Girl, Wash Your Face

Everything you’ve heard about this book is true:

  • It’s drowning in upper-middle class privilege.
  • It’s dripping in guilty Christianity.
  • And it’s really fucking white.

I haven’t read enough self-help books to offer an opinion on the genre, but Girl, Wash Your Face caught my attention because of the controversial reviews and the promise of a “cut-that-shit-out” narrative that would shock me into motivation. It was motivating, but probably not in the way Hollis intended it.

Girl, Wash Your Face, is a self-help book about overcoming the personal issues that prevent you from succeeding in your life. Hollis’ debut novel is full of personal anecdotes and thinly veiled Christian testimony that forms into a lumpy batter and bakes at 350ºF for 20 minutes to produce perfect pink-frosted cupcakes. They’re best served with a glass of crisp white wine during a decadent brunch with your girlfriends as you remind each other of Nike’s enduring catchphrase: just do it, bitch.

I’m sure you can see where this review is going.

“You must choose to be happy, grateful, and fulfilled. If you make that choice every single day, regardless of where you are or what’s happening, you will be happy.”

― Rachel Hollis

Listen, I’m the first to admit I wish the “just do it” advice worked for every person and every situation that requires diligence – but it doesn’t. Have a look at the other reviews of this book on Goodreads for the hundreds thousands of reasons why every single person in this world has or is an exception to the “just do it” rule. Life is not a cookie-cutter Hallmark movie.

On some level, Girl, Wash Your Face knows this because before every boot-straps advice, Hollis barely conceals her paper-thin eye roll as she throws out robotic disclaimers for mental, physical, and emotional illness. I can see the editor forcing her to add in these caveats – because of that damned PC culture, Rachel! – and her trite, manicured fingers typing away with resigned bitterness. Still, Hollis remains committed to offering her brand of “cool girl” advice (Celebs – they’re just like us!) while alluding to her conservative faith throughout the book. It’s almost like Hollis hid a White-Jesus-Waldo on every page who’s waiting to shame you into a skinny box of traditional femininity, motherhood, and perceived success. Is there a filter for judgmental Christianity on Instagram? Is it Walden? Lark? Clarendon?

It’s Clarendon, isn’t it…shit.

All of us are different behind the disconnected, closed doors of our home; privacy is a privilege we don’t value until it’s gone. I would never want the intimate moments of my life available for candid consumption; my ugly moments are mine and mine alone. So while I do appreciate Hollis’ unreserved glimpse into her “bad days,” I’m painfully aware she’s washing her face behind rosé-colored filters with a smirk that says:

“See? Even my bad days are glamorous – so why aren’t yours?”

Despite this, I still found her book helpful.

I first need to admit that I’m Hollis’ targeted demographic. I’m white, young, married with children, loosely Christian/spiritual, and living in middle-class suburbia. Holy shit. This book is for me.

Except it’s not. Because, unlike Hollis, I don’t believe we should divide the world into successful people who wash their face and unsuccessful people who run around with dirt on their chin. Unlike Hollis, I’m not sitting in my overpriced SUV, willfully blind to the intersections of race, class, age, identity, or ability that often add insurmountable mountains of institutionalized discrimination that no amount of vigorous, extra-moisturizing face wash can dissolve. Unlike Hollis, I am the PC disclaimer she includes before every letter-board-ready sentence of advice: I live with anxiety, chronic illness, and I’m forever unable to wash away the desperate taste of poverty and hunger no matter how many times I exfoliate my goddamn face.

So, why was Hollis’ book helpful?

It reminded me I have the privilege to never be someone like Hollis.

“Our society makes plenty of room for complacency or laziness; we’re rarely surrounded by accountability. We’re also rarely surrounded by sugar-free vanilla lattes, but when I really want one, I somehow find a way to get one.” 

― Rachel Hollis

I reached for this book during one of my low moments after a chronic illness attack and difficult personal news. Girl, Wash Your Face shook my life (as I shook my head) into a perspective I sorely needed.

Reading Hollis’ book in my bed, with the blinds drawn, while waiting for medication to work, forced me to look at my privilege, my resources, and what I can change. I cannot change my crippling anxiety, but I can change how I manage it. I cannot change my chronic illness, but I can stop ignoring my body’s pain and begin putting up much needed boundaries. I cannot change the circumstances of my birth to include wealthy upper-middle-class parents who secure my future with scholarships and trust-funds while I travel the world in search of enlightenment, but I can practice mindfulness and gratitude for what I have while reminding myself that financial freedom is a myth for 99% of the population.

Girl, Wash Your Face is tone-deaf in many ways, but its message resonates with me. While Hollis’ manufactured missteps and self-promoted mistakes often read like the life of a clumsy Disney princess, I recognize that she’s trying to teach the art of rising: of getting up when you’ve fallen. I’d forgotten, for a moment, that I already knew how to do that. I’ve risen from much worse than a bad week and certainly much worse than accidentally peeing myself on a trampoline.

But I never want to be Hollis. I never want to hold my life experiences as canon or suggest my solutions are a one-size-fits all. I never want to stop learning and listening to the stories of others, especially to the stories of people who look and live differently from me. If I start spouting self-help “shoulds” unrelated to my life, please sit me down with some hazelnut coffee and tell me to cut that shit out. Life is messy and weird and full of adventure. While my own heroines are often blonde white women – like me and like Hollis – they don’t have to be vapid stereotypes. I want to tell stories about real people.

And real people are a lot more interesting than Hollis’ performative, filtered vulnerability.

You should read this book if: I don’t know if you should. It might offer you a lot of insight into your own life. It might give you the kick in the ass you need to reexamine your own privileges and resources. It might make you super angry that this thin, wealthy, white chick is telling you that achieving success and happiness is simple: just be thin, wealthy, and white – like her! – and make sure you feel the burning shame of your almighty creator when you reach for that second helping of mashed potatoes because it’s just calories in and calories out, bitch, so wash your face.

However, I’ll have you know, it’s available to borrow from my bookshelf.

And I’m not terribly concerned if I get it back.

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