The Dangers of Being a “Girl Boss” – How MLMs Discourage Community and Stewardship
I can't tell you how many times someone from high school or college has messaged me to be a part of their multilevel marketing company. Whether it be Optavia, Lularoe, or Monat, these pitches come with lofty promises of financial freedom and a flexible work schedule. Most of these messages come from women, but more surprisingly Christian women.
However enticing the promise of "being a girl boss" or "gaining extra income" may be, these companies encourage emotional manipulation, cult ideologies, and poor financial stewardship for their distributors. Over 99% of distributors end up losing money according to the Federal Trade Commission, meaning these women are essentially working for free to convince other women to also work for free, which is poor stewardship of their money, time, and talents.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:15-16:
Pay careful attention, then, to how you live—not as unwise people, but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil.
Some may bring the argument that volunteering or community service lacks pay but offers biblical fulfillment. But, Jesus said “when I was hungry, you fed me.” He didn’t say, “When I was hungry, you encouraged me to start selling bread. And then, you encouraged me to recruit others to sell bread.” Consultants mainly make money from their downline, and eventually the downline philosophy runs flat because after 13-15 lines of recruitment (depending on your recruitment goals), you run out of people on Earth. There’s no actual feeding, just a long line of hunger and discontentment.
Why do these companies appeal to so many Christian women? Well, they tout community by convincing you that you’ll be part of a “team,” when in reality that team is your competition. This can entice women who may feel isolated because they either work from home as a full-time mom or remotely for a company. Through the BITE (behavior, information, thought, emotion) method of control, these companies convince Christian women that they can contribute financially to their households and build lifelong friendships.
A breakdown of just a few ways the BITE method is used in MLMs:
Behavioral - They control your clothing/hairstyle by promoting dependence/obedience. If you were really trying to look successful, you would dress the part. You can't get on your FB lives to show off your Younique tutorial without also showing how this business let's you afford designer clothing. You dress in boutique clothing to your meet and greets and send expensive "rewards" to your downline for reaching a goal. Nevermind you're $10K in credit card debt from having to buy a certain amount of product from the company every month. Filter your lifestyle so everyone wants to have what you have.
Information - Deliberately distort and withhold information. Though they are required to share, it's incredibly hard to find MLM income disclosure statements. They don't want you to learn that most distributors make less than $1,000 each year, which is abysmal considering that many MLMs have a startup cost of between $500-$5,000. You're also discouraged from asking questions to leadership and to only distribute the information given to you.
Thought - MLMs thrive off black & white thinking. In the beginning of your journey, you're love bombed with flattery, attention, affection, and endless compliments. Your head is so blown up, that when you start to think critically about your situation, your upline reminds you of how "lucky" you are to be in this opportunity that "empowers women."
Emotion - MLM leaders use some of the same shame tactics as cult leaders. If you're not succeeding in your business, it can't possibly be because the MLM model is flawed. It's obviously because you're not working hard enough. You're not "hustling" hard enough, recruiting enough people, or pushing your product on enough people in your life. They tell you that if you just pay for more trainings, you can grow your business. And they convince you that if you quit, you're betraying your "sisters."
Christian women who work outside of the home get roped in by the promised "opportunities for advancement." You're fed a well-rehearsed rhetoric that the more you recruit for your downline, the better chances for promotion. You get roped in by the product (literally the only thing standing in the way of them being a pyramid scheme), but quickly get pressured into growing your team and, eventually, your team's team. Women are motivated by story-telling, which can be a positive in other arenas. You read stories of how other women's lives were completely changed by this company on social media, when in reality 50% of distributors drop out within one year, and over 90% drop out within ten years.
Even the “Christian-based” MLMs are predatory to what they call “consultants.” According to Thirty-One’s income disclosure statement, less than 2% of consultants made over $10,000 per year, which is considerably lower than the poverty line. But, at the top of the statement, they still wave the “girl boss” flag by stating that your Thirty-One business is yours to “dream, build, and develop!” They are a wolf in sheep's clothing (or cleverly disguised as a knock-off Vera Bradley tote).
In reality, MLM distributor journeys end in credit card debt and hundreds of hours of lost time that could have been spent serving others as well as a redirected sense of community that should be focused on your family of faith.
Scripture harps on the importance of the community within Christ's church. That community, unlike MLMs do things like:
Forgives one another - Colossians 3:3 "bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive."
Holds each other accountable and pray for one another - James 5:16 "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect."
Questions leadership that leads you astray - 1 Timothy 3:1-5 "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?"
Serves one another, fulfilling each other's needs - Matthew 25:35-40 "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
Most importantly, points you to Christ - Philippians 2:5-11 "Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
For a riveting testimony from a former MLM top contributor, I recommend the book Hey, Hun by Emily Lynn Paulson (PG-13 for language). She doesn't claim to be a part of the Christian faith, but her story is still relevant to the harms of MLMs.