If you’ve heard of Amway, you know that they were exposed for being a pyramid scheme and that some reports even hinted that they acted like a cult.
Dateline and Chris Hanson did a year long investigation on Amway. Chris Hanson compared them to a “old time revival” meeting and said the program was filled with false promises. He called them “true believers” who found the “true path to success” and “wealth beyond their wildest dreams.” Watch for yourself:
It’s creepy, right?
After I left Master’s Commission, I dated a guy named Ruben. He was the kind of guy I dated to piss off my dad–Jehovah’s Witness, party animal, etc. (Those don’t go together, I know.) Little did I know that Ruben was in Amway. He was what was called an IBO, or Independent Business Owner. Before we got too serious, he sat me down in a dark room in his house on a black leather couch and put on a projector. He talked me through an entire presentation about dreams and independence and financial success. It wasn’t that different from stuff I’d heard before about business but despite most of it being set in reality, there was a strangeness to the whole thing.
What was really weird was the last slide. It was an illustration of how the IBOs make money–the ‘formula’ behind the pyramid scheme. It didn’t seem to add up logically and in my opinion, someone would have to buy a lot of their own product (and lose money that way) in order to succeed. As it turns out, I was right.
Ruben’s pitch was a test. He wanted to make sure that anyone he dated could not only support his vision of being an Amway “Diamond” (Diamond is the term for the person who holds the top of the pyramid in the pyramid scheme, aka, they make the most money) but help him get there by “working the business” as he called it. Otherwise he wouldn’t date me. I told him that I wouldn’t stop him from doing Amway but that I wouldn’t be an IBO; that I didn’t believe it was a good business model and I doubted seriously that it would work. Ruben and I had met at a club, so it was clear that we both were just interested in having fun. At that moment, I think we both decided it wouldn’t work, but we had fun together, so we kept dating.
Over time, he wanted me to go to meetings with him. Apparently in Amway, it’s very important that you have a significant other and you have one who is supportive of Amway. There are sad members whose wives won’t support them in “the business” (their term, not mine) and Ruben didn’t want to be one of them. I told him I’d go to meetings but wouldn’t speak or participate and I sure as hell wouldn’t buy product or talk anyone into buying product. I wanted to stay low key and I was there for support because we were dating, not to support Amway. Just like I expected him to support me in my dreams of being a writer.
My mistake. At meetings, Ruben’s friends and “upline”, Jim and Pam Chua, greeted me like I was a new convert to Christianity. They were so welcoming–but their lauding was filled with “the business” talk. They didn’t like me, they liked that I was part of the business.
This went on for awhile. Ruben and I dated for a year and during that time, I went to several Amway meetings–large and small. I went to one major conference in Portland and one in Las Vegas. They were exactly how the Dateline video above showed them. Diamonds walked up on stage to give talks–the women dressed in sparkly cocktail dresses and the men dressed in tuxedos. Videos of their houses, cars, and yachts played behind them as the audience roared with applause. The Diamond wives instructed women to submit to their husbands and also, to use the products. Even the makeup. For me, strangely, this was one area where I drew the line. I love makeup–good makeup, like MAC and anything in Sephora–and I was not about to give up my MAC for some cheap, shoddy product. Amway’s makeup was subpar to just about everything. It was like the stuff you’d buy on an after Christmas sale at K-mart. There was no way in hell I was going to throw away my makeup and replace it with that, like the Diamond wife (and Ruben) suggested. He even said he’d pay for the makeup. I refused.
I never expected Ruben and I to stay together as long as we did. It was a fling that ended up carrying on way too long. But I observed a lot about Amway during that time and I know I almost got sucked in a few times. Some of the creepier stuff started happening after Ruben started listening to “the business” teaching CDs religiously. Every week you had a new teaching you had to buy and listen to. It was the story of a Diamond (or someone else) who found success in Amway. They gave a life lesson and Amway business lessons. It felt very much like Master’s Commission in that you had a specific set of media you could listen to and only that which was on the list was approved to motivate you. The constant CD buying reminded me a lot of televangelists. And we all know that’s how televangelists make their money–pushing books and talks. The weirdest part, though, was that I started feeling like being the girlfriend or wife of one of these “successful” Diamonds was that it was just like being a megachurch pastor’s wife. The husband was the head of the house, the dreamer, the leader. You, the wife, were subpar. Despite the similarities to what I’d just ran from, I wanted a relationship, so I stayed.
Somewhere in the middle of my relationship with Ruben, we met Glen and Joya Baker. They were above Jim and Pam, Ruben’s “upline” and they were the Diamonds of the group.
Glen and Joya lived just a few hours south of us, so we went to an event at their large house once. It wasn’t a mansion, despite how their talks depicted it, and it was filled with Amway product. The whole purpose of the visit was to see product, not for a normal visit to someone’s house. That was strange.
But what I’ll never forget is one day Glen came to Bakersfield to speak on his own. All of Ruben’s friends, and Ruben, were obsessed with Glen. They wanted to be like him and they wanted Glen to talk to them. Like Master’s Commission, it was the dream of the little people to be noticed by the big dogs. Ruben walked up to Glen to shake his hand and try to schmooze and Glen turned to him and said, “Where is Lisa? Can you go get her for me?” All of Ruben’s friends, and Ruben himself, were aghast. Here I was, not even trying (and quite frankly, hating all the Ambots), and Glen wanted to hang out with me. There was a reason, of course. There’s always a reason. Ruben had told him my dad owned a business and was quite successful. Glen saw cash. And he was right–not only was my dad doing pretty well for himself, he had friends who were way wealthier. Some who actually owned yachts, not just videos of them. Glen asked me if I could talk to my dad and get them him and his friends together at my parents house. He’d come do the talking. I told him absolutely not, but later I went home and asked my dad. Deep down, I still had that people pleasing nature from Master’s Commission. I’m sure I asked my parents more than once if we could have some people over and sell them Amway. I fluctuated a few times and gave in–and it’s not hard to do when that’s all you’re taking in through relationships and CDs.
My parents said ‘hell no, that will never happen’ and explained that my uncle Jimmy and his wife had been in Amway for years and turned into utter zombies over it. They wanted nothing to do with Amway or the Ambots. And they wished I wouldn’t either. I was convinced I was too strong to actually be a part of it, but asking them this proved I was swaying.
It was all very comfortable to me. I’d just spent seven years in a cult that resided in a megachurch. Televangelists came to speak regularly and sold their books and teaching materials. At the time I was dating Ruben I was still a Christian and I hadn’t started blogging yet. I was still figuring life out and it was easy to get sucked into again.
At some point during the latter part of my relationship with Ruben, Joya Baker messaged me on MySpace. I had posted that I had just applied to UC Riverside for a transfer to their creative writing program. I shared with my MySpace friends that I’d always wanted to be a writer and UCRs program was really good. Joya’s message was strange. She asked me why I would want to move to Riverside when I had such a great life in Bakersfield. She asked me why I wanted to leave Ruben and “the business” behind and told me that I should really consider staying in Bakersfield because that’s where my “uplines” were, Jim and Pam Chua. I was shocked that she’d have the balls to say anything like that to me, but she did. And it makes me wonder how many other women she’s tried to convince to support “the business” when they want to walk away. I told Joya off. I explained to her that my dream was to be a writer, not to be an IBO or a Diamond. I told her that Jim and Pam were Ruben’s upline, not mine, and I could think for myself, thank-you-very-much. I also told her that anyone who doesn’t support my own dreams of being a writer doesn’t deserve to be in my life. And that pretty much ended it.
Thankfully for me, Ruben’s Jehovah’s Witness family and friends spied on us and reported us to his church elders. I’d stayed overnight a time or two and the elders threatened to kick him out of the church. Along with that was a threat that his family would also never speak to him again (I guess that’s what JWs do to their own). That was the end of Ruben and Amway. Oh, except for the time Ruben called me to tell me he’d finally gotten the butt implants he’d wanted all his life.
(Note: Amway and Quixtar are both the same business. Amway changed it’s name to Quixtar for a period of time–probably after the Dateline expose. After the dust had settled, they changed their name back to Amway.)