[Elle:] The Anti-MLM Coalition recently received a message from a UK-based reader by the name of Penny (not her real name), who wishes to share her experience of losing a dear friend to the clutches of Forever Living, the aloe vera MLM.
Before reading part one of Penny’s two-part story, please remind yourself that all views presented in this blog are as told to us by the authors, and simply reflect their own opinions. Your own personal experiences with MLM companies may differ, negatively or positively.
Take it away, Penny.
[Penny:] Thanks for letting me tell this story, Elle. This is a very muted down version of my experience of being best friends with somebody who became a serial MLMer. This happened in the summer of 2014 in the UK. All views and opinions are my own.
It was a warm summer morning on the daily school run. I had slipped on a pair of flip-flops and propped my fringe out the way with a pair of sunglasses, as my little girls skipped to school ahead of me. As usual, after dropping the girls into the playground, I saw my good friend Tawney rushing through the gates armed with two children and giggling sheepishly. I raised my eyebrow as if to say “you’re late again“.
I had met Tawney around a year ago when her children joined the school and we had got talking in the playground. She usually asked me back to hers for a coffee and a natter, or more often than not we would end up browsing ’round shopping centres or charity shops. To be honest, I think we were grateful for each other’s company as we were both happy, yet often bored, housewives.
Tawney looked a little more glamorous than usual today; she had some eye-shadow on and red nail polish. She never normally wore any makeup, perhaps just a slight coat of mascara on the school run.
“Oooh, you look nice,” I said politely.
Almost instantly she was grinning from ear to ear and said she “may have just landed herself a new job with a makeup and skincare line.”
I let out a girly squeal and innocently praised her and wished her all the luck in the world. She also explained the company was “recruiting for more people to join” and you could “pick your own hours“.
Once again I let out a squeal, however, I didn’t meet the same amount of enthusiasm as before; it seemed insane as Tawney explained she was “getting paid to be on Facebook.” This was around the time people were starting to get fed up with the spider-lash selfies circulating on Facebook, so I asked her straight away if it was Younique she had got herself involved with.
She looked almost offended and said, “my goodness no! That’s a total con and so tacky, hardly anybody makes any money. I’m going to be selling top quality products to an audience who pay for quality.”
Tawney seemed so confident in what she was saying that I never questioned her further, and naively assumed it wasn’t a multi-level marketing scheme she had just got involved with. As we continued our chit chat in the car, she didn’t mention her new job again for the rest of the day. We simply browsed ’round the local shops, grabbed a sandwich and coffee before we were back to the dreaded school run. As we said our goodbyes, Tawney waved me off before announcing she would see me on Monday hopefully with “her goodies” for me to try. I left feeling excited – she would be brightening up my Monday morning next week – I wouldn’t have to spend my morning watching Jeremy Kyle whilst folding the washing.
Monday morning dawned, and my phone alarm started vibrating as the sun peeked in through my curtains. I did a double-take when I picked up my phone, as I saw two messages from Tawney which forced me to blink several times to bring myself to life and read them.
For a split-second, I half expected there to be some sort of emergency as Tawney (as I mentioned before) was always late for the school run, as she was never an early riser and so laid back.
Instead, I was met with “morning Hun…”
Tawney NEVER called me ‘Hun’. In fact, we always used to cringe at the yummy mummies who greeted each other with “Hun” in the mornings and giggle as we walked off.
Her message was met with an array of “xxxx” (kisses) at the end basically telling me she was “super excited to bring her samples round for me to try“. I texted her back telling her I was excited too, and that I would grab some bacon and fresh rolls from the local shop so we can treat ourselves to a pamper session.
I got myself dressed for the school-run feeling excited; my Monday morning was going to be a relaxed one with some company. My partner worked weekdays and I had no family nearby, so I often spent my weekdays alone and bored twiddling my thumbs when I had finished the housework.
Tawney arrived at the school gates on time for once, with her hair blow-dried to perfection and wearing a full face of makeup. Although I thought she looked lovely, I suddenly felt rather gross with my bare face and outfit of flip-flops, leggings and smock. As we took the short walk to mine from the school gates, I noticed Tawney had a small basket, along with a canvas bag underneath her handbag with the word ‘FOREVER’ printed on it.
Intrigued, I asked her what ‘FOREVER’ meant, and she winked at me and told me to “be patient” in a really sarcastic, silly voice. I looked at her confused, as I only asked a simple question. I just smiled politely, as she made me feel like I had been badgering her for information when that wasn’t really the case.
“Shall I pop the bacon under the grill now, or do you want a cuppa first?” I asked Tawney when we arrived at mine.
“I won’t be having tea today, I’ll be having my juice,” she announced as she took out a beaker from her canvas bag.
The beaker also had the word ‘FOREVER’ printed on it. She placed the beaker closer to me than it was to her, almost to try and grab my attention to the ‘FOREVER’ logo. I can’t explain why, but a feeling of unease washed over me so I pretended I hadn’t noticed the beaker and said “alrighty” as I flicked the kettle on to make myself a cup of tea.
As I made my way to the living room, I was taken aback to see my coffee table covered in leaflets and a few bottles that resembled yellow 1-pint milk cartons and various white tubes.
Tawney was placing them down very neatly and carefully, almost like a jeweller in Harrods with a tray of solid gold rings they’d got out to showcase. In that very moment, my heart sank. I realised Tawney had assumed I was her customer; as I internally panicked, I remembered I agreed to her showing me the “goodies” from her new ‘job’.
I stupidly thought she would be showing me all her freebies from this new ‘job’, and that we would be just spraying posh perfumes, and giggling as we slapped on some nice lipstick. A wave of nervousness washed over me. I felt under pressure to keep a smile on my face as she placed a catalogue on my lap and grinned from ear to ear.
Oh shit, what do I do?
“So, err…what’s this, then?” I nervously asked in a softer voice, even though I knew damn well that this was a catalogue full of products from a company I can now see is called ‘Forever Living’.
The catalogue was glossy and looked rather luxurious on the front, however, I soon noticed it was simply a book full of aloe vera-based products that people could purchase through Tawney.
She sat uncomfortably close to me as she “oooohed” and “ahhhed” at particular products, explaining how great it all was. I asked her if she had tried them all; she looked at me like she wanted to slap me and aggressively said, “I don’t need to try everything, hun, the results speak for themselves!”
As she said this, she pointed her red nail to an airbrushed image of a youthful model, with pearly white teeth. In that moment I had never felt more uncomfortable in my life; I had never seen her behave like this before towards me.
“Erm, I’ll pop the bacon on, then I can have a proper look,” I announced, shifting in my seat to get up and away from her.
Tawney started to soften her tone, probably realising my unease: “Try these, hun,” she said, coming at me with some lotion she got out of the basket.
I felt a tad uncomfortable as she started to pop some on my hand.
“Ooooh how amaaaaazing does that feel? Sooooo soft!” she cooed.
I must admit I stupidly agreed with her – it did feel soft. However, I will say that it honestly felt no different than my shop-bought lotion I use after a bath. I asked her how much it was; if it was indeed the same price as my shop-bought lotion, I would have got some. Mainly, because Tawney seemed so sure of herself, and oh-so confident these products contained an “almost-pure aloe vera content.”
For reference, it was the ‘Aloe Propolis Creme’, which currently retails at £15.56 GBP according to their website. I can’t remember how much it was back in 2014, but it was still over-inflated!
Basically, the price Tawney told me meant that this product cost almost 5 times the amount of my usual lotion, and was barely a third of the size.
“Ohh, sorry Tawney, that’s a little out of budget for me,” I mumbled.
Tawney quickly chimed, “look at the makeup then, it’s sooooo good! Especially the lippies, hun! AND they’re cheaper than those MAC ones you like!!”
Sure, I loved MAC lipsticks. I usually treated myself to a set every Christmas as a treat, and they lasted me the year, if not longer. Well, I looked at the lipsticks as Tawney hovered, eagerly waiting for a response from me. I nervously took a shallow breath and asked her if she had any of the lipsticks for me to try.
Underwhelmed, my eyes scanned through these picture of lipsticks that didn’t have nice packaging, cost only £2 less than MAC and had no information about texture, finish or even colour swatches to see. I mean, I never got a MAC lipstick from a catalogue or online – I went to the store and swatched the demo products on my hands to feel the formula, and visualise the pigment myself before I was sold.
Tawney sighed, rolled her eyes and said “no, hun, I don’t have any lipstick – that would mean I would need to buy one myself just to show you, and then I would be out of pocket myself!”
In my head I was screaming … what the actual fuck – so she expects me to pocket one and hopefully I’ll like it for the best part of twenty quid, but she’s admitted she’s not getting one for herself? If they’re so good, surely she would be buying them for herself??
I decided to not open my mouth, as I knew Tawney would get annoyed and offended I dare question her, instead I told her I would think about it. Tawney seemed a little surprised I didn’t want to order anything, forced a smile but accepted it. We sat there watching Jeremy Kyle, the awkwardness thankfully subsided and we started giggling at some of the outlandish guests.
“Let me know if you change your mind, hun!” Tawney chirped as she left, just after lunchtime.
She left the leaflets on my coffee table.
I spent the afternoon folding clothes and doing the dishes, unable to shake off an uneasy feeling.
Just before I did the school-run, I checked Facebook and the first post that was on my newsfeed was a post from Tawney, telling everyone she had “some amazing exclusive products” alongside some daft #BossBabe quotes she had got from Google.
Tawney had also added me to her Facebook ‘VIP’ group without asking, and sent me an inbox message with a link to her products she was selling. Annoyed, I felt like she was not going to be taking no for an answer.
I then realised those silly quotes were the same ones I’ve seen Younique reps post on Facebook before, except these ones had added aloe vera pictures over them. Call me stupid, but It suddenly dawned on me that Tawney was an online, commission-only sales rep, and part of an MLM scheme. My heart sunk.
Luckily, I didn’t see her on the school run that afternoon, and I told my partner, Cai, everything over dinner. He chuckled at me for feeling nervous about telling her “no” to ordering any of the products, and said I should have “told her to bugger off and shove her aloe vera up her arse.”
I giggled at his blunt response and softened. I reasoned that I was being silly and that I had nothing to worry about. I looked forward to a peaceful weekend with my family.
As the weekend drew to a close, I sat down after putting the kids to bed and heard my phone beep. I felt a weird sense of dread, as I just knew it would be Tawney asking if I wanted to order any of the lipsticks. I was right.
In my head, I was screaming no no no!
I handed my phone to Cai to read, and he said, “Jesus, she’s desperate. Don’t open the message babe, not yet.”
Cai asked me the name of the company, got his iPad out and buried his head in it (not literally). He made stunned gasps as he continued scrolling through assorted threads he found on Google about this Forever Living company.
From his fervent research, Cai determined that this was a pyramid scheme. I had heard of those before but was shocked as he explained what a pyramid scheme was in full detail. He also found some threads about reps from Forever Living being part of a “brainwashed cult” who have upset a lot of people by making false health claims such as “helping cancer patients“.
Cai suggested I should open Tawney’s message so she can see I’ve read it, but not reply “so she gets the hint.”
Thing is, she was my best friend. In fact, she was perhaps the only friend I had locally. I didn’t want to fall out over all this nonsense and certainly didn’t want to play games like that.
I sent her the following: “Hey! Sorry, I won’t be ordering anything at the moment as we aren’t in a position to be spending money on it and I don’t really need any new products either as I did a big shop on payday xxx”
I held my breath and finally, Tawney replied with: “no worries, if you change your mind you’ve got my link on Facebook and only need to ask or post in my group.”
I went to bed that evening feeling terribly guilty that I had been naive and wasted her time coming over with the samples, but Cai was telling me that I was too nice – he said she was clearly guilt-tripping me, and that she should have stopped asking after I showed no interest the first time.
Maybe he was right, or maybe I was just overthinking.
I was pleasantly surprised the following week to see Tawney give me an enthusiastic wave from the car park at the local shops after I had done the school run.
“Fancy coming to the big Tesco for a mooch?” she shouted.
“Why not!” I said as I strolled over to her car.
We spent the car journey giggling about Friday’s episode of Eastenders, with no mention of Forever Living! We then had a lovely morning in each other’s company, before she offered to drop me off home. It was going so well until the last 30 seconds of that goodbye turned sour so fast.
Tawney pushed her chest out and pouted, before announcing, “I’m off to work now, Hun. I’ve got some great follow-ups from some customers in my Facebook group.”
I gritted my teeth behind my smile and shut the car, door knowing full-well she was having a sly dig because I didn’t want to purchase anything.
Over the next few weeks my Facebook was bombarded with tags, invites and my newsfeed was almost all selfies of Tawney and daft #BossBabe quotes. I just didn’t recognise her anymore.
I hadn’t seen Tawney socially for weeks since we went to Tesco – now, we just waved at each other across the playground. I never waited for her by the school gates, I just rushed off ’round the corner to my house. I also removed myself from her ‘VIP Facebook group’ as I grew tired of the constant pings on my phone whenever she posted a selfie. Within 3 hours, she added me back!
Frustrated I removed myself once again, this time pressing the option of not allowing her to re-add me. Clicking on her profile, I hovered my finger over the block button…I really contemplated it but wasn’t strong enough to deal with a possible fallout as our kids were at the same school.
I was sure this was a phase and she would stop soon. I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, as it was only really a month or two since she joined this company. However, I was growing sick of her shit and didn’t really want to see her anymore – I knew if I saw her again, she would talk about her bloody aloe vera products or would get a sly dig in about me not ordering anything.
I guess you could say this was the beginning of the end.
~ End of Part One ~
Continue to the Conclusion
[Elle:] Thank you, Penny, for kindly sharing Part One of your MLM experience. If you have any questions for Penny, please add them below and we will ensure they reach her. Look out for the conclusion of her story in Part Two. Here, Penny will discuss the drama with Facebook Buy & Sell Group admins, the moment Tawney realised she was ‘Betting on Zero’, and whether she ever got her old friend back.
Further Reading & Support
- For some ideas of how you can help if you find yourself in Penny’s position, take a look at this selection from our General Advice category:
- Perhaps you are actually in Tawney’s position? If so, take a look at this selection from our General Advice category: