Climbing The Ladder

The 4 Worst Girlbossy MLM Phrases, Ranked

By Thursday, March 18, 2021

Girlboss MLMs are a breeding ground for “Yas queen, slay” business advice, defending themselves against valid arguments with sass and gaslighting. Aka, Sass-lighting…

Recently, a content creator I enjoy following began sharing her hair journey on Instagram. She showed off a head of healthy locks and repaired damage. Her mane had the things most of us hope for: length, strength, and shine. She shared that it was the result of products from her own hair care business. I was genuinely impressed, and on a hair journey myself, I swiped up to learn more about her business and see what products were still available for purchase. 

My browser was then redirected to a site called Monat.

At the time, I was unfamiliar with Monat or that it was a multilevel marketing company (MLM). Based on the creator’s rhetoric, I thought the company was her actual business and that she was selling products developed in a lab. I quickly deduced that Monat was another MLM hiding behind phrases like “social selling” and “direct sales” allowing for optimistic, determined people to believe they were girlboss entrepreneurs and goal-diggers. (Slay, mama.) 

Since learning about girl power-forward MLMs, I’ve become intrigued by the culture as a whole, from their cult-like tactics to recruit new team members to ex-huns’ “getting out” stories. As an engaged spectator and Instagram follower of a Monat seller, their stories and posts about the company make it into my feed. Typically it’s harmless, albeit fatiguing, dedication posts to the company, their teams, and new flash sales. But in between the ‘girlboss’ reels and toast trends, members will upload clips from team trainings, reshare Instagram lives with uplines, post original content about why Monat is such a great opportunity, and share mostly surface-level advice on turning a side hustle into financial freedom. Which, at first blush, isn’t too alarming.

But after some reflecting and examination, the rhetoric spewed by MLM huns is no different than the toxic rhetoric and messaging used by girlboss-pandering companies that we’re beginning to tear down. Both groups are making their money from corporate feminism or a pink-washed package of capitalism. Each grooms their employees with manipulation tactics, trend-forward jargon, and aspiration advertising. Both groups tug at a woman’s need to feel worthy and provide for her family. They are a breeding ground for “Yas queen, slay” business advice, defending themselves against valid arguments with sass and gaslighting. Aka, Sass-lighting.  

And these are the four phrases I find most toxic and prevalent within the world of “girlboss” culture and MLMs, ranked.

4. “If your loved ones don’t support your business, they don’t support you.”

Eyeroll rating: 1 out of 2 eyes

Its conditioning belief and why it’s harmful: In the regular world, this advice can help. But in the MLM world, this is an isolation tactic. Pointing out flawed business practices or inquiring about a business model’s health isn’t a sign of disloyalty. Based on some “getting out” stories I’ve watched on YouTube, MLM sellers are encouraged to block and disassociate themselves with nay-sayers and even people who leave the MLM. You’re encouraged to remain in an echo chamber of fellow “boss babes” who are drinking the same Kool-Aid and won’t challenge any harmful practices. This is why MLMs and hustle culture-obsessed employers feel like a cult. 

What I wish we normalized instead: Obviously if this is being used as a tactic, the utility is to isolate and manipulate. However, in situations where psychological abuse isn’t at play (at least not intentionally), we should set the expectation that relationships are multidimensional. Healthy dialogue and conflict communication should be part of any relational foundation. Progress is moving toward empowering others with coping mechanisms and tools to communicate frustrations effectively. 

3. “If you want something bad enough, you’ll make time, not excuses.”

Eyeroll rating: 1 out of 2 eyes, in the back of my head.

Its conditioning belief and why it’s harmful: Do I understand what they’re getting at? Yes. Here’s why this kind of messaging misses the mark for me; it shifts all blame for missed goals or missed opportunities to the person who is working to better themselves and their circumstances. 

While accountability and radical self-responsibility are important and vital to success with any goal, the idea that passion alone is the single deciding factor of success or whether or not you have time is misleading. When we internalize failure and success in this way, we’re prone to overwork, obsessively compare, and sacrifice important areas of life like family and friends to achieve work-related goals. This “advice” was the precursor to hustle culture.

Finally, can you imagine your friend coming to you and informing you that she didn’t get the job offer and you looking at her, offering, “You just didn’t want it bad enough.” If a parent wants to go back to school for a higher degree but isn’t sure how they’ll balance parenthood with schoolwork, are you going to call their apprehension an excuse? 

What I wish we normalized instead: “Keep consistent with the hard work you’re putting in despite the setbacks you experience.” This kind of advice and messaging acknowledges the ebbs and flow of life. It doesn’t glorify perfection or dangle the idea that you can achieve a blemish-free life if you just want it bad enough. A friend doesn’t get the job? Keep consistent with the hard work on interviewing and applying despite the setback you’re experiencing. The parent wants to go to school but isn’t sure how to make it work? Timing may be a setback now, but let’s focus on steps we can take or resources we can use to make your schedule more flexible.

2. “If you have time to scroll, you have time to start a business.”

Eyeroll rating: 2 out of 2 eyerolls.

Its conditioning belief and why it’s harmful: This message shames us for resting and doing an activity that isn’t metrics-focused. Instagram can be a place that is meant for memes and resharing TikToks; it doesn’t need to be another stream of income if that’s not your vision. 

Also, this reduces the challenges of business ownership to merely having time and drive. Two important things, but skimming through nuances of entrepreneurship is dangerous. In addition to giving advice on “how to be your own sugar daddy,” also advise taxes, pay contractors, and protect your business. You can have time and drive, but you also need capital, a business development plan, and KPIs to start.

Finally, not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. In a capitalist country, it’s not shocking that we glamourize a lifestyle of busy schedules and make deals while in Louboutins, but why are we encouraging young adults to strive for a life where success is being too busy sit with yourself and your phone for 20 minutes? 

What I wish we normalized instead: Rest. I wish we normalized the idea of taking breaks, hydrating our spirit, and not waiting until we crash into a wall to get the help we needed. We should evolve past the point of condemning people for not being “on” 24/7. The success of your life cannot be dismantled in a thirty-minute sitting of a television show.

1. “Just put the money [to invest in inventory / join an MLM] on the credit card.”

No. 

I don’t think I need to explain why this is toxic, but here goes…

Eyeroll rating: 3 out of 2. Even my third eye is rolling.

Its conditioning belief and why it’s harmful: For starters, encouraging anyone to go into debt for a non-emergency is a problem and can prove harmful to a person’s financial life. Debt isn’t free money, and this messaging diminishes the act of debt down to a self-confidence-building moment, “Do you believe you can make the money back?” Or my favorite, “Why don’t you believe you’re worth this investment?” Seriously, screw off with that energy. As someone who is an unapologetic believer in The Secret, I do not like the misuse of manifestation or inner work to manipulate others into a purchase. 

What I wish we normalized instead: Small business grants and financial resources should be more prevalent in our country. I’ve always found it tragically poetic that in a country where “anyone can become rich,” you must first be a slave to debt. 

In addition to more resources, I would like to see dialogue pivot toward wealth management and how to invest in your responsibility. (Hi, The Financial Diet team! Thanks for doing the hard work.) While most people can’t relate to the struggle of scraping together money to join an MLM, most do endure student debt burden. Politically, I hope to see student debt canceled altogether. However, in the meantime, financial literacy courses are slowly becoming more common across states. Instead of telling someone “go make more money,” let’s demonstrate and equip them with the proper education, tooling, and guidance to do so.

***

Ultimately, if we’re looking at it on a spectrum, my feelings toward MLM huns are closest to empathy. As someone who has lost casual friendships to MLMs, I believe most sellers are well-intentioned people. They’re victims of a business strategy that preys on vulnerability and the idea that you can have it all, and these four phrases are just used as bait to catch whose they can devour.

Jazmine Reed-Clark, a career coach, writer, and podcast host of the podcast Office Politics.

Image via Unsplash

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