When I started putting myself out on the Internet as a candid writer and mom blogger, it was due to the immediate connection with like-minded people through our shared experiences. Since I also appreciate a great product as much as the next mama, I often collaborate with companies I think are fantastic. This collaboration is based on mutual respect and mutual benefit. I acknowledge that a company is doing something very cool and then I write about it, I photograph it and I utilize my platform in cyberspace to promote or market that product to a community that trusts that I am sharing my real opinion. In return, the company offers me their product and values the time and energy I spend advertising by offering a giveaway and paying a fee for my work. It’s a mutually agreed upon arrangement.
I also have friends who sell products I think are great. I would much rather purchase an item I am going to buy anyway from someone I know. These entrepreneurs of fitness, fashion, beauty and health are inspiring and as they promote on their pages, I follow and like and comment and cheer them on. In the blogging world, in a way I am selling ideas and stories to my own community so I am in no way slamming small hardworking business people.
But then there’s a different sort of entrepreneur. Maybe you’ve noticed an increase in the direct and unsolicited offers from complete strangers on Instagram or Facebook, convinced that we will want to purchase a product or better yet, to sell it ourselves. I think what irks me most about this approach from strangers with whom I have never interacted, is that, at the root of it, is the assumption that we are dissatisfied. They assume that we are dissatisfied with ourselves, with our weight, our income or our looks and that they have the solution… but being informed that we have a problem by a complete stranger isn’t just ridiculous; it’s insulting and demeaning.
When the message says something like: Wow! You’re so beautiful! You could make so much money selling ___________ Have you considered____ — then what I hear is: I don’t know you at all but have decided to judge you solely on your outward appearance! Congratulations! You’re worthy! Profit from your looks by convincing others they need this product to look like you! I’m so excited to prey on your personal insecurities and those of your friends! Your worth will be validated when others buy this stuff and you’ll even make some cash!
When the message says: Because of your _____ (personality/life stage/overweight status), I’m willing to offer you a special discount on this product! — what I feel is: Wow. You’re calling me fat, broke and unfulfilled in my current choices in life. I get to pay you money to use and promote a product I don’t want and didn’t ask for?
Previously I just sighed and blocked the direct messages, then carried on with my day like a good little
(passive aggressive) polite Canadian. Now I’ve decided enough is enough. So here’s what I do: I respond.
Rightly or wrongly, I’ve decided to stop allowing strangers to give me that uneasy feeling and to maybe…just maybe… make them pause and think. Here are a few of my recent responses to direct messages from complete strangers:
Oh my gosh! Since having my girls, I have gained some weight. Thank you for noticing. Remember when I was in high school and a size double zero? We had so much fun hanging out in the evenings on our walks and I really love that we have a solid foundation in our relationship for you to bring this to my attention. Considering the way this message might make me feel somehow “less than” in our society that values women who appear young and slim above their integrity, personality or talents, it helps that it’s coming from a close friend! I was feeling pretty happy about my new curves, confidence and stage of life so this reminder is vital to cultivating insecurity during this otherwise peaceful and contented time.
While I want to sign up right away, I’m a little worried that I might have to scale back my life passions and give up my teaching job after two university degrees to work under you in this venture. No matter! I know my daughters will look up to me for giving up my dreams when they see how much money I’ll make! While I normally charge a fee for a sponsored post, the body shaming for myself personally and my online community is worth paying you and for the effort of trying something I didn’t ask for and doesn’t in any way line up with my values! Where do I send the money?
If I do this, will people like me? I hope so. Where will I find the money to pay for these things? As you’ve pointed out, I should be selling products so I can support my family, not writing and teaching and staying home with my girls. Are you a life coach? I’ve recently dealt with depression and anxiety and am so glad you are taking an active role in assisting me with these. How do you find time as a psychotherapist to sell these products? Can you help me rebalance my priorities? Thank you for being willing to take charge of my life. Do you need information like my last name and which country I live in before we become business partners? I feel so close to you right now.
If you are reading this and you sell products online, I ask you to consider what your approach says about you and what it may be saying to your potential customers. As a thirty-something woman, wife, mother and savvy consumer, I am drawn to support ventures that showcase a person’s passion and credibility. The trust I feel with them often leads me to try something new, not an often jarring or impersonal message geared to a sale or an attempt to undermine my confidence to create a need. So, whether my responses can be categorized as venting or poking fun or subtly signalling a few fundamental flaws in an enthusiastic blitz-marketing endeavor, I’m going to keep on writing back to these direct sales messages. Consider me the (cyber) space cow(boy) girl here to provoke a pause.
As a writer and blogger dealing in the same online currency of likes and followers, I have no problem losing a few of each to remind us both to honestly evaluate what we are trying to gain out there and how we go about doing it.