Body Shaming in MLMs

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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


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