As the pandemic takes control of livelihoods once again with lockdown 3.0, multi-level marketing (MLM) beauty companies are thriving. Facebook groups and Instagram DMs are the predatory breeding ground used by MLM sellers to recruit, or bag a few more bucks for their ‘business’. Women suffering from postpartum depression after giving birth or struggling to regain control of their life following a traumatic event are more likely to buy into these schemes to regain a sense of confidence and freedom. Beauty MLMs are a prime example of women exploiting women.
According to the Direct Selling Association (DSA) – home to the biggest multi-level marketing brands in the UK, AVON, The Body Shop At Home, etc – there are 563,000 direct sellers in the UK and 90% of those identify as female.
Out of work? Struggling after birth or looking for some extra cash to fend for your family who are trying to survive a global pandemic? The company’s sellers take full advantage of anxiety and worries like these. Offering unrealistic goals that are difficult to reach and painting a gleaming picture of financial freedom, achieved by spending an hour on your phone each night – It doesn’t happen.
The FTC reported that over five years, at least 95% of sellers would have left the company and that 99.6% of MLM sellers make little to no money. You don’t hear all the ‘boss babes‘ shouting this from the rooftops.
It is understandable that jobs in multi-level marketing seem attractive. Extra money, more quality time with children and loved ones, advising other women on how to feel and look better, a sense of community, and the opportunity to become a successful businesswoman. But between a recession and a global pandemic, these desperate financial times are taken for granted.
Mothers are the main MLM target
According to a study published in May 2020 by The Institute for Fiscal Studies, mothers are 47% more likely than fathers to have quit or lost their jobs since February 2020. Beth Kirkbride’s article about women taking the brunt in unpaid domestic work offers another reason why women fall for MLM propaganda – because it looks like the best answer to their financial issues.
One of the most popular tactics deployed by MLM sellers is mum guilt. Mothers with new-born babies will want to stay at home and may feel guilty for returning to work or seeking childcare. Introducing multi-level marketing 101: you can make a full-time wage from staying home and working part-time hours, leaving more time for family. No brainer, right?
After giving birth to her first child in April 2020, Julie* lost £309 after joining the beauty MLM Younique. She was contacted on social media by an MLM mum-to-be who told her a fairy-tale story of financial freedom and a lifestyle free from worry, all because she joined Younique.
“She seemed so genuine like she cared about the future happiness of my family. We connected on things about pregnancy, my journey into motherhood, and how I was struggling with postpartum depression. I was completely fooled, and it makes me sick to think about how many other women get targeted in this way,” says Julie.
Beauty MLMs like Younique ask you to buy expensive starter kits and more stock than you need, leaving you with a cupboard full of inventory you can’t shift.
An MLM is a house of cards built on sandJosie Naikoi
Hiding behind the array of overpriced products (that claim to give you radiant skin), clever marketing and untruthful propaganda, lies a pyramid structure with only a select few raking in six-figures – that sellers at the bottom believe they will achieve.
Josie Naikoi, 34 – also known as ‘Not The Good Girl’ from her popular anti-MLM YouTube channel – was one of the top 1% six-figure earners at several US MLMs. She tells me, “I’m a feminist – I thought I was helping women, and at the time I was proud of what I was doing.”
Naikoi discusses how anti-feminist behaviour runs into private seller group chats too. “You’re indoctrinated from the get-go. They use love bombing, toxic positivity, black & white thinking, and a fairy tale mentality – making you believe if you work hard enough, you’ll have all the success in the world.”
MLMs are described as commercial cults by psychologists. Naikoi says “victims are also the perpetrators. I saw all these innocent women preyed upon, and from being at the top, it opens your eyes into what these companies are doing,”
“An MLM is a house of cards built on sand,” describes Naikoi.
Many women join an MLM to regain a sense of community, especially as we’re currently socially distanced. When approached by a friend, co-worker, or family, it is natural to believe they have the best interest at heart – even if they are trying to sell you a weight loss programme.
Multi-level marketing companies like Arbonne have heaps of weight loss management products which are often pushed the most. People are likely to be anxious about gaining weight during the pandemic, with the closure of gyms and increased stress levels which can change eating habits. Justified as ‘helping people’ – this forceful behaviour is part of the mission beauty MLM companies use to show that they are motivated by their apparent good intentions.
The fact that this 167-billion-dollar industry is expanding more than ever shows why MLMs are more anti-feminist during a pandemic, flourishing off the glimmers of hope and desperation of women who are longing for a positive change.
*Name has been changed.
Words by Chloe Martin
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