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.

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

I felt totally insulted. I told her no.

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The MLM rep criticized my body. 

They made me feel annoyed.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!]

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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!] 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

She made me feel awful!

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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]

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“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] 

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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]

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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+]

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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+]

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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]

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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]

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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] 

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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]

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

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

[Thrive]

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“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]

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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]

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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]

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

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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]

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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

Closing a Chapter, Part 2

Coalition: Here is Part 2 of Linda’s recent experience with a personal care MLM. We’re putting it up in four parts over the next week or so, but you can head over to her blog if you want to read all of it right away! To read how her story started, catch up with Part 1. And now, on with Linda’s story:

Linda: At one of our smaller, monthly group meetings, the presenter gave a little talk about how to recruit people and she spoke of people’s “weaknesses” and their “pain” which made me feel awkward, I mean, yes I want to grow my business however I do also have a moral compass — targeting people who had credit card debit or debt of any kind was so low. I remember raising my hand and actually asking “Well, surely if someone is in debt, they won’t really have the money to pay for these products?” Her response was — “Well, you’ll find that people who are in debt kind of like to spend money regardless, so, in theory we’re only encouraging them to spend with us…” I was totally and utterly uncomfortable with this. I have had debt in the past, and I know first-hand how horrible it is. The fact that I was aiming to get rich off of the shoulders of someone who was struggling didn’t sit well with me. It was then that I started to really question what I was doing. I actually thought that these meetings were a complete waste of time. They were extremely repetitive and I guess, just additional brainwashing.

No matter how much I plugged the products or talked about the business, NO. ONE. WAS. INTERESTED in signing up or buying the products. When you take into account that a toothpaste I was selling was retailing at just over £11+ postage — and you can purchase a well-known, dentist recommended brand for £3–4, you can see why I was struggling. No amount of persuasion, and I have worked in retail/sales on Bond Street and Harrods in the past, could sell the overpriced products. I manged to sign up one old friend I hadn’t spoken to in years because, and I am ashamed to admit it, she was so utterly miserable in her job I guess she was desperate for anything that would help her escape, and I convinced her this was the opportunity she was looking for! I also signed up a nail technician I got talking to, however after a face-to-face meeting with her and Danni, where she voiced her concerns about the fact that she had been advised by her family that this was a pyramid scheme, she messaged me to say she was stopping. I kept my positive vibes up, I kept telling myself it would change; however, I was now beginning to think that I was becoming a clone of Company X. I felt like I was losing my identity. Every time I spoke to someone, I saw them as a potential recruit, as a way of progressing my “business”.

I was incapable of having a conversation with anyone without trying to plug the products in one way or another. If I spoke to warm contacts (friends or family) I risked alienating them and cold contacts (strangers) are very rarely willing to trust a complete stranger. Therefore, you are trained to make cold contacts warm, however in my opinion this is a false way of building a true friendship, as your ultimate goal is to recruit. The whole process is based on making money and pushing your business forward. It reeks of desperation and falseness. I attended several Network Marketing meetings off of my own back (may I also add that MLM companies such as ours had been frozen out of several Networking events in my area, no doubt because the organisers were sick of reps recruiting) I was told it was because there was another rep from a similar company attending, however I truly believe that the organisers where just trying to be nice about the truth. MLM reps are also banned from many Mum and Baby groups, as again, the organisers think the reps simply prey on the mother’s need to find a flexible job they can work around their children.

I kept on wondering how the hell the other reps were receiving such massive product deliveries for their customers. Instagram and Facebook were often littered with people posting about orders, boxes full of products. When I started looking into MLM Scam websites, I found out that reps from other companies were told by their uplines (the people who recruit them) that they should keep any empty boxes and use these to bulk up personal orders to make it look like bigger deliveries. This goes to show just how innocent (or naïve?) I was. I would never had done this! All my posts were genuine, however no wonder my orders were of only a few items, most of which were for me. I couldn’t believe the deceit and it didn’t stop there. I also discovered and again, I laugh at myself for not knowing this — you can buy followers on social media – personally, I think this is a little bit desperate, I mean, surely, if you have followers, it should be because your posts etc. are of interest to people — the fact that you can pay as little as £10 for 1000 followers makes me balk. I then started to wonder, if this was what a lot of the Company X girls did, to perhaps show they had some sort of popular following, lots of customer and potential recruits — attraction marketing remember?

Another niggle was Danni. When we initially spoke about Company X, she told me she had left her full time job, as the money she was making as a Company X rep was now the equivalent to what her monthly salary was…I thought this was brilliant and I knew realistically this would take time. Danni had now been a Company X rep for over four years and as we grew closer, she would admit little things that raised alarm bells with me. The fact that she didn’t earn this all the time. There were quite a few months where she made very little, or that it was a struggle at times and she sometimes looked at perhaps getting another job. She would quickly then retract her statements and say she could never go back to working for someone else, not now that she was her own “boss”.


What happens next? Stay tuned for Part 3 of Linda’s tale!

Feature photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Closing a Chapter, Part 1

Coalition: Linda is kindly sharing her experience with a personal care MLM. This is a cross-post from her blog. We’re putting it up in four parts over the next week, but you can head over to her blog if you want to read all of it right away!


Linda: I would like to stress before I continue that the views expressed in this blog are that of my own. These are my opinions, feelings and my own personal experience of a Multi-Level Marketing company. I have changed my uplines name in order to protect her identity. I have also changed the company name to “Company X” so as not to disclose the company’s name. I thought long and hard about writing this blog, especially as it will be open to view on my website – however I truly believe that this is a form of closure for me. I didn’t realise just how much this had indeed affected me, writing this blog will help me close this chapter of my life once and for all. I have also written this blog in order to help people who are perhaps thinking of joining an MLM, hoping that they are thoroughly researching and reading up on people’s experiences and not just basing their decision on the people who are recruiting them, as sadly I did.

My MLM experience was, thankfully, a relatively brief one. I was unhappy in my office job of almost four years and in November 2018, I was invited to my cousin’s house, where I met for the first time his step daughter (who for the sake of this blog, I will call) Danni. We hit it off immediately and although she was ten years my junior, she was very mature in her behaviour and we seemed to like the same things.

We began to follow each other on Instagram and her posts about “living life on her terms” and working from home, based around beauty and skincare intrigued me. I too loved anything skincare based and I was interested in knowing more about what she did. I had absolutely no idea what a Multi-Level Marking company was, nor did I know about Pyramid Schemes. All I knew was that this could be a way that I could get into the skincare industry and I was open minded when I went along to a local business briefing before Christmas and then to a second, much larger “Success Summit” in January based in London.

Both business briefing and Summit were totally and utterly geared towards positivity. The company hosting the summit and the people on stage were training you to think in a positive way, attracting like-minded people and although some of it was a little over the top – lots of punching the air, whooping, motivational speakers etc. (I felt totally out of my comfort zone, as I am a little more reserved) I embraced the positive mindset and I left feeling pleased and happy that collaborating with Company X would be a good decision, after all, Danni was doing it, she was sort of family and surely, I could trust her? She initially said when we first spoke about me signing up back in December that she would never recommend this business opportunity to anyone if she thought it would be bad for them, right?

I am wholeheartedly ashamed to say, I fell for the MLM scam, hook, line and sinker. I totally signed up to the whole positive mindset attitude, The Law of Attraction theory, the “surround yourself with like-minded people”, anyone who doesn’t support you is a “Hater” or a “Dream Stealer” a “Negative Nancy” who is jealous of your success and doesn’t want you to succeed. I quit my job in January 2019 and totally threw myself into building my “business” and to be fair no one told me to do this. I was lucky enough to have savings to enable me to do so, therefore I threw myself into my Company X business 100%. I sold a few products, only to one friend and some family members who no doubt felt sorry for me. Absolutely nobody on social media was interested and the three enquires I did receive came to an abrupt halt once I sent over the price of the products to my potential customers. People were just not willing to pay the ridiculously high prices for a brand they knew nothing about, without being able to properly test the product, or receive some sort of sample. I could of course supply samples of some products, however I would need to buy the full-size bottle, then purchase little sample pots, and the whole process would come from my pocket. Company X did not provide samples and now of course, I realise why. I was also a little deflated whenever I did receive a package as despite the cost of the products the package looked really cheap. I knew I would have to pull out all the stops to sell these products.

I ploughed away relentlessly, I paid for business cards, I created leaflets, I purchased products to promote on social media, I was always positive, even if things weren’t great, we were trained to never let this show, always promote positivity. What you think, you will receive. I improved my mindset – kept my thoughts on success. I called salons, mobile make-up artists, local businesses, business in London practically every day; only to have the phone put down on me once I explained the sign-up process, no one wanted to associate themselves with a pyramid scheme. I was advised by Danni to create a list of all the people I knew. People from the past, old colleagues, family, the people I knew who worked in shops, even the Hermes Delivery guy became a target. To my immense shame, I messaged/and or called everyone. I literally cringe when I think of the people who I contacted…it was so false…I would never have spoken to them again in any other situation…but this was all in aid of building my “business”, therefore I was willing to throw my dignity in the gutter.

What happens to Linda next? Part 2 is coming later on this week!

Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash