The Cost to be a “Girl Boss”: My Take on MLMs
It all started with a sickly-sweet Instagram DM. It was full of emojis and superficial flattery, but the sender (who I did not know) ultimately asked if I was interested in detox “shakes” and “body wraps.” I was certainly intrigued, but I immediately got an ominous and fishy air around the message.
Looking through her profile, I saw that every post was saturated with weight loss teas and motivational graphics about being your own “girl boss.” But why would anyone with a successful start-up be DMing random girls and guilt-tripping them into buying weight loss products? I felt curious, so I looked up It Works!, the name plastered through each post.
Boy, did I fall down a rabbit hole.
It was like a whole world of secrecy was opened up to me. I now finally understood why some Instagram and Facebook posters had otherworldly obsessions with “their own” company. I understood why they claimed to be working so much less than a 9 to 5, yet their job consumed their entire identity and social media presence.
The realm of Multi-Level Marketing, or MLMs as I will refer to them from here on out, sucked me in. I became fascinated with people’s stories of hope and inspiration and how the MLM left them burnt out, friendless and in debt – and in one harrowing case I read, divorced.
I couldn’t believe that so many people continue to fall for the scheme. I don’t mean this to belittle or mock people involved in them; I mean this to condemn the immense greed and brainwashing that MLM leadership has employed for decades.
Some of my friends and family have heard me rant about MLMs before, and they don’t get it. They can’t understand why I passionately detest them. Why do I get so emotionally invested? Allow me to use this post to explain the strong feelings I harbor against MLMs.
First, I will explain why they are a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad business model.
The AARP conducted a study on the financial success rates of people involved in MLMs. They found that 47% of those who enter MLMs lose money from their involvement, and 27% end up breaking even. This is because the MLM participant is required to purchase hefty amounts of stock to sell.
They end up making a commission, but even more money goes toward the person who recruited them into the MLM (their “upline”). This very business model is why they have been lovingly referred to as pyramid schemes. The recruitment-based and funneled commission model is also why many people cannot advance in the company and lose money in the end.
How, might you ask, do MLMs get away with business models eerily similar to pyramid schemes? Although the business model is recruitment-based, many companies use the technicality that selling a product makes it “not a pyramid scheme.”
However, a number of MLMs have been involved in class-action lawsuits for being pyramid schemes in sheep’s clothes.
Last April, Young Living Essential Oils was caught in such a lawsuit. The lawsuit claims that the company is deceitful in multiple ways. For one, the company is operating as an illegal scheme due to its recruitment-reliant business model.
Additionally, the lawsuit has exposed that the MLM charges exorbitant amounts of money to join the scheme and purchase starter kits to then sell for commission. In 2016, the average loss from joining Young Living was $1,175 – do you need any more proof that these aren’t a good idea??
Another example comes from 2018, when Rodan + Fields (which you may know from developing ProActiv) was sued for not disclosing a chemical that caused “change in iris color, eyelid drooping, itchy eyes, eye infections and vision impairment.” – exactly what I want around my delicate eye area!
More than losing money, many have lost friends and loved ones from their MLM involvement. One aspect that speaks even more to the predatory nature of MLMs is their insistence on seeing every new friendship as the opportunity to make a sale.
This ex-MLMer said that she was told to “cut out everyone who didn’t buy our products or participate in our ‘downline’, even family.” She lost over $100,000 during her 10-year participation in the company.
Another ex-MLM participant said that, when her mother fell ill to cancer, she was instructed to use that information as a sales ploy. She even had other women in the company using her story and pretending it to be theirs in order to score a sale!
MLMs have also gotten participants so brainwashed that they’ve contributed to divorce. This Reddit user said her husband chose his participation in Amway over their marriage. In their 20s, their minimal budget was completely going to expensive starter kits and stock for him to sell, causing them to sink into debt. He pressured her to “prospect” sales for him during her long commute to post-grad studies. When she finally left, he said, “Don’t blame Amway for this! Amway is just a vehicle for success!” – what a heartfelt, emotional statement straight from their pamphlet.
The desperation employed by MLMs is unethical at best and disgustingly insensitive at worst. I firmly believe that these companies, which often skate around the law in order to deceive as many people as possible, should be stopped entirely. If you want any more information on how these companies operate or more personal stories from ex-MLMers, I recommend visiting the anti-MLM subreddit. There are many resources that describe the morally decrepit MLM business model much better than I could, but I want people to be aware of these companies.
If you ever get an Instagram DM or Facebook message that seems eerily similar to the one I received, I also recommend visiting isthisanmlm.com to see whether the company is one.
So now, when people ask me why I feel so passionately about MLMs, I can explain that they are predatory, deceitful and a TERRIBLE idea. They are harmful and have, quite literally, ruined lives. If I were you, I wouldn’t touch one with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole.