Interview with Jenni Shaw

Jenni Shaw is the independent filmmaker responsible for the Ellie Undercover: Secrets of the Multi-Level Millionaires documentary film for the BBC, which aired in the UK in April 2019.

Jenni has been a filmmaker for a decade. After gaining qualifications in journalism, she started working in news production. However, she quickly discovered that she couldn’t give justice to the complexities of important issues in the news format. So she shifted from news to observational long-form film making. She thinks filmmaking is a vital tool for raising awareness of under-reported issues, educating people, and giving a voice to people who don’t really get to have a voice. 

Jenni has worked in collaboration with many institutions, especially with the UK police. She worked on the BAFTA-nominated Channel 4 documentary Catching a Killer, spending nearly two-and-a-half years working alongside Thames Valley Police in their offices, following their major crime team.

More than 90% of documentary directors in the UK are independent, collaborating with different broadcasters and independent production companies to make films. Jenni pitched her idea for this documentary to BBC Three in the middle of 2018.

For Ellie Undercover: Secrets of the Multi-Level Millionaires, Jenni was the producer-director, filming almost every shot you see in the film. The core team was only four people — Jenni, reporter Ellie Flynn, an Executive Producer, and an Associate Producer who provided research support. Jenni also sat in the edit with an editor, turning 100 hours of footage into the final one-hour film. It took nine months to produce.

We are very happy to have been able to catch up with Jenni recently to talk about the making of her film, and its reception since it was broadcast. We know this is a long read, but hope you agree it’s worth it!


Coalition: What made you first think that multi-level marketing would be a good subject for a documentary?

Jenni: I was in the pub with a young friend last summer. I was talking with her about what she’d been up to recently, and she said this strange thing to me:  “Are all your friends trying to recruit you for schemes on social media as well?” And I had no idea what she was talking about.

So we got talking more and more about multi-level marketing. We met up again a few days later, and she showed me her Facebook and Instagram feeds and her inbox.

As a young, very fashionable, well-connected London girl, she fell into the target market for a number of different multi-level marketing companies, and she was being plagued by dozens and dozens of different recruiters. 

A typical recruitment message

I couldn’t believe what she was showing me. After that, I started to see multi-level marketing everywhere. It’s like somebody opens your eyes, and it puts things into context. Things that people have said to you, things you’ve seen in the past that didn’t make sense previously. 

So suddenly I realised that I had friends and contacts who’d also become involved in this industry in the past. At the time I hadn’t really picked up on what it was. And then it’s like all these things start to fall into place. I started to research it, and discovered what an enormous industry it is, not only in the UK, but internationally.

It’s kind of paradoxical that here’s something that both seems to be everywhere but also shrouded in secrecy, and seems to be skimming under the surface of regulators. For me, it felt like something that really needed to be brought more into the light, and have more open conversations about.

Coalition: After they commissioned your film, was the BBC concerned about legal aspects?

Jenni: We were all concerned, but very rigorous about looking at the legalities. That was something we all took very seriously.

The BBC has a legal department and an editorial policy department, which ensures that any programs going out under the BBC brand are upholding the BBC’s ethos and values. We worked very very thoroughly with the whole team, literally interrogating every single line in the film, asking ourselves why we were including each line, whether it was editorially justified, whether it was fair, and whether it was factually accurate. 

After all, it’s about the welfare not only of the people that we’d interviewed for the case studies, but also the people that had been the subject of our investigation, and filming people undercover is not a decision that we take lightly. I don’t underestimate how difficult that must be for those people, to come to terms having been the subjects of an investigation.

Coalition: Were there any difficulties that you didn’t foresee?

Jenni: Certainly, yes. I hadn’t anticipated the scale and complexity of the industry. The more we researched, the more we uncovered, the bigger and bigger this issue became, to the point where we thought how on earth are we going to fit this into an hour of television? Because this is the kind of thing we could make a whole series on, and still not even scratch the surface. 

The second challenge was I had not anticipated the level of fear associated with this industry. I’ve made a number of projects in the past in extremely difficult, desperate and sensitive environments, and so has Ellie — and neither of us has come across the level of fear and the level of anxiety about speaking out that we did with this industry. And that was really striking for all of us. 

Coalition: What are your thoughts on why people are so scared of speaking out?

Jenni: This is clearly a very divisive industry. It creates a lot of personal attacks on social media. People are trolled, people are bullied, and that can impact on people’s mental health. 

I am very concerned that within the wider field on social media I’ve also seen people tear apart MLM distributors in a very personal way. I think that sort of social media attacking from both quarters is not going to help the conversation. It only dampens it. 

We need to be supporting each other towards a better future for this industry, and better regulation, rather than creating division and impacting people. There is a viciousness that comes from those who are real advocates of the industry — and also on the other side as well. It’s a topic that generates a lot of very fervent debate online that can be extremely cruel and personal.

I think it’s also a shame that people who were involved in MLMs posted about it all over social media — they made their lives look like they’re amazing. This is not something they then want to come out, after they’ve left. They don’t want to talk about how they kind of misled people within their social network. 

Sadly, I think the industry recruits a lot of people who are living with the challenges of anxiety and depression. I can’t explain the correlation. But I think that also makes it difficult for those people to want to speak out. 

And lastly, I think people are extremely afraid of the often multi-billion dollar corporations behind these multi-level marketing companies. They are afraid of the legal implications.

Coalition: How do you think we can get change in this industry?

Jenni: While people are trying to campaign to change this issue, which I completely support and understand, we’ve got to think about the methods we’re doing that, and the most appropriate ways to do that. Being abusive of each other online is not the way.

If you have a concern, in the UK, and in other countries, I suggest you write to your Member of Parliament, or local representative. Tell all your friends to write letters too. In the UK, contact the National Trading Standards, and the Citizen’s Advice consumer helpline. Attacking people on social media is not the way we’re going to move this conversation forward.

A National Trading Standards spokesperson told the BBC:

“We would advise consumers to exercise extreme caution when thinking about participating in multi-level marketing schemes. People may think these are a way to get rich quick but the reality is that these types of schemes often leave people out of pocket, sometimes to the tune of thousands of pounds.

“If you or someone you know has fallen victim to these schemes then you should report it to the Citizens’ Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.”

Coalition: What sort of reactions have you received since the film went to air?

Jenni: From our understanding, the documentary rated very well given its category and subject matter. It sat within the top ten of BBC documentaries for a number of days, if not a couple of weeks, and I think it was second “most watched” in the UK by the end of the weekend in which it launched.

I gather that BBC themselves were struck by not only how many people it reached, but also of quite a particular age group — we reached young people, between the ages of 18 to early 30s. And people are continuing to watch it online on the BBC iPlayer. [Region controlled].

Ellie herself received a great deal of personal messages from people who’d watched the film. Many of these messages were really validating to us, validating our reasons for making the film.

Obviously we understand the subject is controversial, and the film received criticism from people in the industry, including heavy criticism. We anticipated that would happen, though, as it is an extremely divisive subject.

Coalition: When you were making the film, what shocked you the most?

Jenni: Firstly, how prolific this industry is across the UK, and around the world, and how hidden it is. I hadn’t realized, for instance, how many recruitment and training meetings are happening all over the UK each week, in quite unexpected places. For one of the events that Ellie filmed undercover, it was being held in a kind of village or town hall, on a midweek night in the middle of winter on a rainy day, in a quiet town. You suddenly realise just how far-reaching this industry is across the UK, and how embedded it is within communities. It certainly shocked me.

I was really struck by the depth to which it had impacted on the personal lives of those who had not had good experiences in an MLM. It had deeply affected romantic relationships, marriages, friendships, and relationships between family members. We had some very sad and moving conversations with people, some of which aren’t included in the film. They are the sorts of conversations that will stay with me, because they were so deeply upsetting. I was also struck by the level of fear about speaking out.

Coalition: Had you worked with Ellie before?

Jenni: I hadn’t. Ellie and I were introduced by a fellow filmmaker who had worked with Ellie before and rated her very highly. We worked together for nine months on the project, and built a great working relationship. We’ve gone on to make a film together which has just been released, about police sexual misconduct in America.

Ellie Flynn getting ready for us to head out for our shoot in Utah with -10ºC weather and two feet of snow.
February 2019. Photo by Jenni Shaw

There’s always the challenges of making a film under very pressured circumstances, and I’ve learned I need to feed Ellie on a regular basis! And she probably needs to feed me caffeine on a regular basis. Just to get the most out of each other. 

Coalition: Were there any especially memorable moments during filming?

Jenni: One moment that really sticks with me was when Ellie and I had got all the way to Utah, at the end of production — we went in February, literally the month before the whole film was finished.

Ellie in Salt Lake City, Utah

It is quite a scary thing to do, walking into the head offices of Younique and Nu Skin — obviously we had very rigorous and established reasons for why we going to do that, and why we were going to approach the offices directly for comment — but it was daunting. They are huge multi-million dollar corporations, and we were a small television crew from the UK, coming in to challenge them in person — and Ellie walked in on her own.

Before she went in, we sat in the car and talked through all the people we’d spoken with in our research, and we talked through all their stories. 

We were walking into these offices for the Lindsays, and the Jessicas, and the Vickies, and all the other people we’d spoken to who didn’t feel comfortable sharing their names. We were doing it for them. We didn’t have a right to be there for our own personal reasons. So that was an emotional moment — we really felt like we were putting ourselves in the line of fire for them. That gave us the courage and strength to go into those offices.

Coalition: What artistic decisions did you make along the way? The film has quite a dark feel.

Jenni: The clear creative vision I had from the beginning was that I wanted to create a contrast between the sales material and pitch of the influencers who are promoting these multi-level marketing companies — a contrast between their material, which is very bright and sort of American, with lots of saturated colours, people with beautiful coloured hair, tanned skin and white teeth. It’s very colourful, very enticing, and I totally understand — I would love to have the life that they portray. But in a country like the UK, we don’t get as much sunshine as many other parts of the world, and have a lot of people living in very low income areas, with high levels of unemployment, in post-industrialised towns and cities. So I’ve tried to create a visual contrast between the promise and the reality.

There were also two decisions that quite happily shaped the film.

The first was the video diaries. I wanted Ellie to experience the training from these two companies for herself. I was quite strict with her, actually. I deliberately didn’t tell her too much at the beginning about what we’d researched and found out. I deliberately wanted her to follow the training and really experience it for herself, and then document that in the video diary. And what was included in the film is really just a drop in the ocean. She made dozens and dozens of videos.

We had about 100 hours of footage — with any documentary you always have more footage than you put in the film, of course, some films do have those kinds of ratios, some have even more. But it is an enormous challenge deciding what goes in. The challenge with this film is that — although many people do know what multi-level marketing is, not all do — we had felt that we needed to explain the industry. So we had to dedicate more minutes to background information than usual. This limited us in terms of the depth of what we could cover in our one hour.

The other decision came when we realised the level of fear among the people who’d been in the industry and had had bad experiences. We decided to use those anonymous voices, using the phone recordings of people we’d spoken with on research calls. They were a tiny percentage of all the calls that we conducted, but we felt that was a way for the people to have a voice when they were too afraid to speak.

Coalition: What are you hoping viewers will get from seeing the documentary?

Jenni: There are two things in particular. 

I really want people to have an awareness of this industry, and to arm them with some of the key tools they need to decide about whether they want to join a multi-level marketing scheme or not. 

Hopefully we can leave them better informed, and more able to know the kinds of questions to ask, and where to look for further information. 

Secondly, I want people to carry on the conversation. We could easily have carried on and made ten episodes on this subject, but we’re not in the position to do that. I would love to see more projects coming out about multi-level marketing, and more people questioning and interrogating this industry. But also for those who genuinely believe in it — show us the facts, show us the proof, advocate for it. Let’s carry on the conversation in a transparent way, rather than shrouded in secrecy.

Coalition: It seems to us to be an industry that is growing in response to increasing social division, inequality and unemployment. 

Jenni: Massively so, I agree. Some of the pockets of the UK that we visited are certainly places with high unemployment and where people are living on very low incomes. And from what I saw, it would appear that some of these companies are clustering in those areas,. Some of the people we met or spoke to could list off dozens of people they knew who were involved in this industry within a small town. 

Coalition: Is there anything further that you’d like to do in this arena?

Jenni: I do wish I could find another avenue or outlet for the people we spoke with whose stories we weren’t able to include, and I really hope to stay in touch with them, and find other ways in which they can have their stories and voices heard. 

There was, for instance, a woman we interviewed who had become quite senior in one of the companies that we investigated. She had left and had a number of concerns about the industry, but at the same time she felt conflicted because she could see the hugely beneficial effect it had had on her life, both financially and from a personality and confidence point of view. 

I think it is worth noting that as much as we spoke to dozens and dozens of people who had had negative experiences, or had not made the money they were expecting to make, or indeed had lost money ranging from a few pounds to thousands of pounds, it was a theme that came up over and over again. Many people felt that being in an MLM helped their confidence and personal development. 

I hope that people are able to work on some of that self development separately, and realise that they can still have access to all that kind of personal development if they wished. There are other ways to build your confidence about going back to work, or who you are as a person, and the things you want to achieve in life without it having to be inherently linked to a business model which you’ll ultimately have to pay to be a part of.

That’s something that I felt really conflicted about this the whole way through, because I’m a feminist. I don’t want to be seen to be making a film that tears apart the business enterprises of other women. 

But my major concern was that these multi-national companies are using the zeitgeist of feminism, words associated with female empowerment, and presenting these opportunities as something which inherently you have to question whether they are exploiting that popularity of feminism, this kind of brilliant wave of focus on female empowerment that we’re seeing and is continuing to grow at the moment. Are these companies actually exploiting that for commercial gain? 

By Tupperware Corporation – Prelinger Archives

If you go back to the roots of this industry, in the early 19th century and the foundation of Avon and Tupperware parties in the 50s — it was a kind of feminist concept for women to be able to have their own work outlets alongside raising a family, and I don’t want to be seen that we’re attacking that. 

It’s really important to question where this industry is now and what’s the motivation, and why they’re using that language. Ellie and I felt really conflicted, and we wouldn’t feel comfortable if we’d left many women feeling that they’d been torn apart, and their efforts to build a business had been criticised and pulled apart. That is not our intention. 

Typical #bossbabe inspirational quote

We did raise major concerns, and we want people to be protected and to have the tools to arms themselves to not be financially exploited by companies that may not have their best interests at heart.

Coalition: Did the film catch the attention of anyone you didn’t expect?

Jenni: We were struck by the media coverage it received. There were also a number of high profile celebrities in the UK who shared it on social media, so I think that increased the attention that it received. Certainly it’s on the radar of certain people who are interested in having further discussions about this within the British government. So watch this space! 

Coalition: Did you come to any conclusions about what changes to legislation would be helpful?

Jenni: After my personal experience spending nine months eating, breathing and sleeping this subject, I think there absolutely needs to be more transparency about the industry, certainly within the UK regulatory field. 

There particularly needs to be more transparency about earning potential. I would like to see information in those very first meetings, or very first posts online, or videos, about the earning percentages and earning chances, simply because we found that information hard to come by, and we’re a team of journalists from the BBC, working solidly on this for nine months. 

I think people signing up to a company like Nu Skin need to be told things like that within Europe, according to what we found, only 0.04% of Nu Skin distributors in the European market earn the top commission, and 89.2% of distributors earned no commission at all. I’d like to see those statistics in the opening recruitment processes, and early training of these schemes.

I’d like to see more engagement from regulatory bodies about this issue. We approached a number of regulators in the UK, and found that for various reasons this kind of falls between camps. I would like to see more clarification in UK law about the definitions of multi-level marketing and pyramid schemes, and what is and isn’t in law. Current UK law leaves room for a number of different interpretations. 

In terms of carrying on the conversation, I’d like to see journalists look more at the associations between multi-level marketing companies and charities. We wished we could have explored this in the documentary. Recruiters on social media appear to be raising money for a charity by inviting people to purchase say, particular boxes of their products, and say that this is raising money for Cancer Research UK or some other worthwhile charity, and may be misleading people about where that money is going. I think there needs to be more awareness and exploration of what’s going on at the moment.

Lastly, sadly, because it would appear that the MLM industry is disproportionally female, I think that there needs to me more general awareness and more support from the government for women working part-time, working mums, and people trying to get back into the workplace, so that people who might be tempted to join multi-level marketing schemes, thinking that this is going to be a regular financial contribution to their living costs, feel like they have other options.

Coalition: We absolutely agree! Thank you so much for making such an insightful film, and for speaking with us today.

Jenni: My pleasure!


The Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Four Corners program broadcast the film in October 2019, under the title Click to change your life: Secrets of the multi-level millionaires. We hope that other countries will soon follow.

What to Do if Your Doctor Promotes Multi-Level Marketing

“You should really try it,” Jen’s friend was saying.

“I’ve been going to this medical practice for a year, and my pain is completely gone!” 

Jen was curious about this local doctor whose unconventional techniques produced amazing results. 

What do I have to lose? Jen thought to herself. 

She looked up the practice online and saw the doctor’s bio, list of services, and 5-star patient reviews. A page called “Nutrition” revealed pictures of vitamin bottles surrounded by colorful vegetables. She clicked on a 5-minute promotional video and listened as an enthusiastic product representative explained the benefits of adding vitamins to your diet.

Jen was surprised. Her previous doctors had never talked about supplements, but she was intrigued about her friend’s rave review. So she decided to call the practice and set up an initial appointment for the following week. 

Once the appointment was confirmed, she received an e-mail with instructions to fill out paperwork online. Several of the questions were about her intake of vitamins and herbs. 

That’s nice of them to ask, she thought. I’m not sure why that has anything to do with getting rid of my back pain… guess I’ll find out.

—–

At the doctor’s office, Jen saw big posters of the supplements from the doctor’s website. She noticed a stack of product brochures at the check-in desk. A friendly staff member greeted her, and she sat down next to magazines about health and nutrition.

Minutes later, a nurse called Jen’s name, checked her vital signs, and escorted her to an exam room. The doctor soon walked in.

Jen’s visit went well. She explained her symptoms, her health history, and therapy she had already tried. The doctor performed a physical exam and recommended tests and treatment methods to help reduce her pain. 

Then the conversation turned to her diet. 

“I see that you’re not taking any supplements right now,” said the doctor. “Studies have shown that a customized nutritional approach can reduce inflammation and improve symptoms of a variety of diseases. Would you like us to do a nutritional assessment for you today?”

Jen felt obligated to say yes. She hadn’t thought about the need to take vitamins; but since the doctor was strongly advising it, she agreed.

The doctor continued. “After we do the free assessment, any deficiencies can be fixed with a special blend of nutraceuticals that we make available to our patients. In fact, all of my staff members take these products, and so does my entire family. We really believe it’s the best option out there—although of course, you can use any supplements you want. My assistant will get you set up.” 

With that, the doctor exited and was replaced by a nursing assistant, who reviewed Jen’s dietary habits and gave her a paper with a list of products she could buy to “reverse the damage” and improve her gut health.

“If you’re ready to start today, the combo pack is available at a 10% discount. Or you can sign up with our network, which lets you have the starter pack for free with your purchase, as well as a 30% discount on future products.” 

Jen considered her options, handed her credit card to the front desk staff, and walked back to her car with a bag of vitamin bottles.

Back at home, Jen made a cup of tea and sat down at her kitchen table. She pulled a variety of bottles and powders out of the bag. As she reviewed the glossy handouts, Jen tried to rationalize the expense. Today’s visit was covered by insurance, but the extra $499 she had spent on supplements was out of pocket. Jen felt cautiously optimistic about the potential for these products to improve her health, but she was also nervous about how to pay $199 for a new supply every month. 

They told me that if I get my family and friends to buy, I can earn my supplements for free, Jen recalled. 

She decided to call her sister and mother and convince them to sign up too. They could all get healthy together, Jen would be able to afford the products, and she may even be able to convince them to recruit others into her network.

I’m so glad I found this doctor, thought Jen as she swallowed the first dose of supplements.

— 

Jen’s experience is, unfortunately, very common in the healthcare field. She had unknowingly been persuaded to join a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) network—a business model that requires both purchasing products and recruiting others to join in your “downline.” The MLM model (also known as direct sales) is used by hundreds of companies, and is estimated to be worth at $35.4 billion in the USA across all categories. The total health supplement market (not MLMs specifically) is expected to generate $278 billion in worldwide sales by 2024 [source: PRNewsWire]. The vast majority of MLMs are in the Health & Wellness field (read more: What’s the Difference Between Brick-and-Mortar, Franchise, Direct Sales, and MLM?)

Although healthcare providers have a professional obligation to look out for their patients’ best interests, they often struggle with burnout and keeping their practice profitable. The quest to find new sources of revenue puts doctors at risk of being targeted by MLMs, which promise unlimited residual income through the sale of “natural” and “safe” products.

Unfortunately, the sale of products in a physician’s office—especially nutritional supplements—violates the ethical standardsof several professional organizations, including the American Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association, and the Australian Medical Association. This is because the sale of supplements can cause physicians to:

  • exploit patients for financial gain
  • use products of unproven scientific validity, and 
  • have an inappropriate bias in recommending a particular product, even if it’s not necessary for that patient’s health condition.

[source: Ethical Standards on the Sale of Products in Healthcare]

In Jen’s story (which is fictional but based on real experiences), she was presented with products at several points in her visit: online, on posters & brochures, and in person. 

She said she felt obligated to agree to a nutritional evaluation and agreed to purchase the products only because the doctor strongly advised that she do so

Based on this patient-provider trust, Jen joined a sales network and spent hundreds of dollars on products. 

She decided to convince her family members into signing up, in order to ease her monthly burden of buying the expensive—but in her mind, necessary—supplements.

When a healthcare practitioner focuses on “profit before patients,” this puts people like Jen at risk.

What You Can Do as a Patient

If you know of a physician who sells and promotes products through a multi-level marketing or direct sales model, here are some ways you can respond:

1. Confront your doctor.

No patient should feel uncomfortable about their healthcare experience. You have every right express your concerns about the in-office sale of products by telling your physician directly. If you prefer a less direct approach, you could write a letter or e-mail, or send a message through the practice’s secure patient portal.

2. Communicate anonymously.

Maybe you feel concerned but don’t want to put yourself in an adversarial position. If so, you have the option to send a message anonymously by using the practice’s anonymous tip line or leaving feedback on a card in the office. Another option is to write an anonymous letter to the doctor, explaining your concerns about their conflict of interest.

3. Find another doctor.

Except in rare cases, you are under no obligation to continue seeing a physician with whom you feel uncomfortable. When a doctor is not serving your best interests, it might be time to find a different practice. There are many ethical physicians to choose from (check out this video by Dr. Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at NYU Langone Health; MedScape login required).

4. Rate on social media.

Online ratings can be a good way to get a physician’s attention if other methods don’t work. You can share your experience on social media or a health rating tool like HealthGrades or Yelp, which will alert other potential patients to the practitioner’s unethical actions.

5. File a BBB complaint.

Another option is to fill out a Better Business Bureau complaint or report a scam—or use an equivalent tool for your country. Check out this list of 14 business rating websites.

6. Report a violation.

Physicians who sell and recruit patients into an MLM are violating several code of ethics standards according to many associations around the world (you can see them here). If you believe a medical professional is behaving unethically or failing to provide a standard of care to patients, the best way to respond is to report their behavior to the local medical licensing board. 

7. Contact your local news.

When all else fails, a final way to raise the alarm about a physician’s unethical behavior is to contact the media. It might interest them to know that:

The bottom line is that practitioners who provide ethical treatment to their patients don’t need to resort to selling products, especially through multi-level marketing. And as a patient, your opinion can make a big difference when you encourage your doctor to make ethical, patient-focused business choices.

Grace LaConte, MS, RHIA 

Founder of LaConte Consulting

Body Shaming in MLMs

We recently ran a short survey to discover people’s experiences with MLM distributors using body shaming to influence people (mostly women) to buy their products or sign up*. 

So — what is body shaming? It is inappropriate and unsolicited critical and negative comments and attitudes towards someone’s weight, size, or appearance. It’s the snide comments about your choices of what to eat, what you’re wearing, or the size of your thighs. It’s deeply hurtful. Even if the people saying such things are ‘only trying to help’, it is not even slightly helpful, only damaging.

Where did the body shaming happen?

The vast majority of interactions happened on social media, at 70% (21 instances). The next most ‘popular’ avenue (19 combined responses), was in person, either around other people (8 instances, 27%), privately (7, 23%), or at a public event (4, 13%). Five approaches (17%) were by email, four (13%) were made at an MLM home party, and three (10%) were via printed material.

Which MLMs were implicated?

Beachbody was the worst offender by far, with 9 mentions out of 29 — one third. It Works! follows in second place with 6 mentions. Then Plexus with 3, Isagenix and Juice Plus+ each with 2 mentions, and single mentions for the rest: Mary Kay, SeneGence, Pampered Chef, Thrive, Cambridge Weight Plan, Nerium, LuLaRoe, Intimo, AdvoCare, Agnes & Dora, and Pure Romance. 

We asked what people had been told, and how this made them feel, and what they did as a result. Here are their responses:

BeachBody 

Summer is coming up and while she can see the progress I’ve made myself, I could be making more with her guidance.

She made me feel awful and frustrated.

————————————————————————————-

She told me she had an opportunity to help me get in shape.

I felt totally insulted. I told her no.

————————————————————————————-

The MLM rep criticized my body. 

They made me feel annoyed.

————————————————————————————-

The rep used my eating disorder to try to sell products. 

They made me feel horrible. I almost gave in but then had a change of heart

————————————————————————————-

She asked if I wanted to be a part of a Facebook group to help lose baby weight.

I was a little taken aback. I said I would look into it.

————————————————————————————-

A former blog friend in the blogging community saw some of my selfies on Instagram. She shot me a DM and suggested she had noticed I had gained some weight recently (I put on 80lbs rapidly from some meds) and that she knew her shakes could help. Without any instigation on my part. I never even mentioned I was looking to lose weight.

Honestly, it wasn’t the first or last time. I get messages a couple times a week. I run a boutique geared towards body positivity and anytime I post a photo of myself I get bombarded via private messages. Heck, sometimes right in the comments. Simply because I’m visibly overweight and it’s clear none of them take the time to read my profile or captions to see I’m a body positive advocate. That’s what made her messages more offensive though was that she KNEW this.

————————————————————————————-

I got little digs about food choices, muffin top showing, that I was eating and drinking too much.

I made a point of eating and drinking more in front of this person and sending her pics of junk food.

[Coalition: WINNING!]

————————————————————————————-

I was advised that a certain Beachbody program and shake would help me lose weight, when I never said anything about wanting to.

I felt awful.

[Beachbody and It Works!] 

————————————————————————————-

It Works!

She said I had a pretty face but I could look 10 times better if I “lost that chubby little belly”. She then told me her body wraps would help me lose 40 pounds in a month. When I rejected the offer, she said I was unhealthy and that I needed to lose weight.

She made me feel insulted and self conscious so I blocked her.

————————————————————————————-

She hinted, while I was at work, that I could drop those “few extra pounds”

I felt ashamed and angry, I was getting over an illness that left me with huge weight loss, and was trying to put weight on. I gave her my best fake smile and turned to my next customer, ignoring her.

————————————————————————————-

She told me I should lose 30 lbs in 30 days. Losing 30 lbs would make me dangerously underweight.

I felt irritated that someone felt the need to imply I was fat.

————————————————————————————-

The day I came home from the hospital with my newborn son, she asked if I was ready to get rid of the extra weight.

I had just had an emergency C-section. So, that in combination with all the hormones being gone, I was a wreck.

————————————————————————————-

At a party, she pointed out to me areas on my body where “It Works” would be beneficial.

She made me feel awful!

————————————————————————————-

And the rest

The rep “noticed” that I could lose a few lbs and offered me Plexus. I wasn’t overly offended because she wasn’t wrong and could like, see. 

What I did was dumb. I signed up for a monthly subscription to the Plexus product line.

[Plexus]

————————————————————————————-

“Hey girl! I noticed you’ve been trying to lose weight — I really think you need to try Plexus to get rid of that mommy tummy!”

This made me feel pissed off. I told her that I get she’s trying to hustle but that she just insulted me and if she EVER tries to sell me something again I’m blocking her.

[Plexus] 

————————————————————————————-

He asked me if I would be interested in utilizing their “health coaching”, nutritional knowledge and supplements.

I felt like he was telling me I was fat. I was upset that he would reach out to me out of nowhere and body shame me. I told him I wasn’t interested.

[Plexus]

————————————————————————————-

Commented on one of my Instagram photos which said “#NewMum” and told me “I could EASILY drop the excess weight I’m currently carrying by signing up to their 90 day programme. Now I only gained 13lb from start to finish of pregnancy & I was 6 weeks post C Section when this happened. I was bloated, of course. Mentally, I was feeling very rubbish about my appearance but fortunately, it wasn’t my weight that was an issue. I have a chronic health condition so I have to maintain a healthy weight anyway.

I felt embarrassed and deleted the comment.

[Juice Plus+]

————————————————————————————-

She messaged me and said it looked like I could do with losing some weight. It made me feel embarrassed and ashamed. 

Just fed my demons and added value to my self loathing.

[Juice Plus+]

————————————————————————————-

She told me, “You need make up because your skin is bad, and it will hide your facial features. Otherwise no one will want to date you, ever.”

I was only like 14 or 15, so it really shook me significantly. I already didn’t have super high self confidence. I knew I wasn’t Hollywood pretty or whatever, but I never really thought of myself as being so ugly no one would ever find me attractive without makeup. [Because of this] I always thought in high school if boys talked to me they were just joking.

[Mary Kay]

————————————————————————————-

She told me that Isagenix would fix the “gross scales” behind my ears. I have psoriasis. She was a client at work, so I couldn’t even respond the way I wanted to.

I never tried Isagenix, that’s for sure. I was super embarrassed and felt poorly about myself.

[Isagenix]

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As a 15 year old, she tried to tell me the smiley face boxers would entice boys. I was chubby and awkward and went to this sex toy and lingerie party to support my friend. This woman implied I was an “ugly duckling”.

I had been to a couple of parties because friends’ mums were having them, whether they were lingerie or makeup. I vowed then and there never, ever to go to one of those stupid parties again. I never liked them and was only going to hang out with a friend but the pressure to buy stuff was horrendous.

[Pure Romance and Intimo]

————————————————————————————-

She said that if I wore particular dress or shirt, it would make me look slimmer. That their clothing is aimed to help slim out “bigger girls”. 

I spent hundreds of dollars on these clothes that make me look like any other dang clothes.

[LuLaRoe and Agnes & Dora] 

————————————————————————————-

I was sent the following email, with an attachment “before and after” stretchmark and post cream belly photo:

Hi ME,

I was at the park yesterday and your mom was showing us lots of baby pics…my goodness she is a lovely baby! Then today these results pictures of our body contour cream came across my desk and made me wonder if you were in need of any help in this department. 

Sure wish this was around after I had my babies. Lol

I’ve added my website if you want to take a look. 

Please call me if I can be of any assistance. 

Hope you and your sweet family are well. See you at the park. 

HUN”

I was 4 months post partum, and I was feeling pretty good about myself, about my body, how I looked and how strong I felt, until I received this email. I cried, and it took weeks to recover from how badly this made me feel about myself and how I looked. It’s been 3 + years now, and I still think about this regularly.  I haven’t spoken to the woman since she emailed me this. We were not friends at the time, we play in the same baseball league and only know each other in that capacity.

[Nerium]

————————————————————————————-

“You can lose all that baby weight your carrying around.”

I laughed honestly because the person who said this is fatter than me.

[Thrive]

————————————————————————————-

“You must lose that excess weight you are carrying.”

I felt that my worth depended on my weight.

[1:1 Diet by Cambridge Weight Plan]

————————————————————————————-

DISTRIBUTORS 

The women who join MLMs as distributors aren’t immune from being body shamed either:

I was encouraged to diet and exercise for an hour a day, film it and share it on social media to help me sell it. I was shown how to take the most unflattering poses for my before pictures.

It made me feel fat, ugly, like I had no choice but to lose weight super fast in order to make money.

[Beachbody]

————————————————————————————-

She encouraged me to “dress the part”, lose weight, get my hair and nails done because we had to represent the company in a way that [the founder] Joni would like.

First she was giving tax advice (do all of these things and claim as business expenses) so I felt like I was being misled instantly (my grandma was a tax preparer). But I instantly felt like I wasn’t “good enough”. As a new mom this was horrible for my self esteem.

[SeneGence]

————————————————————————————-

A Pampered Chef distributor was told she should lose weight to be more attractive. She came to hate her upline, and quit the company. 

————————————————————————————-

First experience: The person above me in AdvoCare hinted that I weighed too much. Second experience: Someone messaged me about joining a nutrition group for Isagenix.

AdvoCare: I didn’t notice the shaming until after I wasn’t friends with her. Isagenix: I just declined.

[AdvoCare and Isagenix]

————————————————————————————-

LuLaRoe is also infamous for pushing their top distributors to have weight reduction surgery.


So not only are MLMs badly affecting people’s finances and friendships, they are also damaging people’s self esteem — both that of their potential customers, and their own distributors. The pressure tactics many distributors use are turning people away from wanting to have anything to do with them. The success rate, of someone buying from them as a result of these negative messages, seems very low, from our small survey anyway. Their targets are annoyed, upset, embarrassed. We suppose the outcome of being repelled is a good thing. But at what cost?


* Our survey ran in May–June 2019, using SurveyMonkey. 30 responses were received, and 29 are included in this article. One was excluded as it was off topic. In the figures reported, totals may be more than 29, as multiple answers were permitted in all categories, and some people had more than one approach by MLMs.

All included respondents were women. 27 identified as Caucasian, 2 as African-America, 1 as Middle Eastern, and 1 as Hispanic/Latinx.

13 respondents were in the 35–44 age range, 11 were aged 25–34, 5 were aged 45–54, and 1 was aged 18–24.

Nearly half (14) were mothers at home with children. 8 were living with disability or chronic illness, 4 were military spouses, 3 were university students, 3 were unemployed, 3 were immigrants, and 1 was a single parent. Six (20%) did not fall into any of these categories.

Thank you to those who took the time to participate in our survey!


Cover photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Why at the FindYourFlex Group we don’t support MLMs

Our Stand Against (MLMs) Multi Level Marketing Schemes.

One of the last times I saw my university lecturer we were talking about what my plans were for the future. I outlined a strict timetable that included having a part time job, writing at the weekends and evenings, and somehow having a couple of kids who would slot neatly into this lifestyle. My lecturer tried to gently point out that this may be a hard schedule to stick to, at which I bristled. In my head, I told him that he was wrong, that I would manage. It wouldn’t be too much. I would it make it work.

After two babies, one broken-down house that we bought just before the housing crash and a now ex-partner with mental health problems, I realised what my lecturer was trying to tell me. Children are hard work. Life often gets much harder after having them. Don’t get me wrong, some people can manage to do everything they want, but I believe a great deal more struggle. Especially if you have added pressures: you are a single parent, you care for someone else with mental or physical difficulties, or you have your own ill health to cope with. And especially if you are also looking for a job.

This still is mostly true for women, as working mothers tend to end up being overworked and underpaid, often leaving full-time roles and taking on part-time work to cope with all of the roles they have to fulfil. On top of this, part-time, home-based or flexible work has an image problem it being seen as the ‘soft option’ and can make some feel like they have lost their status at work.

Head over to FindYourFlex / MummyJobs to read the rest of Kizzy Hamilton’s article!

9 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Join an MLM

The Perils of Working Under a Multi-Level Marketing Scheme.

  1. You are statistically more likely to lose money when working under a MLMS, not make it. The numbers I have looked at say that it’s 90% plus.
  2. In fact, you are slightly better off being a professional gambler.
  3. Because they want you to sell more, to disguise the fact that you are more than likely making nothing for yourself, there is often a pseudo self-help /motivation quality to the companies to keep you involved. Very often they conveniently counsel you to ignore ‘negative people’ or ‘haters’, just in case anybody close to you has any awkward questions, like ‘Are you making any money?’ [Many people] leave these companies and compare it to leaving a cult.

Head over to the Find Your Flex website to read Kizzy Hamilton’s full article!

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash