Girl, Wash Your Face is the bestselling book by blogger Rachel Hollis and, to put it plainly, it has taken the world by storm. Hollis is a self-professed Christian, and her book is considered to be a “Christian” self-help book, published by Thomas Nelson, a Christian publisher. Her message, on the surface, is one that many women, and moms especially, need to hear: Love yourself. Put yourself first. Make yourself a priority. It’s become massively successful, spending 33 weeks on Amazon’s non-fiction most-read list.
It must be said that Hollis is a fantastic writer; she writes in a conversational style that makes you feel like she’s your best friend. In many ways, she tackles issues that people might be too afraid to discuss: weight, sex, relationships. But is it really a positive message for women? Or is it just more damaging rhetoric wrapped in a pretty package?
Just be happy, mama!
Hollis repeatedly writes about how women need to understand that they are responsible for their own happiness, and that true happiness can only come about when you let go of the lies that society tells you. On its face, this may not seem bad. Her whole argument is that we’re all strong enough to overcome any obstacle, and if you can’t be happy, then just try, try again, and try harder until you are. That can certainly seem motivating — until you stop and take a second to think about it.
It’s easy for someone like Hollis (more on that later) to preach this kind of message, but for most people, it’s not as simple as pushing yourself to be happy. Not everyone led the kind of overly privileged life Hollis had. Here in the real world, where we aren’t all wealthy and entitled, we get stressed over bills. We worry about feeding our kids. We get frustrated because we can’t afford nannies to step in when we’re in over our heads or babysitters to give us a break, and our kids are wearing on our last nerves. We get lonely because we don’t have the time to see our friends as often as we’d like, and so our days are filled with little-to-no adult conversation. We have a hard time accepting our new post-baby bodies. We’re tired and stressed and frustrated, and so maybe we pick a fight with our spouse. And on and on it goes.
Is it possible to work past these things? Of course it is! But it’s also normal to be sad. Or angry. Or tired. Or stressed. Or frustrated. Sometimes people go through difficult times. Sometimes they have a mental health disorder, and can’t just make themselves be happy, no matter how hard they try. The point is, vapid encouragements to simply “be happy!” are shallow nonsense that ignores the realities of the world — that not everyone has the money or ability to change their job, change their spouse, go on a dream vacation, get therapy, or even afford decent health care.
Drop the fat friends?
One of the most offensive sections in her book involves weight. She slams women for being overweight, making a failure to lose weight, saying it’s not just a health issue, but also a moral failure. Consider how she describes a friend she asks the reader to imagine who loses weight, but then gains it back:
Y’all, would you respect her? Would you count on Pam or the friend who keeps blowing you off for stupid reasons? Would you trust them when they committed to something? Would you believe them when they committed to you? No.
Or how about when she calls being overweight equivalent to settling for a “half-lived life”?
Humans were not made to be out of shape and severely overweight. You can choose to continue to abuse your body because it’s all you know … You can choose to settle for a half-lived life because you don’t even know there’s another way … But please, please stop making excuses for the whys.
She glibly writes about how she “revokes permission” for women to lose track of a goal, a diet, anything, and even goes so far as to say that she doesn’t trust these people. What kind of friend is that?! Hollis conveniently ignores that, yet again, not everyone has led such a privileged life. Some women are mourning the life of a baby they lost before they even had the chance to hold them. Others had a child that got cancer and died. Still others are survivors of domestic abuse, cancer, sexual assault. And Hollis just hand-waves that away. You have no excuse for gaining weight after starting a diet, and if you do, you’re literally an untrustworthy human being who she would drop from her life.
Ignore my privilege
The worst part of Hollis’ book is how utterly and completely tone-deaf this woman is. Let’s be clear: This is someone who (as she repeatedly reminds us) was on the Forbes “40 Under 40” list. She runs a multi-million dollar company, she’s published numerous books, she sells weekend couples’ seminars which cost almost $2,000 (yes, really). She sells an image of authenticity that, in actuality, is very fake. (Those perfectly messy photos of her on Instagram in perfectly sloppy sweats with a perfectly messy bun is not real — it’s manufactured.) She talks about dreams like owning a vacation home in Hawaii and buying a $1,000 purse. She has a full-time nanny that allows her to travel and work and do what she pleases. And these are all perfectly fine things! It is not bad that she is wealthy and successful, has had to endure limited trauma in her life, and has accomplished all that she has.
But the problem is, that’s not attainable for most people. And it’s not an experience most people will ever be able to have. Her mantra that if you just work hard enough, hope enough, try enough, you can accomplish anything is straight out of prosperity gospel-doctrine, which I suppose is where the “Christian” part of her book comes in. But in real life, for people who aren’t white, thin, insanely wealthy, or able to afford nannies, you can’t necessarily just will things into being. You can’t always make yourself be happy. You can’t always make yourself be thin. You can’t always make yourself overcome infertility. You can’t always make your marriage happy. You can’t always make yourself become wealthy. It’s the fact that Hollis is utterly clueless to the reality that so many people live an existence so different from the life she leads that perhaps is so galling.
So really, if there’s anything Hollis needs to hear, it’s this: Girl, take a seat.