Author’s note: to fully represent all of the malicious inner workings of these shopping-oriented house parties, I interviewed several women who’ve attended them as guests. Their anonymous testimonials are referenced throughout this article.
Connie breathes down your neck as you scan the pages of her kid’s holiday gift catalog. In your periphery, two other coworkers scurry off to eat lunch in their cars. A cold sweat envelops you now as you wonder… have popcorn tins always been this expensive? Even the tea light candle thing is like fifteen bucks—damn!
We’ve all been in this situation in one way or another. You’re either the one being detained in the break room, forced to buy gross toffy or you’re one of the Connies of the world, enslaved by an overwhelming pressure to out-parent everyone else in the booster club. Both people in this situation are dealing with impossible, irreconcilable guilt:
Connie could not take the catalog to work, leaving it up to callous chance (and her neighborhood’s generosity) as to whether or not her kids can raise enough money for band camp. You could not buy the working class mother of four’s $20 friendship bracelet assortment and just keep on being a douchebag your whole life.
One thing though is clear — someone is exiting this transaction as the sucker. What a shitty, exploitative business model, right? What other shopping experience has so many interwoven expectations and potentially hurt feelings?
What if I told you there is an even more insidious sales tactic that makes school fundraisers seem as innocent as a lemonade stand?
Resurrecting the Tupperware Parties of yesteryear, Pure Romance is marketed as a sexy way for stay-at-home moms (you know, the only mothers who actually love their family) to supplement household income. Its message is one of empowerment—everything, down to the tastefully flirty aesthetic, is designed to evoke a sense of confidence—which makes the company’s predatory nature all the more shameful.
Just a side note before we get going deeper: in a world full of Cutco knives, Kirby vacuums, and fake Nigerian princes, Pure Romance is not the first, the last, or even the worst scam out there. But it is a corporation that’s trying to sell its targets on false ideas of sisterhood and an emotional support system. Remember, no matter how heroic a corporation paints themselves, they are still a business.
I would say 50% of my Facebook feed are these “parties”. It’s annoying. These business models are so guilt driven. It’s infuriating. And bullshit. And nothing I’ll ever actually say on Facebook because I would offend like all of my friends and it’s very important to me that people like me. – Anonymous, age 31
A Pure Romance consultant’s job is to host house parties and educate guests on the applications for relationship-enhancing products (read: dildos), with the intention to sell them to those in attendance. All of the guests at these “parties” are almost universally the hostess’ own friends; people who presumably wish to maintain a a healthy relationship with the person hosting.
It’s a business pitch not even the greasiest used car salesman could cook up. Imagine if every time you wanted to buy anything—a TV, animal crackers, a pair of pants—you had to do so through a close, personal friend. Furthermore, not buying your items from them means that you would essentially be threatening their livelihood. Of course this is hyperbole, but only kind of. After all, what sort of a heartless monster would leave one of these sex toy parties (that their friend put so much effort into) empty-handed?
It’s Late Stage Capitalism at its most exploitative. Pure Romance likes to boast that its consultants make their own schedules. Really though, they’ve just created a nightmarish new way to seamlessly blend work into leisure.
The catalogue gets passed around and your friends stare at you and say “no pressure, and help yourself to the refreshments I bought for this party, did I mention that I get 15% of the profits as a host, and we both get a free puppy if you offer to host a party as well!” – Anonymous, age 26
So we’ve established that Pure Romance plays on our tribal fears of being excluded from the pack, but what makes it a pyramid scheme? It all comes down to its sales platform: Multi-Level Marketing. MLM is a business construct that divides sales representatives into tiers. The baseline, entry consultants make the standard commission on each sale, and are encouraged to recruit a team of their own. For every new subordinate a recruiter brings on, that recruiter gets to permanently siphon off a portion of the newbie’s commission. To offset this, that new recruit is encouraged to find some more suckers to work under them. This chain of profit all inevitably works its way up to Pure Romance’s CEO, some dude.
Not only do MLMs thrust friendships into some questionable territory, they are also a dangerous gamble financially. As Jezebel pointed out in this article, 99% of MLM distributors lose money. Whether it’s makeup, jewelry, or whatever the fuck Thirty-One is shuffling out of their warehouses, in order to even begin selling any of it, these organizations require a hefty upfront investment from their potential sellers. Standard “Kits” are in the $200 price range and—if you haven’t guessed by now then you haven’t been paying attention—Premium Kits are on the wrong side of one grand!
The cynical response would be to label this as another corporate machination, to separate the gullible from their hard earned cash, but that is painting in broad strokes—ignorantly overlooking the twisted psychology at play.
Take a look at this quote, but replace the words “Pure Romance” with “Ritualistic Space Cannibal”
“As part of her
Pure RomanceRitualistic Space Cannibal journey, every Consultant receives continual training and support from the company, as well as from her fellow Consultants at every step of the way. She thus becomes an integral part of an extraordinarily nurturing and encouraging network of Pure RomanceRitualistic Space Cannibal friends and family.” – Michelle Graybill, Advanced Consultant2nd Lieutenant, Order of the Xephilim
What people don’t quite understand about cult mentality is that the most susceptible people are the conventionally intelligent. Generally, the women who fall for these traps are of above average intelligence as well. However, using key phrases that target the anxieties of working class women, MLM mission statements are bloated with cult-like language, wish fulfillment fantasies, and messages of inclusion. All one has to do is immerse themselves long enough in all these faux-affirming messages and before you know it, their closets are full of handbags, lube, and a bunch of sexy lingerie that are nigh impossible to turn into even a meager profit.
These businesses seem to really prey on a woman’s desire to make money while still being able to fully be there for her family. At my age, it very much targets that aspect of life. The pitch is always that you can make money while being there for your kids, as if going to work in an actual building and abandoning your kids at the age they need you the most and not selling overpriced jewelry or fancy skin care or purses monogrammed for Jesus means you aren’t being a good enough mom. It sucks. – Anonymous, age 33
What’s worse, is that the marketing is so effective that once a person buys into the concept, any attempts to dissuade them will usually be met with a hostile reaction. Show concern for a friend who’s getting roped into one of these pyramid schemes and chances are you will be considered unsupportive. A hater, negative baggage weighing them down, a remnant of their old life; before wistful slogans showed them a better way.
Although it is a small comfort for those who have already lost money (or worse, friends) to these various MLM schemes, there is a support group. Pink Truth is a website devoted to combating the harmful rhetoric companies like Mary Kay, Pure Romance, Rodan & Fields, and far too many others use to saddle enterprising women with false hope and credit card debt.
More often than not though, these scams spread like wildfire within a social circle. If Mary is hosting a Pure Romance party this weekend, the next weekend it’s a party for Stella’s jewelry or Sophia’s oil burners or whatever corny-ass Cracker Barrel shit Martha is selling through Thirty-One. Eventually it just becomes a scheduled rotation of buying each other’s garbage every weekend of their lives, through an endless cycle of weaponized guilt.