The New Mary Kay: Sell Shaping Undies, Make Bank?

Body Magic isn’t just a $140 corset/girdle combo that claims it’ll help you “drop 3 sizes in 10 minutes.” Nope, it’s also the newest answer to Avon, promising the (mainly) women who peddle them that they can earn big bucks without the constraints of an office job. Since it’s creation in 1991, Ardyss International, the company that makes Body Magic, has signed on more than 100,000 active distributers to hawk their underwear, nutrition, and skin care products—and the grand majority of their sellers are black and Latina woman. Just as Mary Kay is booming in the recession, Ardyss has seen its business has skyrocket. In the past six month, they claim to have grown 600 percent.

CNN reporter Jessica Ravitz recently headed to an Ardyss convention in Atlanta, which more than 3,000 people attended. “They say money doesn’t grow on trees,” said a speaker. “Well, I’ve got a money tree in my backyard, and Ardyss planted it there!” Woman at the convention said they’re making tons from selling Ardyss products, from getting a cut of the profits from every person they sign up to be a seller. One woman with a line of 15,000 sellers under her said that she earns about $55,000 a month. Another woman said, “I’ve only been involved for two months, and I have a check with a comma in it.”

But not everyone is so hot on Ardyss. One of the big beefs: the claims the company makes for many of its products are insanely lofty. For example, they claim that Body Magic helps women lose weight (uh, yeah, because it’s so tight, you can barely eat), improve postures and puts organs back in place. (Were they ever out of place?) Similarly, for their Le’Vive antioxidant drink, they claim it can ward off diabetes and arthritis and even cure some diseases. Talk about waaaay too good to be true.

Another issue is one you hear frequently with pyramid businesses like Amway, Avon, and Mary Kay—that while some people make serious money, they’re usually the ones who got in on the ground floor. Meanwhile, newcomers struggle. Which isn’t cool considering that the company’s starter kit costs $299. The Better Business Bureau has clocked 16 complaints against the company in the past three years. [CNN]

So what do you think—is this company a beacon of hope in tough economic times or totally taking advantage of people? Is anyone out there an Ardyss distributor? And for that matter, has anyone sold Avon, Mary Kay, or Amway? I’m so curious about whether these programs actually work.