One year after beginning production on LuLaRich, the docuseries premiered last month on Amazon Prime Video to 200 million Prime members in over 200 countries and territories. As a woman, I have had the honor of telling stories about courageous women like Venida Browder, Sybrina Fulton, and Annie Schneider. Those stories also reached millions of people and they highlighted not just these women, but the systems that surrounded them. In LuLaRich, employed a similar approach—but as a white millennial woman in America I was one of the characters this time, and it was a struggle for me to face myself.
LuLaRoe is a company known for selling wacky leggings in primary colors and loud prints that run the gamut from ’90s Saved By the Bell graphics, to hamburgers that happen to fall directly in your crotch. They are known in our economic playbook as a multi-level marketing company. Many have written that these types of companies resemble pyramid schemes. Some statistics show that most people who take part in MLMs break even or lose money. In the case of LuLaRoe, the company claimed to be a “wholesaler” boosting your self-esteem and cheerleading you to become your own boss. But many women said when it was game time, their cheerleader was a no-show. LuLaRoe looked like a “Disney World Dad” to me too.
LuLaRich chronicles the rise and stall of this broken rollercoaster ride. We offered the infamous founders, DeAnne and Mark Stidham, a chance to tell their story. The “power couple” struck me as a marriage between Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman and Nicole Kidman in To Die For. DeAnne and her “downline” raved about LuLaRoe’s “buttery soft” leggings, that for a time, were reportedly made in America. And the company was churning out a patriarchal byproduct that clogged the hearts of women around the country, just like butter. LuLaRoe enveloped women in a cloud of emotional dismemberment and facetious empowerment, just like the leggings enveloped every body type. They even had a two-for-one special: you can be your own boss and be a girl boss, too!
In telling this bizarre story about leggings, there were countless opportunities for humor. The light tone and dark comedy make this series fun to watch. But here is the part of the story that isn’t so fun and a little more dark: Despite the joys of raising children, some women say that the isolation feels like a form of torture. LuLaRoe exploited this patriarchal reality and offered to “free” these women from the depths of their loneliness by giving them a community, a sense of belonging, and the chance to be a #bossbabe. This cheap pop-feminism was a tactical way to commodify and gaslight the mothers LuLaRoe claimed to empower.
I personally think that when a woman becomes a mother, it is the hardest job a person can ever have. Many women don’t even get to make that choice—it is made for them. And while on the job, they endure misogynistic comments like “she looks pretty good for just having a kid,” “at least she didn’t get fat from the baby,” or “can’t she go somewhere private to breastfeed?” In the face of this societal shaming, many women are performing this backbreaking job alone, with men looking at childcare as a chore or a hobby, at best. So, it’s not a surprise that many women are fighting for the choice not to sign up for this and questioning the entire paradigm.
In our society, women are groomed to be products from the day we are born. One of those products is a “mother.” Some mothers found connection and community as “mommy bloggers” or “mommy influencers,” and the rise of social media in tandem with LuLaRoe’s new brand of faux-empowerment made this a perfect storm. LuLaRoe’s marketing model targeted stay-at home mothers, but it also needed the desperation of a struggling middle class that was facing economic hardships and uncertainty. The company pounced on that vulnerability and pitched a way to make money rain down the same way Reagan pitched trickle-down economics. I once heard “anything that trickles down probably isn’t a good thing.” So, when LuLaRoe’s pitch trickled out, and some of these stay-at-home mothers felt they may have joined a pyramid scheme, they were buried too deep in debt and shame to speak out. As far as LuLaRoe was concerned, their failure “was their fault.” After all, “a woman can have it all” so you must be the problem, hun.
The saying “a woman can have it all” is like a dog whistle for a woman standing in leggings, healing her fat-graphed body while a male gazer is inducing her invisible labor at home. In this antiquated system, I myself have been conditioned to be a pinnacle of pleasure at a purchase price. As a woman, this story was personal for me. Even with my privileged, white, heteronormative life experience, my own self-subjugation, entrapment and this societal blame created a deft focus for me to make the series.
I also knew from my prior film Fyre Fraud that America loves stories about scammers. We may love these stories because we see ourselves in them. Scamming is fetishized in our culture because of the way we glorify the pioneer and the individualist in our delusional master narrative. Scammers seem to masquerade as rogue actors, teetering on the rebellious edge as they “go against the system”; when in many cases, the scammer is just dependent on egocentric compulsivity and the endless validation it grants them. These stories only fascinate us when we have the privilege of changing the channel. It isn’t so fun when you are living it.
I am overjoyed that Derryl Trujillo has become a rising star, and like many of us, disheartened that he can no longer listen to Kelly Clarkson! LuLaRich has gone viral for so many of these priceless moments and endearing characters—or maybe it is about something more? Maybe it’s more than just the rush of watching a multi-level train wreck, or the added delight of DeAnne doing pretty much anything on camera, including sipping her Starbucks Pink Drink during a deposition. Maybe LuLaRich is striking a chord around the world for its depiction of a much bigger scam: the scam of patriarchy.