Raise your hand if at least one person on your social media platforms is trying to sell you makeup, leggings, essential oils, waist trainers, etc. If you’re a woman on social media, then you no doubt have been exposed to a new fad called Multi Level Marketing (MLM) that’s spreading across your newsfeed. So how legit are these companies and what attracts women to them? Let’s discuss.
What is an MLM?
MLMs are not exactly new but have evolved alongside new technology. You may have had a grandma, aunt, or mom who sold Mary Kay makeup from home back in the day. At heart, the idea of working from home to promote a company or product you believe in is an empowering way to earn a living. That is, as long as the product is reliable and you’re not being preyed upon to meet unrealistic demands. *side-eye*
For a start-up fee (sometimes thousands of dollars), you can get inventory shipped to your home to start selling to your friends and family via social media. Companies like LuLaRoe for leggings or Jamberry for nail wraps will offer brief training and “support from the tribe of sisters” to new converts. These women are paid by the company for each item they sell, making the woman in question the warehouse, marketing team, and sales associate all in one. Sounds great if you can make tons of sales, but as the reports show, that’s not always the case.
The Emotional and Financial Toll
Women involved in MLMs report being encouraged to stop their TV service, sell their cars, or other extreme acts in order to buy (and presumably sell) more product from the company. The term “garage shaming” exists because women who are unable to move enough product are often held up as examples of those who didn’t try hard enough to be part of the sisterhood. If you’re thinking this sounds less like empowering feminism and more like aggressive capitalistic sexism, you might be on to something.
An article from Quartz stated that the majority of women buying into these companies are from rural and suburban areas who lack access to the urban opportunities for employment. They are offered a support system that promises to provide for them emotionally and financially, only to end up losing money and being shamed for it.
While some women find success in MLMs, their success comes on the backs of the many women who fail. The money moves up toward the company and away from the women at the bottom of the pyramid. It’s the power of this #GirlBoss mentality that tells women they don’t need a boring 9-5 job (you know with job security and health insurance). What they really need is to be their own boss and slay the hustle.
Many of these companies use a Pyramid Scheme approach to gaining new members. Get 5 of your friends to sign up to sell the product and receive a huge bonus! If that’s your livelihood, who wouldn’t share it to their profiles in hopes one of their friends might jump in. This is what leads to your newsfeed being clogged with pitches and having to remove yourself from group after group on Facebook. For the women with a big enough following it might work, but for the average MLM participant it leads to isolating themselves as friends unfollow them to escape the marketing disguised as friendship. For a concept that’s supposed to breed “sisterhood” and empowerment, it has the power to create the opposite.
Sexism or Nah?
It’s no coincidence that the products MLMs generally focus on promoting are traditionally thought of as “feminine” wares. From beauty supplies to body shapers, the merchandise being promoted to you by your friends are overwhelmingly items marketed to women.
But what does that matter? If the products are as great as my ladies are saying and they are working that side-hustle, who cares if the boys are missing out, right? Well, not quite. Check out this episode of the fabulous podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You to learn more about the sexism involved. The marketing of feminism is the culprit here. In the relatively woke year of 2017, empowerment sells, especially to those already in vulnerable situations who are looking to feel a part of something.
Targeting the Vulnerable
According to a recent report from the Federal Trade Commission, when studying 350 MLMs they found that 99% of people who join multilevel-marketing companies lose money.
With messages grounded in sisterhood and the be-your-own-boss lifestyle, the reality that these companies prey on underprivileged women looking for financial independence is all the more insidious.
How’d My Friend Fall For It?
If you have a friend that’s falling into the MLM scheme, my biggest advice to you is to keep supporting them. Not necessarily with your cash money, but with your presence. You may know one of the women who have made it work for them thanks to a large following or getting in with the company early. Good for her! There’s no shame in working from home if you can make it work for you.
But, if your friend is in the larger percentile of women who were told they could make a full salary selling lip stains on Facebook, she needs your support, not your shame. don’t passive-aggressively share this article to the women who have annoyed you with their LIVE unboxings and party invites.
These companies are designed to rake in the cash by signing on new “partners” and they know how to do it. Your friend isn’t weak for buying into the aggressive marketing. Share your concerns honestly and be there for her. True empowerment happens when we support our sisters in their struggles and their wins. We only earn the title #GirlBoss by showing up for our people.