inscrutable by design. "Like all such plans, it is incomprehensible," he says. "There are too many variables to understand until you have enrolled, and then it's too late. Despite the complexity and bewildering variables and provisions that would result in virtually no one making a profit while still buying and recruiting, the plan is presented matter-of-factly as if it makes perfect sense."
As reporter Emalie Marthe pointed out in a Broadly piece about Tyra Beauty in 2015, Beautytainers who sign up on their own, without recruitment from a Beautytainer who is hip to the Tyra Beauty vernacular, can find this language particularly impenetrable, and speaking out against it is forbidden.
"Beautytainers must sign a six-page contract, agreeing to the 64-page Policies and Procedures manual. The booklet includes a non-disparagement clause forbidding former Beautytainers from speaking openly for a year," Marthe wrote. "Tyra Beauty also supplies them with a copy of the brands compensation plan. The company's policies are open to anyone who is considering signing up to be a Beautytainer, but I had to track the compensation plan down by visiting actual Beautytainer's [sic] personal marketing pages."
When I ask how Tyra Beauty is different from other modern multi-level marketing companies like Rodan + Fields and Stella & Dot, I hear the same story again and again. According to senior field director Evy DeAngelis, Tyra Beauty has "three core tenants: funny, fierce, heart — all of which which are really important to Tyra, and that drives our business decisions. And of course, we're constantly looking at numbers, we're constantly looking at productivity and very typical business statistics that we know are going to make us successful."
"Despite the complexity and bewildering variables and provisions that would result in virtually no one making a profit while still buying and recruiting, the plan is presented matter-of-factly as if it makes perfect sense."
Since Tyra Beauty has only been out of its beta version for less than a year, the company says it has no information on the average income for Beautytainers, nor a demographic makeup it can share. Marketing director Holmes compared being a Beautytainer to being an Uber driver or taking part in any other money-making venture in the so-called gig economy. "The world is changing and when you start comparing Tyra Beauty to other things, that's when people are like, ‘Oh you're so right. That makes sense now,'" says Holmes.
The flaw in that logic is that Uber drivers aren't paid based on how much money their recruits make. Uber drivers don't have actual recruits. Though they can earn one-time bonuses for referring new drivers, they don't get a cut of their ride profits. "The comparison is totally invalid," says FitzPatrick. "In other words, it's a way to appear legitimate and even trendy and completely conventional, but it has nothing to do with it at all. You could say that signing up for almost anything."
Tyra's signing up Beautytainers for her mom. She figures that if her mom had an opportunity like Tyra Beauty when she was raising her daughter alone, she wouldn't have had to struggle like she did. "Everyone has a why they do something. Mine was my mom being a single mom," says Tyra. "But I didn't think that Tyra Beauty was just going to be for single mothers."
Instead Tyra Beauty is also for college students, nursing home workers, retired salespeople — all of whom I meet at Fierce Up. Tyra Beauty is for makeup artists and salon owners. Tyra Beauty is for attorneys with side hustles.
I sit next to Megan Burke at lunch during the Gold Beautytainer training. Though Tyra Beauty is less than two years old, there are already some legends. Chief among them is Megan, a 32-year-old Beautytainer and a corrections officer in Merced, California. On the final day of Fierce Up, Tyra will disclose that Megan was the top seller across the entire company. Megan's husband is also a corrections officer; he works the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift at the jail, while she works the graveyard shift. Sometimes she pulls doubles. The couple has a son.
Megan has never really been a makeup fan, and only got into Tyra Beauty because her mom bought her some products for Christmas. Megan's goal is to retire from the jail and Beautytain full-time. "The only thing that's scary to me is not having a retirement or health benefits, and being somewhere for so long and knowing something for so long. I've been working corrections since I was 22," Burke pauses to ask a server for a regular Coke while everyone else orders Diet, so you know she's a badass.
"Everyone has a 'why they do something.' Mine was my mom being a single mom."
"My ultimate goal is to never miss another soccer game," she says.
Megan is young, beautiful, and employed full-time in a male-dominated workplace. She's the platonic ideal of a Beautytainer to Tyra Beauty top brass. Tyra wants women to take control of their lives and accomplish their BFOGs. That's Tyranese for "big fierce outrageous goals." That Burke is considering quitting her longtime job, one that's physically and mentally draining, in order to make women look and feel their best? I can recognize that as a BFOG. Tyra and co. can too.
Tyra's not really a singer, but she premiered a new song at Fierce Up called "Skin, Base, Werk That Face." Tyra wrote it, along with Evy. It succinctly tells the story of a harried office worker, or maybe an exhausted student, who transforms her life by flaunting that face and ass. A sample:
Werk that face
It's your werkspace
TYover time, any time, any place!
Sculpt it up, light it up, lash it up, boo
You're photogenic bae, it's time to do you
Then an ethereal bridge comes in:
I see your beauty. Do you! Do you! Do you! Do you!
I see your beauty. Do you! Do you! Do you!
And then a rap plays over it all:
Werk that hallway like the runway!
Werk that hallway like the runway!
Werk that hallway like the runway!
A lyrics video accompanied; a full-fledged music video is currently in production.
Throughout the weekend, "Skin, Base, Werk That Face" played over the loudspeaker on repeat. Once, when stalling for time, Tyra Beauty executives sang it on stage. It's been over a month since Fierce Up, and when I apply makeup in the mornings, it still loops in my head.
For Beautytainers, it's Tyra's siren song. Tyra tells a story, and then she tells it again, and then she sets the tale to music and sculpts it up, lights it up, lashes it up, boo. Tyra wants her Beautytainers to believe they can take control of their lives, just like she did hers. Beautytainers have to tell their own story, and to make any money, they've got to do it over and over and over again, just like Tyra. But not everyone can be Tyra. In fact, hardly anyone can.