"It’s not the system that’s broken—you’re just not trying hard enough."
August 8, 2017 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Joining a MLM is appealing to women who find hope in their promises of a better life: freedom, economic independence, and an endless supply of cheery trinkets. Despite professing quick-income prospects though, it’s difficult for MLM consultants to earn more than pocket change. When glitzy recruitment videos yield to the reality of suburban cul-de-sacs, people selling for MLMs can be plunged into debt and psychological crisis.

“I was urged to stop paying my bills to invest in more inventory. I was urged to get rid of television. I was urged to pawn my vehicle. I just had to get on anxiety meds over all of it because I’ve started having panic attacks.” [sl article]
posted by Elly Vortex (95 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
The upfront investment for LuLaRoe is just outrageous- $4-6k; I can't imagine there are too many other MLMs with a buy-in that high. I'm in online circles that got pretty heavily in LLR about a year ago (don't ask me how many pair I have, I was weak), and I worry about the women I know who got into it who probably can't really afford to write off their loss and shut it down. It makes me feel dirty for ever liking the stuff.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:24 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


Holy peanuts, those leggings put the ug in ugly. And I'm a person who likes patterns and bright colors.

I actually RTFA yesterday, and found it thought-provoking (and sad), so thank you, Elly Vortex, for making an FPP with it.
As economic opportunity has become more concentrated in urban areas in the US, rural communities have fallen behind. Residents of towns like Casper (Wyoming), Spring Creek (Nevada), and DeRidder (Louisiana) all missed out on economic recovery following the 2007 global financial crisis. Bootstrapping, hard-working families in these regions are urgently searching for a way to regain their economic liberty, along with their dignity.
Most of the people I've known who have turned to MLM's (and I'm an Old, so I remember when it was mostly Mary Kay and Tupperware and such) did so because they didn't have many other options. No education beyond high school, and/or few marketable skills, and/or the kind of disability that fluctuates from day to day and makes scheduling hard. A few were the stereotypical mom with kids who wanted to earn a little extra, but most people turned to MLM's as a last resort.

I've noticed that MLM's have exploded in popularity and variety since the Great Recession (my god all the jewelry, essential oils, and "nutritional" shakes!) and I think this is because most of the economic recovery has been confined to a select few cities. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, or Seattle, or Houston, or Boston, there are plenty of jobs. But if you live in Casper, what are you going to do?

Another thing that I've observed is that MLM's seem to give people community, albeit an exploitative one. I think hungering for community is a part of the MLM appeal. MLM's are cults in a way, and cults prey on the lonely and isolated, which more of us are. Again, in urban or prosperous suburban areas, there are more options than in a smaller, more homogenous, city or town.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:39 AM on August 8 [46 favorites]


In 2009, when the economy was in the shitter and I was desperate, I tried Avon. However, I'm totally not cut out for sales and it very quickly became just me buying random things for myself, and I realized that it simply wasn't going to be a money-making thing for me, since the income was nowhere near matching the payout I was taking to try to "stay in stock."

Still, I think I got a bit of a discount on my initial order to "get started" rather than being forced to buy $4K of merchandise right out of the gate. that's ridiculous.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:41 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


How about how much is the buy-in for Avon, do you remember? I have other friends who have started selling Lipsense, another beauty MLM, and the buy-in is only $50.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:43 AM on August 8


....$50 sounds about right. But this was nearly 10 years ago and I can't be certain.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:45 AM on August 8


The Herbalife documentary Betting on Zero is pretty good, too. Doesn't look like these are going away, especially with multiple members of this admin including POTUS involved with MLMs.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:49 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


I feel like so many of these companies prey on the fact that women are socialized to support others and make other people feel better. Ugh, the "jewelry parties" I've been to where everyone is vaguely embarrassed to be there but of course you feel like you have to buy something.
posted by lalex at 11:00 AM on August 8 [17 favorites]


Women in my mom's groups on Facebook seem to be falling in to the Rodan and Fields MLM constantly. Even in a huge city with tons of job opportunities. I think it is the appeal of working from home and working flexibly, and the interaction it gives otherwise somewhat isolated new mothers. I hope they aren't getting taken for too much of a ride because it is sad to see people trying so hard and reaching for something that will never reward them financially.
posted by rmless at 11:03 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Ugh, the "jewelry parties" I've been to where everyone is vaguely embarrassed to be there but of course you feel like you have to buy something.

Or, when someone in your office gets involved in an MLM of some sort. It's even worse if it's a small office. There's nowhere to run.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:03 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


I don't have a wide social circle, yet I've received four invitations to purchasing "parties" just today, all from other mothers of young children in my area. We're in rural Appalachia and there are precious few employment opportunities and a severe shortage of childcare (2-3 year waiting lists) even for those mothers who would prefer to return to work out of professional ambition and/or economic necessity, so MLM's are absolutely rampant.

MLMs exploit every community-minded impulse of moms to socialize, help each other, and support each other's ambitions, but they don't produce actual community, just ugly leggings, woo-riffic essential oils, and debt.

It makes me want to host a Smash the Patriarchy party. Buy-in cost is bringing one bottle of cheap wine to my house. You get a stack of voter registration cards, a promise to babysit for each other on short notice, and marching orders to recruit ten other women. (The party part is just drunk-dialing our representatives and collectively yelling, "Where the fuck is the subsidized childcare?" into the receiver.)
posted by xylothek at 11:06 AM on August 8 [246 favorites]


In the onboarding package, new recruits don’t get to choose the size or style of their items. For example, Sophie knew plus sizes would sell best for her, but her initial package contained five XXS dresses and several long-sleeved shirts that were a tough sell for a Texas retailer in June.

After that package, consultants can start choosing styles and sizes for their next orders, but they never get to choose the patterns they’re delivered.


Wait, what? That's absolutely insane, and I think makes it pretty clear that the company's not at all concerned with people having success selling the products.
posted by damayanti at 11:09 AM on August 8 [16 favorites]


Just found a breakdown of the Rodan + Fields program which looks depressing. They compare it to how much (more) you'd earn taking a minimum wage job, but I think that gets at the crux of why women are taken in by these schemes: taking a job out of the house means commuting costs, childcare or eldercare costs, etc. MLMs seem like an option for those that can't participate in minimum wage employment.
posted by rmless at 11:12 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


Lularoe, like a lot of these companies, uses artificial scarcity as a marketing device. You must buy now!
posted by lalex at 11:12 AM on August 8 [4 favorites]


I hate MLMs with a passion.

It is, however, hard not to notice that the basic attitude of some of the people described here--that the system is fine, it's just that you're not working hard enough; if you only worked hard enough, if you were only virtuous enough, you'd be able to make it--is the same middle-class attitude that has been weaponized against the poor for literally centuries now. These families are "bootstrapping and hardworking," not like those lazy takers who accept some forms of government aid, even if the judgment of the economy on the value of their labor has been remarkably similar. This attitude has been the basis of the major assaults on the social safety net of the last forty years, at least. There is a certain element of just-world believers being hoist on their own petard here.

However, please, please don't get me wrong, I'd still rather nobody was on the petard. I just wince when I see an article like this which, at least to some degree, valorizes that attitude without considering the flip side of it-- or at least the flip side that affects people beyond the sellers themselves.
posted by praemunire at 11:13 AM on August 8 [34 favorites]


Not buying a pair of leggings can be read as being unsupportive of your friends—or not chipping in for a local kid’s chemotherapy. It’s a genius manipulation of rural and suburban American societal norms.

THIS THIS THIS

I had to work weeks to convince my mom, who lives in one of those rural areas, not to get involved in a MLM because she would essentially end up selling to her friends and small community, who were all in the exact same kind of desperate economic situation she was. Aside from that first - and cheap - purchase "to support your friend" there wasn't going to be any kind of market in a normal situation, let alone a pyramid scheme. But she thought it would work because - aha! - she had bought from *her* friends during their ventures in the past. She was already being preyed upon without even joining any of those schemes in the first place. Because you can't say no. Because you have to be supportive. It's predatory even on those who haven't signed up for it, and in this case, predatory on those who could least afford it (like so many other schemes). And it not only takes advantage of the goodwill and community of women, which helps us, you know, survive as women, by doing so it can create discord, mistrust, and manipulation in something we've created to help ourselves and each other. It makes me so angry.
posted by barchan at 11:13 AM on August 8 [45 favorites]


Yea, these things are bad and, hell, I even feel bad/guilty because (even before I read the article) I noticed and knew that it was only folks a notch or two down on the lucky-life-scale (heavy basis on SES of course) that resorted to them and by ignoring their sales/offers, not even getting into the whole looking down my nose at the whole idea.

Blergh. Such a fucked up thing that, literally, fails the people who buy into it 99% of the time. Might as well just go play the lotto at that point. Fuck that's depressing.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:15 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


A small-business-owner's group locally which I attended with a friend turned out to be about 75% people selling MLM products. Don't discount the boost in status one can get in middle-class America by calling oneself an entrepreneur or business owner over telling everyone you work at Target, even though you'd make much more as a straight hourly wage employee.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:26 AM on August 8 [25 favorites]


I know at least two relatively close friends, and about 4 more acquaintances who have gotten into one of these things. My roomie, who is a life-long friend of one of them, routinely complains about how she is obligated to buy whenever she has to go to a party. There's a special circle of hell for people who hijack pro-social impulses for a scam.
posted by codacorolla at 11:27 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


Ugh. I hate LLR so much, and this article was so depressing, and ugh, ugh, ugh.

The women I know selling LLR are doing it as a side gig, but there's still this sales-y air of desperation around everything they post. It's the same with the one person I know on Facebook who's a Beachbody coach. I really should just hide her posts, but I can't stop myself from peeking, just to see what's going on in that part of the world.

(I don't think I am better than any of these people, at all - I just find the mentality of MLM participants weirdly fascinating because it is so far outside my comfort zone.)
posted by minsies at 11:28 AM on August 8


Most of my women acquaintances work full time at professional jobs, and I have had a couple of people I know add on selling Nerium or Rodan + Fields to their regular job as a project manager or whatever, and start pushing it on Facebook all the time. One I literally stopped being friend-ish with because I could not handle the constant #lovelife #supportwomen #totalbullshit all the time. She actually quit her six-figure day job to push Nerium alongside running a more traditional small business. The other is a friend from college who is a practicing attorney. I just do not get the appeal.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:28 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I'm trying to remember the novel in which I read a description comparing someone to a small child quite grimly and without pleasure playacting working at a job. MLMs are like the modern version of this--a toy version of actual participation in the economy--only you get charged an arm and a leg for the pleasure of the playacting.
posted by praemunire at 11:32 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


I won't buy from these and I've lost friends over it. Most of the women I know who get involved in this are not economically desperate, they just don't want to go back to work. I'm not judging them, most of my friends had a couple kids in short succession at an older age, I'm sure they are exhausted. Also being a stay at home mom is a huge status symbol now, it says "we are wealthy enough I don't need to work" and you will be the envy of all your friends. The trick is convincing the other half of the partnership that is true. So the women need to try and convince them they will still earn money and they can't all be mommy bloggers or raise free range chickens or whatever bullshit their Facebook moms group tells them they can do to convince their husbands they don't need to work anymore.

We do have a couple friends who are able to stay home comfortably but, without exception, they married young and they and their husband worked hard for a decade or more before having kids to be able to do that. And their husbands are totally onboard with it. Some are in high paying jobs, some moved to low COL areas. Once couple I know is working hard now when their kids are young with the expectation one of them will stay home when they are teens and need more watching anyway.
posted by fshgrl at 11:37 AM on August 8 [20 favorites]


Or, when someone in your office gets involved in an MLM of some sort. It's even worse if it's a small office. There's nowhere to run.

I can relate to this. A woman at our old office ended up alienating all of her work-friends because of her relentless pushing of Candle-related products.

I'll be polite and look at your brochure and sniff the little sample thing you place directly in my hand. I'm not a monster, I can pretend. But when I say, “No thank you, I'm not really interested.” Do not continue to talk and "sell" me your product for the next 7 hour work shift.
posted by Fizz at 11:40 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


It is amazing that the MLM/Amway/Tupperware/Whatever train is still rolling along even though it should at this point be DNA-level memory that such arrangements are terrible.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:42 AM on August 8 [26 favorites]


Several years ago the "Women's Gifting Circle" thing was going around my community. It managed to simultaneously exploit the social pressure in the community for women to be supportive of each other, while also fitting perfectly into the "power of intention" and "law of attraction" spiritual beliefs that are endemic. Several women who were pretty desperate got caught in the middle of it before it fizzled out and were left in even worse situations than before.
posted by WaylandSmith at 11:42 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I just got offered a 10% off coupon to one woman's LuLaRoe store after her son made a disastrous mess at the activity station I was running at a local festival. I'm always prepared for kids to make a mess, but he wasn't even doing the activity, just wasting supplies. The whole time he was at the table she had been (ineffectively) telling him to "Staaaahp! No, don't doooo that . . ." and when they finally got ready to go she offered me the card as an apology along with a sales pitch. I won't lie, it kind of made me wonder if she let him get away with it for so long so she'd have a reason to give me the card.
posted by Mouse Army at 11:52 AM on August 8 [21 favorites]


Many years ago my dentist got involved in some water filter MLM thing and would be pitching while he was drilling on my teeth.

I found a new dentist.

How does somebody making hundreds per hour decide MLM is worth his time? He undoubtably would make more just seeing one more patient per day. Maybe it is the whole glorification of the entrepreneur thing we do in the US.
posted by COD at 11:52 AM on August 8 [11 favorites]


Oh wow, I cannot imagine seeing someone in a professional context—dentist, etc—and having them pitch me a MLM during the appointment. That is ridiculous.
posted by defenestration at 11:55 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


I'm still not down with '70s aesthetics, but the co-ops my mother and her part-time-working mother friends ran were better than this. Even though one of her friends really didn't like some popular foods and kept insisting that everyone pray for guidance on whether they really needed bulgar.
posted by clew at 12:08 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


minsies: I really should just hide her posts, but I can't stop myself from peeking, just to see what's going on in that part of the world.

I have a neighbor in a skincare MLM that does that all the time on my FB feed. It's fun to click on the name of each person chiming in on the "amazing results backed by science!!!1!"posts and see they'll all in on the MLM, without fail.
posted by dr_dank at 12:09 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


Many years ago my dentist got involved in some water filter MLM thing and would be pitching while he was drilling on my teeth.

Jeez, talk about a captive audience...

I watched a colleague drift off into the MLM world some years back. She fell for it hard. Her entire facebook feed turned into a solid uninterrupted wall of yelly positivity, Think the scam was called Empower Network or some such. We weren't friends or anything but she was nice and it was sad watching this happen. I dug around out of curiosity and I could never even figure out what the actual "product" was. Just vague references to marketing, blogging, yadda yadda.

They were definitely targeting women almost exclusively and from her FB feed it seemed like she was constantly going to meetings and events resulting in endless ultra-happy group pictures with over the top wide-eyed screamy smiles and millions of hashtags pushing optimism and positivity at an intensity level sufficient to induce headaches and eyestrain within minutes.

She eventually left the company and a reasonably well-paid job. I don't know if she ended up elsewhere or tried to live entirely of this nonsense.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:11 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


a promise to babysit for each other on short notice,

My mother helped run a childcare co-op when my brother and I were kids that, last I heard, was still operating some 20+ years later.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:11 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


. Once couple I know is working hard now when their kids are young with the expectation one of them will stay home when they are teens and need more watching anyway.

I'm a childless scrooge, but I'm pretty sure that's not how kids work.
posted by pwnguin at 12:12 PM on August 8 [36 favorites]


My parents' church's food coop wasn't any kind of scam at all. Just a bunch of religious hippies buying in bulk carob chips because we were boycotting Nestle, lentils because they were God's protein, etc.

I found the quote: "[P]eople went about their grief as seriously as small children will sometimes play quite grimly and without pleasure in make-believe offices and stores." It's (*sigh*) from The Secret History.
posted by praemunire at 12:16 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


I bet if we had Scandinavian childcare policies and stores that sold a wider-variety of plus sized clothing, Lu La Roe would not be nearly as big a thing.
posted by mrmurbles at 12:28 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


My mother helped run a childcare co-op when my brother and I were kids that, last I heard, was still operating some 20+ years later.

Some of my mothers' closest friends were in the child care co-op that she helped found when my brother was in preschool. Even when he and I were in high school, those were the women that all had the annual cookie exchange every December.

Speaking of women supporting each other...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:31 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


The way that the MLM lobby torpedoed legislation around warning potential members about the risks is just chilling. Jesus christ.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:35 PM on August 8 [18 favorites]


I hate MLMs, and I refuse to buy from MLMs, but I do have 3-4 Lularoe skirts that I bought off eBay. You know why? Because I couldn't find stretchy plus-size pencil skirts anywhere else, and I took a chance that the LLR one might work, and it did.

LLR blew up huge because they make stretchy, comfortable clothes that are size-positive. They don't look like sweats even though you can totally wear them while crawling across the floor after your toddler. I just want to be able to throw on some clothes that I don't have to yank back into place every time I stand up or pick up my kid. But I'm plus sized in a small town. My options are limited to big box and chain stores that sell plus-size clothes for teens and old ladies. Other clothes stores in my town don't sell plus sizes. I have a limited amount of time and shopping online means taking risks with sizing and quality, reading a lot of reviews, and dealing with the hassle of returns. That might be worth it for work clothes, but why do I have to go through all of that for clothes that I want to throw on to run errands on the weekend? I can see where the gap in the market allowed LLR to explode over the last 18 months.

I'm still not buying directly from LLR (at least, I've rationalized it that way in my mind), and I still don't want to support MLMs. But I could see where I might reconsider that ban if an MLM popped up with the goal of selling me quality bras in a large cup size. Something I could try on without leaving the state, or buy without ordering from the UK? That's another gap in the market right there, and if an MLM was the way I could get what I wanted, I might reconsider my anti-MLM stance.
posted by aabbbiee at 12:49 PM on August 8 [10 favorites]


The heartbreaking thing has been seeing MLM schemes take off among my Somali refugee neighbors. Here are people who have close to no resources, who are discriminated against in every possible way (for being refugees, black, and Muslim all at once), and these companies are preying on them. They have no shame.
posted by miyabo at 1:02 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


I posted this and then ran off! Life gets in the way.

What struck me most about this article was how female-focused and rural MLMs have become. I lived in Wyoming back in the early 2000s, and it seemed like everybody had a MLM side gig. I was new in town and didn't know anybody, so I went to these "parties" as invited. I remember being at the first one and, after the fun makeovers and chatter, we were each given numbers (like you get at the DMV) for the order in which we'd talk privately with the party-giver to purchase our products. I was making $7 an hour. I bought some face lotion anyway because...what was I supposed to do? I liked these women. I wanted to be their friends. I'd just had a makeover at her house and it was fun...I should buy something, right?

Years later, when I was managing a staff in a rural area, I forbade my staff from bringing any sales stuff into the building. Everyone thought I was a fucking SCROOGE for doing it but I didn't care. I hate MLMs, I hate that they prey on women, I hate that it's presented as entrepreneurship when it's really indentured servitude, I hate that when my friends hold "parties" I suddenly don't know if they like me as a person or if they see me as a potential sale, I hate that we live in a society where MLMs are seen as the ticket to freedom when 99% of "entrepreneurs" are in debt to their MLM but still have to put on a big fake smile and pretend that everything is going great because they can't break free without losing all their money. Fuck the whole system.
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:19 PM on August 8 [58 favorites]


It's the same with the one person I know on Facebook who's a Beachbody coach.

Oh god, I have one of these. She's a friend of mine from grad school who used to be really, really cool and fun and smart and interesting. Then Beachbody ate her brain and every single goddamned Facebook post of hers now is an Instagram-filter-and-hashtag-ridden monstrosity touting the benefits of Shakeology and trying to sign people up for the scam.

She recently got pregnant, and it was the only time in my life I'd actually desperately hoped for the usual "Here's the ultrasound--only two months to go!" posts to start....but nope. It's all about the benefits of her expensive-ass shake mix for the developing baby.

It's both sad and infuriating.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:31 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


I'm a childless scrooge, but I'm pretty sure that's not how kids work.

Around here it sure as hell is. Not too many toddlers getting into meth and online prostitution at daycare but if you don't watch your older kids like a goddamn hawk that's what they'll be doing.
posted by fshgrl at 1:38 PM on August 8 [13 favorites]


I saw a really cool movie about an MLM / Ponzi scheme in a middle class suburb in the Philippines. It dramatized a lot of the same mix of desperation and neighborly social pressures. Worth watching if you can. Honor Thy Father.
posted by grobstein at 1:53 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I worked in a copy shop until recently, and printed many a flyer for MLMs. My personal favorite was one of them (might have been Nerium, but I'm not 100% on that) where the consultants kept bringing us physical business cards they wanted to duplicate. When I asked if we could get a digital file instead of scanning a beat-up paper card, one told me that the company did not make the business card design available - you had to order them through the company as well. Total nonsense, but I was in an economically-depressed town and people seemed desperate.
posted by Kortney at 1:57 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I was once roped into going to a MLM a friend had for selling candles. I bought some for my SO, to support the friend, but as I said to my SO, I would have just rather handed my friend $20.

Get rid of MLMs. Bring back Rent Parties. They're more honest, more fun, and people get more out of them than some mass-market junk.
posted by fings at 2:26 PM on August 8 [23 favorites]


I'm fascinated by soap operas, and keep an eye on Genetal Hospital actors. A surprising number sell products like this and one of the leads is a beach body coach
posted by armacy at 2:37 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I briefly worked with a woman who sold women's clothing from Weekenders, Inc. The stuff actually wasn't too bad, but every single person I talked to looked at it and said "that markup is way too high for this mediocre brand." They went belly-up a few years ago since people weren't falling for it anymore, with the CEO writing everyone a self-absorbed farewell letter along the lines of "I'm going to be ok, don't worry!"

The idea of directly selling a product during parties to make extra money, and to bond with your friends and neighbors, is not an intrinsically bad one. It's that the high markup is very obvious in compared to the value of the items; and that the companies soak the women; and that people are pressured to sell and pressured to buy frivolous things that they don't need; these things make it all a pretty shitty experience. Bummer, because in the 1920s or so it probably worked out well for everyone as a consumer experience.
posted by Melismata at 2:38 PM on August 8


I watched a colleague drift off into the MLM world some years back. She fell for it hard. Her entire facebook feed turned into a solid uninterrupted wall of yelly positivity, Think the scam was called Empower Network or some such. We weren't friends or anything but she was nice and it was sad watching this happen. I dug around out of curiosity and I could never even figure out what the actual "product" was. Just vague references to marketing, blogging, yadda yadda.

They were definitely targeting women almost exclusively and from her FB feed it seemed like she was constantly going to meetings and events resulting in endless ultra-happy group pictures with over the top wide-eyed screamy smiles and millions of hashtags pushing optimism and positivity at an intensity level sufficient to induce headaches and eyestrain within minutes.


I have an acquaintance from way back who is a Beachbody coach. Her Facebook feed is all about Shakeology and how she felt like she lost herself after having 2 kids and being a stay-at-home mom, and her struggles with anxiety, and how much Beachbody has helped her. Even her non-MLM posts are the kind of relentlessly-positive, desperate-for-participation (My son is such a picky eater!! It's crazy!! What foods did you refuse to eat as a kid?), sell-sell-sell messages that just make all my arm hairs stand on end.

I am really glad that she found an exercise and diet program that is helping her manage her anxiety but geeeeeeez. This girl was quirky and off-the-wall when she was 16 and I was 14, and man, I wanted to BE her when I grew up. This is the girl who giggled with me over finding out the meaning of the word "fellatio" and who stole extra straws from the Wendy's so we could stick them up our noses and pretend we were walruses during the youth group picture. This is the girl who traveled to Zimbabwe, twice! We've fallen out of regular touch so I obviously don't know how her personal life really is, but from her Facebook feed it seems that her world has smallened to this MLM and it makes me very sad.
posted by chainsofreedom at 2:49 PM on August 8 [12 favorites]


In my social network, here are the women (all women) who are currently into various MLMs: a fellow architecture Masters grad who has two young children, who lives in Canada and has been afforded one year of leave for each child but has otherwise been quite gainfully employed in the field of architecture (cosmetics); a highly successful and visible female real estate developer with two kids (cosmetics); a mom of three who was in admin work and moved to be nearer family but is employed as is her partner (essential oils); a single lady who has been seemingly free-spiritedly moving around post-divorce (essential oils); a military spouse with one young kid (essential oils). I also over the last fifteen years have seen friends and family move through Pampered Chef, various supplement systems, candle sales, lingerie and adult toy sales, jewelry. Oh, and goddamn LLR and Beachbody.

It really has surprised me how far across the class and education and opportunity spectrum I'm finding this. You'll find me audibly gasping when I see that another person in my extended circle has fallen prey. I'm ready to join xylothek's Smash the Patriarchy pyramid because this is all bullshit. Does this exist in other countries? Or is this another special American disease?
posted by amanda at 3:29 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


I was also a part of a local small-business women's networking group for a brief period of time but the folks who flocked to it hardest were women in MLM schemes. It fell apart because you can't have a whole group of those people "networking" and expect to get anything out of it.
posted by amanda at 3:40 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


I have lived in Utah most of my life so I've seen lots of MLM. I've been pitched by a dentist too! Although it wasn't as bad as the dentist that tried to convert me to Mormonism while drilling a tooth.

The worst thing, speaking as a business owner, is running into people who say "Really? I also run a small business. Let's talk about it!" and then their small business turns out to be Herbalife. Sorry, just because you have $1500 worth of overpriced vitamins in your garage doesn't make you an entrepreneur.

Similarly, I organized and attended a few events for small businesses and entrepreneurs... guess who showed up and made 80% of the attendance.
posted by mmoncur at 3:43 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


Oh wow, I cannot imagine seeing someone in a professional context—dentist, etc—and having them pitch me a MLM during the appointment. That is ridiculous.

There was an AskMe about someone's therapist doing this, a couple of months ago, but maybe that was time-share condos, not Shakeology or clothes or whatever.
posted by thelonius at 3:50 PM on August 8


In my social network, here are the women (all women) who are currently into various MLMs: a fellow architecture Masters grad who has two young children, who lives in Canada and has been afforded one year of leave for each child but has otherwise been quite gainfully employed in the field of architecture (cosmetics); a highly successful and visible female real estate developer with two kids (cosmetics); a mom of three who was in admin work and moved to be nearer family but is employed as is her partner (essential oils); a single lady who has been seemingly free-spiritedly moving around post-divorce (essential oils); a military spouse with one young kid (essential oils).

I assume that anyone doing one of these has finances that are actually considerably more financially precarious than she lets on. E.g., a highly successful real estate developer would do much better putting her time into that business than squeezing a few pennies of margin out of these products. (Perhaps she has problems with cyclical income, as her work is presumably project-based...nonetheless, problems.) It's pretty much up there with calling yourself a coach or consultant as an indication that you got hit by economic changes and haven't been able to find a stable long-term solution.
posted by praemunire at 4:01 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


I'm happy I don't have to see this all over my Facebook feed but I also don't have any friends who have $4k laying around for start-up costs. I get that these companies are shady and exploitative but I have a hard time feeling too badly for people who are unable to google "is $company a scam"
posted by AFABulous at 4:42 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Selling good products to people who really *need* them makes sense. My question to the pitchers is this: If you've got a really great product, why can't you sell it directly? Or, why can't you teach people how to get these things wholesale themselves, and then get out of the way?

Much of the MLM I've seen since day one has been a scheme to get people to monetize their relationships with friends and family. The promises and the pressure are part of the predation.

IF much of the market for these tactics is women ... the reason for that seems obvious. To the extent that our culture is any more predatory then it was 100-150 years ago ... that may be because the robber barons have run out of landscape to strip, and turned to (most awful of all phrases) 'human resources'.

Beware these MF's. Beware, beware.
posted by Twang at 5:07 PM on August 8 [9 favorites]


I made a personal policy 10 years ago not to participate in MLMs and told my friends...at the time they were into pampered chef. It was awkward and then it wasn't.

I'm a childless scrooge, but I'm pretty sure that's not how kids work.

It kind of is actually...my kids have had really good daycare but now my oldest comes home on his own and even with my MIL living with us there have been a lot of situations already that require a parent, like - I stopped at a friend's house and his brother was drunk, I ripped my clothes at school and am never going back, my friend stole from the corner store.

I'm thinking of downsizing my career, but not for a MLM.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:22 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


My mom had a friend who was her Avon lady at a time when that made sense (the 70s-80s); you didn't leave the house without full makeup, you didn't want to pay department store prices, so you got stuff you trusted/could try out from someone you knew. But her friend worked all the time, traveled a lot, was always selling, because that was the only way to make money. And I still wouldn't call her rich. Later my mom tried a few MLM schemes but they always turned out to be a bad deal and so she dropped them; a "what season are you" makeup that she would sell after telling you you were a Spring, Autumn or whatever; Amway (ugh); vitamins, I think; and maybe one other. None of them ever turned into anything good.

Later my sister got into selling cruises, and kept trying to get me and my husband, both of us making pitiful wages at that time and in our 20s (so: not really into cruises aimed at old people and families), to buy one of her "deals." I started avoiding her.

Pernicious bullshit, all of it. Burn it down.
posted by emjaybee at 5:26 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


There's also the fact that some of these MLM's are lowkey religious recruitment centers. American-style prosperity gospel. And from there, political and social conservatism. The whole thing becomes a self-reinforcing cesspool.
posted by xigxag at 5:45 PM on August 8 [12 favorites]


My late sibling had exactly the kind of personality that is very susceptible to this sort of thing - it never quite worked out, despite her near-evangelical fervor and tremendous energy and verve. I remember she did the water-filter sales thing, and the giant horse pill vitamin thing (that you have to keep in the freezer because otherwise the stink would permeate your house.)

I saw literature for an "essential oils" MLM amongst the papers I went through after her death. It made me sad.

Oh also, things that people have tried to sell me via social media - overpriced skincare, "waist trainers", kitchenware, costume jewelry, NAIL STICKERS for pete's sake, candles, and yes, ugly print leggings. Noooo thank you.
posted by 41swans at 5:52 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


In my social network, here are the women (all women) who are currently into various MLMs: a fellow architecture Masters grad who has two young children, who lives in Canada and has been afforded one year of leave for each child but has otherwise been quite gainfully employed in the field of architecture (cosmetics); a highly successful and visible female real estate developer with two kids (cosmetics); a mom of three who was in admin work and moved to be nearer family but is employed as is her partner (essential oils); a single lady who has been seemingly free-spiritedly moving around post-divorce (essential oils); a military spouse with one young kid (essential oils).

*pondering slowly* When I read about women like this who are into schemes like this, I've really started to wonder if the impetus is a very one-sided share of all the emotional and physical labor of running a home and raising children - if these women are unable to do "do it all" and unable to get their husbands to pitch in to do their fair share, and in desperation they think that by running these businesses they'll either be able to claim some control and "empowerment" over their lives or be able to have the time/hours available they need to run their households and yet still be "successful" business women. Or in some cases perhaps it's a reaction to the grinding down of their spirits by ever-present & exhausting sexism and patriarchy at work. Or both! Either way, it could explain why the "empowerment" angle draws and captures so many women.
posted by barchan at 6:02 PM on August 8 [16 favorites]


These companies are terrible but the women who participate in the MLMs are usually, in my experience, better off financially and much more socially connected than the women they're trying to sell to, not less. So I feel bad, but not tooo bad...they're still profiting (or trying to) at the expense of people lower down on the food chain.
posted by eeek at 6:08 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


xylothek I would drive like 8 hours for that party.
posted by allthinky at 6:29 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


It feels like half the girls I went to college with (we are all now late 30s) are hawking *something* on facebook, and it drives me crazy. Like, I want to stay connected to see what they are up to, but it has morphed my timeline into nothing but live videos and ads for shit that I don't want to buy.
posted by tryniti at 6:43 PM on August 8


Why the live videos, anyway? I don't understand them at all. It's not as if someone's going to go back and watch them later, especially when half the video is taken up with the presenter checking her phone so she can respond to messages. They're just a weird echo chamber and they make me so uncomfortable, even when I just see them in passing.

(Also, card readings - pick a card to set your intention for the day, etc. There is so much strange overlap.)
posted by minsies at 6:57 PM on August 8


...if these women are unable to do "do it all" and unable to get their husbands to pitch in to do their fair share, and in desperation they think that by running these businesses they'll either be able to claim some control and "empowerment" over their lives or be able to have the time/hours available they need to run their households and yet still be "successful" business women.

I see so many factors at play. For one, starting a business is exhilarating. Having ideas and going, "I could sell that!" and then brainstorming all the ways to make it happen is so much fun. Of course, actually building a business that is profitable can be hard work and not without a strong dose of luck.

Let's talk about "luck." Women don't get a whole lot of luck thrown their way. The way men and women spend their money is so different. For a woman to literally invest in her own business is a major risk because she has less earning power and generally fewer resources to draw on. If men won't lend or give her money then she probably won't get any. Additionally, trying to make money and build a business in the world of men as a woman is another tough row to hoe. Better to take some of your own savings, throw it into this big, juicy idea and then entice your female friends for tiny bits of the spare money that they are "allowed" to spend – on cosmetics, clothing, kitchen stuff, "beach bodies," and lingerie.

Increasingly, men expect their wives to work. While the working world (in America) has not caught up to the fact that women are working and doesn't really give a shit how hard it is, women are the ones that need to "balance" all that. And it doesn't work. At all. You have highly educated women who are either staying at home with excess energy to burn or they are under employed because so many people are underemployed. Most women themselves, I found, don't actually have the expectation that they can "have it all" but the world certainly seems to expect them to do it all regardless of what women want or have the resources to do.

Anyway, I'm so glad someone is profiting off of all that.
posted by amanda at 7:23 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


I still kind of want to go to a sex toy party, though. Have yet to get invited to one of those.
posted by emjaybee at 7:33 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


The hook with MLM is that to enroll enough people and you'll start making passive income. That's what these women are shooting for: passive income that lets them buy all the things they couldn't afford.

Women can have mid life crises too.
posted by fshgrl at 7:44 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


I've thought that at least some of the people joining are treating it like buying a lottery ticket -- the odds are terrible, but with so few options, why not try something that has a (very, very small) chance of completely transforming your life?

But like casinos, the multi level marketing operations take advantage of people who are vulnerable. It's extractive, and leaves a real trail of harm. I wish we did a much better job of regulating the industry, but obviously that is not the directing things are going.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:45 PM on August 8


Sigh. My cousin is into two of these, the lipsense people and the nail sticker people (jam berry?) I know she is desperate for money. She's on disability and her boyfriend had to stop working to be her home care. I get that she's willing to try anything. But it burns me that she only ever contacts me (outside of Facebook) when she needs money.

She contacted me yesterday and was pitching her makeup. Fine. I'll buy some bloody lip sense and help you out and at least get some lipstick out of it. I bought over $100 of this stuff (I know) and then she still had the audacity to ask me for money.

I better get my bloody lip sense after all this or I'm gonna have to cut her off.
posted by aclevername at 7:47 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Last year I was given a work-issued mobile phone, the number for which used to belong to a woman in Indiana. I know this because I still receive calls and messages for her throughout the day every single day, almost all of which are for MLM schemes. They Will. Not. Stop.

I really hope she ditched the number to get a fresh start—and that she was able to do so.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:25 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


There's also the fact that some of these MLM's are lowkey religious recruitment centers. American-style prosperity gospel. And from there, political and social conservatism. The whole thing becomes a self-reinforcing cesspool.

I wonder if this is a large portion of the 53% of white women who voted for you-know-who.
posted by girlmightlive at 8:43 PM on August 8 [7 favorites]


Back in the day, when I was fresh out of college and only maybe half of my friends even had jobs, and that was starter-wage jobs mind you, one if my relatives kept telling me that I *really should* start selling those decorative baskets that were like $100 for a wicker basket and some ribbon. I was like *blink blink* who do you think I'm going to sell these to?

Re the sex toy parties - I got invited to one of these, within the last couple of years. It was from a gal at work. My husband and I work for the same small (multi-office) agency where everyone knows each other. I was like "hard pass" and she had the nerve to get offended. She still doesn't talk to me. Not a big loss as it turns out.

If you want to be a "successful entrepreneur" at least be able to read your audience.
posted by vignettist at 8:51 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


One of the family started selling for one of those sex toy parties and I got an invite. I turned it down - not because I don't want the product or dislike it, but there's nothing that I'd like to share less with my in-laws than a dildo and lube order.

Awkward.
posted by ninazer0 at 9:01 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


The sex toy party. I've been to two of those parties. You can walk into your local sex toy shop and find better, cheaper product. The product wasn't bad at the parties but it was way overpriced.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 9:18 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


One of the things that annoyed me about both sex toy parties was that the hostesses were counting on people not being familiar with what products were on the market or quality. Just another way they are exploiting people. I found it surprising because there are sex toys all over the internet.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 9:24 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Either way, it could explain why the "empowerment" angle draws and captures so many women.

Absolutely. I've seen multiple women, instructed to take (only, sole) care of the house and children in very conservative Christian households, get involved in these because they're stifled and it's an allowed job. Not that this is a major or sole reason en total - the economic desperation is huge, but these are women who are doing relatively well. It's not so much the new money as an unmet need for a career. Like Serena Joy and her knitting and elaborate flower garden.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 10:13 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


I have a friend who does like 5 of these MLMs, but is pretty "bad" at it, she seems pretty passive about selling and doesn't shill on FB or seem to host parties or anything.

The one thing she does do at set intervals is share posts that complain about "you will spend hundreds of dollars at Walmart which support evil capitalist scum, but won't spend money to support your friend's small business". Hahahaha yeah no , because your small businesses are predatory pyramid schemes which are way worse. Sorrynotsorry.
posted by Fig at 3:28 AM on August 9 [5 favorites]


A friend in France recently started with an MLM (cosmetics) no asked my opinion




Sigh


She has very little interest in cosmetics and can be quite an introvert...so I told her about the experience with my 'yummy mummy' neighbour who has only ever invited me into her house when she starts a new MLM, kitchen stuff and skincare....

(That point upthread about the status symbolism of the stay at home MOM ++++++!!)

I bought some kitchen stuff and said no to the really expensive MONTHLY skin care regime scam....

I really worry for my Parisian friend & think she should get out fast.

Thanks so much for posting this as I can send her the link
posted by Wilder at 4:26 AM on August 9




Overpriced skincare, "waist trainers", kitchenware, costume jewelry, NAIL STICKERS for pete's sake, candles, and yes, ugly print leggings. Noooo thank you.

JAMBERRY. Oh my god. So I make indie nail polish as a sideline/hobby, and it's a pretty nice successful little sideline/hobby. A couple years ago, I couldn't make a promotional post to my business's instagram/FB page without one of the first comments being 'Oh that's cool! But you should check out Jamberry - it's so much easier! :D :D :D'

I swear I banned/deleted several of these people/comments a week, for an entire year. I haven't had people trying to shill this stuff on my pages lately, so I'm guessing people gave up on that particular MLM.
posted by Windigo at 7:51 AM on August 9 [12 favorites]


I think of it as the "one weird trick" phenomenon. The funnel for the MLM is the group of people who are unrealistically optimistic about their prospects. If they were realistic, they wouldn't be good candidates to drop $6K on inventory that they don't even get to select. From the perspective of an MLM looking for good recruits, they don't want anyone whose bullshit detector is good.

As noted above, the lottery is another phenomenon that depends on that combination of optimism and desperation. One of my relatives lives in a rural area and plays religiously. They were bragging that they funded their kitchen renovation with a big win. Of course, they likely bought at least twice as much in tickets to get that "big win".
posted by wnissen at 10:00 AM on August 9


This is an interesting discussion because of the noting of some people who aren't unemployed or underemployed, but still get sucked in. My sister and her husband tried their hands at Amway for a blessedly short while, and I'm pretty sure that my sister has outearned me every year she's been working as a nurse, and her husband has likewise been working at a lucrative skilled trade most of his life. But nursing is stressful, and my brother-in-law's trade ebbs and flows depending on how much work is available, and Amway was pitched to them as not only more lucrative but also less stressful, you know, once you got that downline going. Needless to say, it didn't work out that way, and I'm just glad that they didn't blow too much money on it. I also have a Facebook friend who's got three or four of these things going, which gives you an idea of how much she's probably making at any of them.

On the brighter side, or at least more childishly facetious side, I amused myself by imagining a male sex toy party, with dudes going on about the technical performance statistics of this or that Fleshlight sleeve.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:22 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Many years ago my dentist got involved in some water filter MLM thing and would be pitching while he was drilling on my teeth.

I had a dentist who pulled that trick too. It was especially frustrating because she'd been so good up until then, but I still remember the feeling of being trapped in the chair as she talked to me about... whatever it was, I can't even remember. *shudder*
posted by Lexica at 12:06 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


On the brighter side, or at least more childishly facetious side, I amused myself by imagining a male sex toy party, with dudes going on about the technical performance statistics of this or that Fleshlight sleeve.

I've walked into enough such discussions in barracks rooms that I'm pretty sure this MLM would make you a bunch of money.
posted by Etrigan at 12:12 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


Back in the day, when I was fresh out of college and only maybe half of my friends even had jobs, and that was starter-wage jobs mind you, one if my relatives kept telling me that I *really should* start selling those decorative baskets that were like $100 for a wicker basket and some ribbon. I was like *blink blink* who do you think I'm going to sell these to?

Ah yes, Longaberger baskets. Very popular and also ridiculously expensive, there are about 15 of them in my office building right now, we use them to hold empty name tag sleeves.
posted by all about eevee at 12:20 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


For those of you curious about what a sex toy party is like, my single data point is that the one I went to was pretty grim. A bunch of moms tee-heeing about dildos and vibrators made me cringe 1 million times. I bought nothing.
posted by 41swans at 1:35 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I got introduced to Jamberry recently. It was pleasant - a friend recommended a free trial thing as a "treat yourself" day, and I had a blast poking through nail stickers and twitching my nose at all the pink ones and eventually trying some I liked. They lasted two and a half weeks (longer than expected), and were the first time in over 15 years that my nails hadn't chipped or split for a whole couple of weeks.

I'm dealing with the fallout now - I haven't ordered more yet (I will, because I liked wearing them) and four of my nails have split off at the quick, and one of my thumbnails looks like it wants to try. But I understand that's pretty much normal for most nail products - cover the nail, remove it from air and oil for a couple of weeks, and it gets weak in spots. If you don't recover it immediately (and also don't trim or file it to shape), you're likely to get splits.

The initial free trial package came with a brochure for YOU COULD SELL THIS!!! which I promptly told the seller that nope, not gonna happen, see how it took three weeks for us to set up an afternoon meeting? Social gatherings and I are not friends. And she shrugged and said fine, it's not for everyone, and we had a blast talking about local politics and Burning Man and how marriages work with alternative lifestyles while I learned to apply little stickers to my nails.

I plan on getting more; they kept my nails from damage much more than polish ever has. $15 per sheet/set, mostly usable twice (depending on how I like the patterns on the ones that aren't all the same), 2+ weeks per application - I can afford $7/week for nail care.

But of course, it's not marketed that way. And I despise the artificial scarcity game of "this design will go out of print in a month; get it now!!!"
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:37 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


I got a jamberry sample from a friend's online party. The product isn't bad. It's kind of a pain in the ass since you have to use a hair dryer, though. I only use wraps on my toes. (I change the color on my fingernails every 1-2 days so wraps don't make sense there. ) I get the same decent wear time (three-fourths weeks depending on growth) from the Sally Hansen wraps that I can buy in lots off ebay or Amazon.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 3:13 PM on August 9


I intend to buy the little heater, the starter pack of 4 sets of wraps, and nailcare kit package, and then mostly buy wraps elsewhere. Most of the Jamberry designs don't appeal to me; if it turns out that there's one or two that I love, I'll keep buying those.

... Assuming they don't discontinue them. Bleh. I know that works as an incentive for most customers; it mostly convinces me I shouldn't spend emotional energy getting attached to the company since they're going to stop supporting me as a customer.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:06 PM on August 9


I have a friend that occasionally hosts online parties like this (mostly jamberry, but she's done jewelry and a couple of other things too). The twist is that she does them as fundraisers for a group supporting research for the rare genetic disease her kid has. She's worked out deals with consultant friends who donate their profits from the party. So, the same crappy products, profiting the same crappy company, but with the extra bonus that the consultant busting her butt to get the sales gets nothing, and it's for a legit good cause so you feel like a particularly vile person for not buying anything. I'm close enough to the family now that I'm already supporting the cause in a number of ways so I can drop right out of those facebook feeds guilt-free, but the first time she hosted one I felt a lot of pressure - not from her - just from the situation.
posted by Dojie at 5:41 PM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Does this exist in other countries? Or is this another special American disease?

I haven't seen it in France yet, but it is definitely a thing in the UK.
posted by ellieBOA at 1:16 AM on August 10




An ex-friend tried to get me to sell Premier Designs jewelry. $500 to start. At the time I was a brand-new widow selling off my dead husband's stuff. I bought a few things from her, but you have to treat the stuff with kid gloves. A necklace broke easily and stones came out of a ring. Not worth it.
She ended up losing her house recently. Not to be deterred, she sent me an invite to a party, which she's having at her Mom's, where she moved with her husband and two sons. I declined.

My cousin's ex wife tried a few MLM things, like supplements and wine. She made $1500 one YEAR from the wine. Meanwhile my cousin's working hard & borrowing money so they can keep the house & cars. She just didn't want to find another job to help. Sigh.
posted by luckynerd at 2:04 PM on August 10


I haven't seen it in France yet, but it is definitely a thing in the UK.

Absolutely. The Facebook community group for my little corner of London is occasionally invaded by one woman who's obviously selling the aloe vera stuff that one MLM scam favors, but creepily hides the fact that she's selling anything by couching it in terms of "research" and "experimentation" on aloe vera products. I don't think she's had any takers so far.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:45 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


(I say my little corner of London, but in the interests of full disclosure, that's only valid until tomorrow afternoon. Moving!)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 10:45 AM on August 11


« Older "White Americans are probably the most dangerous...   |   Why vegetarians should be prepared to bend their... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments