I’m the kind of person who shouldn’t read self-help books written by my peers.
I have very high standards for who has any legitimate authority in my life: Jesus. the Pope. my mom. the cashier at Chik-Fil-A. my best friend when she tells me light pink shirts wash me out and make me look like a ghost. My editors, who will be reading this.
I have a hard time accepting advice from almost anyone else. Which probably makes me a bad candidate to read any book telling me how to live my life. Even a book done in a motivational, yell-it-in-your-face-and-metaphorically-kick-your-butt kind of way. (ESPECIALLY a book done that way.)
Anyway, perhaps that will color your perspective of my review of “Girl Wash Your Face” by lifestyle media queen Rachel Hollis. But here it goes, regardless.
I have several beefs with this book. But this is a Catholic publication, and I am a Catholic, so let’s start with the Catholic beefs. (Good thing this doesn’t come out on Fridays…ay-yo).
“Girl Wash Your Face” was a #1 New York Times Best Seller last year and was plastered all over my social media feeds by friends who had jumped on that train. It’s marketed clearly as a Christian book, and it’s published by a Christian publisher.
I’m normally not one for these kinds of books (see above) but the ubiquitous popularity of it, and the promise that it was Christian, made me curious, so I picked it up for 30 percent off at Target and pitched a story on it at work.
In Hollis’ book, each chapter deconstructs a lie she once believed about herself, lies many can probably relate to: “I am not enough.” “I am not a good mom.” “I should be further along by now.” And so on.
These lies come to us from society, from trauma we’ve experienced, and even, Hollis admits, to some degree “from the Devil himself.” So, how does Hollis suggest you fight the lies of the devil? By being rooted in your identity in Christ, by working on your relationship with God, by reading Scripture and filling your mind with Truth?…THAT IS WHAT I WAS EXPECTING FROM A CHRISTIAN BOOK, AMIRIGHT?!
But that’s not Hollis’ approach. Hers is a “pick yourself up by your bootstraps, work harder, refuse to take no for an answer” kind of approach. Work out more, write more, have sex more, dream more, self-care more…DO more BE more TRY more GET more…woof. Girl, take a nap!
I was especially shocked that when it came to a chapter about one of the most significant traumas in her life, her advice for those experiencing something similar was about going to therapy and talking through it. Those things are good and often necessary parts of healing from trauma, but to omit God entirely from the chapter really shocked me. Girl, talk to Jesus!
When something published by a Christian publisher and marketed to me as a Christian book fails to mention a prayer life and a relationship with God as the source of peace and happiness and growth and anything good in our lives…I feel…cheated. Like I was handed an orange La Croix when I was promised a Fanta.
“Your life is up to you,” Hollis says.
“You are in charge of your own life, sister, and there’s not one thing in it that you’re not allowing to be there,” she urges.
“If we can identify the core of our struggles while simultaneously understanding that we are truly in control of conquering them, then we can utterly change our trajectory,” Hollis tells me.
But here’s what the Bible says:
“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”
“The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
Which leads me to my next Christian beef with this book. For the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher, Hollis plays fast and loose with some interpretations of Scripture. Probably the most extreme example of this comes in the chapter called: “I’m bad at sex.” Hollis quotes Hebrews 13:4: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled.”
Hollis interprets this as literally anything goes in the marriage bed. “What I take away when I read that line, is that the things that happen in my bed with my husband cannot be weird or bad or wrong.”
The mental gymnastics required for anyone, let alone the daughter of a preacher, to read that verse as a free pass to do literally anything within your married sexual life is baffling.
She also never mentions discernment of God’s will in the goal-setting process. Hollis never suggests asking God if it’s his will for you to own a vacation home in Hawaii or to become one of the world’s top 100 CEOs or to be the next Beyonce (the dreams Hollis pins up in her closet.) And what happens if He has something to say about that?
The biggest piece of advice I remember from the Bible is: pick up your cross and follow me. Not: crush your goals and dreams above all else.
Another major beef I had with Hollis, and the pun is fully intended here: She’s really mean to fat people!
Maybe I’m taking this a little personally. I don’t consider myself fat. After an eating disorder nearly killed a relative of mine, I’ve worked hard on body positivity and a healthy relationship with food.
But this book is no help to anyone who has ever struggled with those things. So much of the book is spent obsessing over body image and equating certain foods to being bad or letting yourself go. In one chapter, Hollis even asks readers to think about whether Pam, a hypothetical friend at work, could really be trusted if she quit her Whole 30 diet halfway through and was caught eating pizza in the breakroom:
“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.”
Yikes. Poor Pam. Pam, come over sometime and we’ll hang out and eat Papa John’s. I’m a rewards member.
I also found myself wondering halfway through the book how Hollis manages everything with four young kids? Her schedule includes: traveling the country for speaking gigs and conferences, working full time and running a business, producing a morning show with her husband every morning.
Well…this helped make more sense of things: “People ask me how I do it all, and the honest truth is, I absolutely don’t. Behind the scenes is an incredible, loving friend and sister who takes care of my kiddos when work or travel takes me away from them.”
I don’t have kids yet. But when I do, and someone with a full-time nanny comes along to tell me how to live my life, I will laugh. Hopefully not in her face, but I can’t be sure. Girl, take a hike!
Besides all of that, when it gets down to it, what Hollis says is not all that original. Set small achievable goals for yourself, get enough sleep, drink water, eat your veggies, exercise, believe in your dreams…almost all of it is nothing you haven’t heard before. Do we really need to pay Rachel Hollis $16.99 for her book, and give her hours of time and attention on social media to accomplish these things?
Look. The self-care movement is big now, and I get the appeal of Rachel. She’s cute, she’s funny, she wants you to be better – and who doesn’t want that? But let’s remember to first turn our attention to God, to seek first His will for our lives, and to rest in our identity as his children.
That doesn’t mean I want your dreams to die. But it does mean I hope you eat some cheese sometime without thinking twice about it. It does mean that if you’ve found yourself scrubbing toilets for a living in order to support your family, I think you’re wonderful and I won’t ever tell you that you’ve settled for less. It means that I hope your biggest life goal is becoming a saint, and that you’re working harder for that than you are for any dream vacation house.
Girl, check yourself. In pursuit of our dreams, let’s not forget God.