An interview with Meg Conley
This was a great conversation.
I am afro - Latina, and I grew up in a household with an RN mom who had to do work in the home- and then go out- and depended on my siblings and after school programs to do childcare while Papa was often overworked and underpaid for his work, due to good old racism. But they supported little cottage businesses out of people's home, and they did buy Tupperware and Fashion Fair and Avon because the ladies at church did need the little bit of income that it provided. The products were inroduced as a 'little thing that I do" and so many people in 80s/90s Bed Stuy had a little thing that they did, so lipsticks and containers and Avon bath products got bought and shared to cousins aplenty. But if they did not want to buy anything from ladies at church, that was okay too, and they would put away the sample kits and still hang out with my parents. Tuppwerware and Fashion Fair was not lifechanging, it was just a supplement to SS, nothing, nothing less, and it ultimately had nothing to do with friendships in the Bed Stuy community.
So now- there are so many of the financial MLMs being sold to African American and Caribbean people. I am not talking about franchises, which are risky but can be profitable. I mean, these really potentially bankrupting businesses with shady insurance companies, investment and crypto schemes and all the rest, relying on the reality of anti Black/Brown racism in depressing earnings at companies to sell these services. It's angering and it makes me sick. Even trying to make new friendships with my fellow Black and Brown neighbors in Portland I am subjected to a fucking sell for a MLM- a 'business opportunity'. I have to be firm, almost insultingly blunt, and tell them that my career IS my business opportunity, and if I wanted a side hustle, I could bake pies. But if they want friendship, then lets hang out.
I don't get calls back from these people. And that's the real reason why I despise MLMs- this power to poison friendships, especially friendships in the African American and minority communities, to use friendships for a short term, dollars based profit.
I fucking hate it.
I left a career to do LLR, largely because of the pressures of child care and needing to take constant leave to be home with sick kids because my partner couldn't. This made me feel *seen* in a way I haven't been since the LuLaRich commentary started. Thanks. Particularly the part about how every successful person in America is at the top of their own pyramid. Going to be thinking about myself existing under my husband's pyramid for awhile.
I LOVE this, and I love that Meg got into a lot of the issues surrounding stay at home parenting and economics. I'm a stay at home mother for several reasons, including kids with special needs. (We could do a whole essay on *that* issue.) A lot of mainstream liberal feminism hasn't dealt well with the issue. Of course there's issues with the cultural tropes surrounding the idealization of stay-at-home parenting amongst the white middle class, and it's a lot more complicated than "choices" (my least favorite word).
But often it comes down to devaluing the work that mothers do, or falling into a trap of valuing people according to their economic contribution.
The LLR/MLM issue is interesting to me in part because it is so tied into a very different culture from my own (east coast, middle class Jewish). Growing up, I knew the occasional Tupperware or jewelry party, but not more than that. I've had a few Jewish friends do some small time MLMs (usually Pampered Chef) but nothing like my non-Jewish neighbors in my town now, where there was a small business section in the school directory and it was FULL of MLMs. It's interesting to me how church culture really seems to reinforce the whole network marketing phenomenon.
Another aspect that needs to be talked about is the environmental impact of LuLaRoe. Even the "buttery soft" leggings seem to fit firmly in the "fast fashion" category. How many times are those Halloween themed leggings going to be worn before they're tossed away?
This is fascinating! Definitely did not need to be shorter, I could have read a book length version! I know some people involved in various nail/oil/beauty MLMs and I’m kind of obsessed with it, I’m in an antiMLM Facebook group and there’s a subreddit, antiMLM, which I also follow. I also know people involved in its latest evolution, crypto/finance MLMs, which are very Bro heavy and tech adjacent. They’re weird to me because there isn’t even a product that they’re selling, just Oracle-like knowledge from “experts”. The drama and pathos is like catnip to me, except in one specific case of someone I consider a friend. I can’t think of any way to convince her to get out without jeopardizing our friendship, so I just wait and hope she comes to her senses one day. But the finance MLMs seem harder to leave in that respect. You don’t have a room full of inventory piling up, just accumulating losses and a Vegas-y feeling that a big score is always around the corner.
From my vantage point, it has a lot in common with the Q/antivax/Fox news situation. People at the top obviously know it’s a giant scam and are out to get rich by exploiting gullible and vulnerable people below them. I always wonder how many (or few) steps down the pyramid you need to go before the scammer becomes the scammee.
Oh my goodness- this article was fascinating. It is such a multilayered issue shrouded in inequities and false promises and religion and race and and and! I immediately came home to watch the series and I am hooked. The fact that this is real people's lives... there is so much to dive into here and I am glad I read this before watching so that I have an idea of the underlying dynamics at play as I watch.
DANG this was good. And that essay linked about the kitchen (By Design) was fantastic.
Damn this is good.
DANG wish this had been out when I wrote my review
I really love how this piece can loop back to your previous one on kids' sports. Because I'm obsessed with walkability and our car-centric culture, I think a lot about how the kids' sports issue leads to unacknowledged harms because people have to drive so much to make them happen. Which connects to the "who and what are under your own personal pyramid?" I'm not sure I know many people who would be willing to think about the harm caused -- through climate change's effects on countries and people rarely seen here; through communities continually damaged by the demand to keep car traffic flowing above all other needs -- simply by the driving required to keep kids active in various sports.
I wonder if Meg knows of Kate Raworth's work on Doughnut Economics, meeting human needs without ecological and social overshoot? There's so much about that model that ties into what's discussed here, and in interviews I've heard with her she's said explicitly that becoming a mother and finding herself in the unpaid caring economy was what led her to develop the Doughnut Economics model: https://www.kateraworth.com
What a fascinating subject. I am so glad I read this piece before watching LuLaRich. It filled in many gaps in the series, which I thought was informative but sacrificed a solid critique of US capitalism's effects on the lives of non-rich families with children for tabloidesque drama and was way short on non-white folks. I know people who do MLM for fun or because they like the products, not because they need the money. That doesn't bother me. I've bought some overpriced but cute CAbi clothes. Rodan and Fields skin care works better for me than anything else I've tried at any price range. I even bought some hideous, immediately-donated LuLaRoe once because the seller had a sob story about suddenly being left with no husband and three kids under ten. But I'm always a hard "no" when they ask me to join the downline. It's easy for me because my parents raised me to be an MLM skeptic, and I have an advanced degree and own a professional services business that does well enough. I've known a married couple (Amway, back in the early 1980s) and a married woman (Rodan and Fields quite recently) all starry-eyed and believing the upline recruiters who told them, "The only limit on how much you can make is you!" They hustled like crazy, they went to the glitzy events in Vegas, they believed
. . .but now they don't really want to talk about it. It breaks my heart, because these are genuinely decent, kind people, but somewhere along the line, they lost or never had the critical thinking skills to ask themselves how this could possibly work out. I truly hope this can become part of a larger conversation about how badly US capitalism is failing all but those at the very top of the pyramid, and we can start dismantling cultural and legal barriers to real reform. Thank you both!
So much of this is relatable. My husband’s employer closed in 2008, and I started selling Mary Kay thinking I could help us pay the bills. We filed Chap. 13 in 2009. I still buy from MLMs because a lot of times I like the products and it’s easy to just click and not to go out to the store to shop and hunt. I’ve only watched a portion of the documentary but did notice its overwhelming whiteness, but I’ve purchased LLR products from numerous sellers and have seen very few POCs involved in buying or selling. I would have liked to hear what about this particular MLM might have felt ostracizing to people of other races (other than the obvious). Maybe they’ll make a part 2.