In her massively popular book, Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis exposes common lies that we believe which prevent us from becoming happy. She explains, “This book is about a bunch of hurtful lies and one important truth.” (xi).
What is the truth? Hollis explains, “You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are. That’s the takeaway” (xi). Buck up. Get to work. And grab happiness by the horns.
To do so, Hollis argues that we need to destroy every lie we believe (xii). She explains, “Recognizing the lies we’ve come to accept about ourselves is the key to growing into a better version of ourselves” (xiii). Elsewhere she writes, “More than anything, I hope you’ll rest in the knowledge that you can become whomever and whatever you want to be, my sweet friend” (xvii).
Given the popularity of Hollis and her book, I’d like to offer three thoughts on Girl, Wash Your Face to help you to evaluate the book.
First, chapters follow a similar pattern of authentic story, growth, and practical tips for how to grow too.
The chapters follow a simple pattern. Hollis tells an embarrassing or at least a story in which she has yet to achieve success. Then along the way, she learns how to overcome some problem. Lastly, she gives readers tips to succeed likewise.
Hollis writes well. The stories she includes are instaworthy. Yet at times, the stories and successes seem to make Hollis look awesome. And I suppose that’s part of the appeal (“learn from me because I have learned success”). But it sometimes comes across as a bit unrealistic and self-aggrandizing.
Other people readers may disagree. So my critique here may partly be preference.
Second, Hollis narrates stories and gives hope to readers, but she never admits that we may fail, not overcome, or simply have no opportunity to succeed.
Life does not always lead to success. Businesses do not always take off. Sometimes you will fail. And fail miserably. And then what? I am not sure Hollis gives hope to the downtrodden.
Nor am I sure that her promise of happiness by taking control is always possible. Large families and low money may mean that control is nearly impossible.
Hollis bought a $10,000 purse and has sex with her husband daily. Okay great. But such goals make happiness reliant upon triumphalism—attaining the American dream.
As far as I can discern, no emphasis lies upon gaining happiness by growing in virtue. By being a certain kind of person despite circumstances—despite economic failure, lack of frequent sex, or not being able to buy a $10,000 purse.
And I think that leads to defining success narrowly as acquiring, economically growing, or experiencing something. Certainly, these things can signify true success; but the are not identified with it. Success means growing in virtue despite circumstances.
Finally, Hollis cites the Bible and uses occasional religious language, although it is not clear that she intends to write a religious (or) Christian book.
She mentions that the Devil as one source of lies (xii). She mentions the grace of God on page xvi, but she does not clearly identify the grace of God as the source of her main argument that you can control your own life. As she puts it, “your life is up to you” or “Understanding that you choose your own happiness, that you have control of your own life, is so important” (xii).
While she quotes passages like Hebrews 13:4, mentions God, and uses the phrase “kingdom of God,” it is not clear she intends for her book to be particularly Christian. Interestingly, in her discussion of Hebrews 13:4, she admits that she may wrongly understand the text. But for her, the passage means that she and her husband can engage in any non-harmful form of sex (she also calls porn harmful, so that is not allowed).
But shouldn’t it matter what the text means? What if her takeaway is wrong? Besides which, what is right is not only what does not harm. Other moral factors play into what is right and wrong. If our only criterium in sex is to do no harm, then we have an insufficient moral grid.
For Hollis, happiness comes through using faith to contribute to her vision for happiness: namely, success, control, and authenticity. That makes her happy. So she pursues it relentlessly. It is just not clear why this is good.
And that is where the religious answer comes into play. For Christians, what is good does not only mean what does no harm. Purity is good. Liberty is good. Contentment (even without success) is good. Many things are good. And our status or esteem derive not only through our competence but through our trust in something outside of us.
Should you read it?
Given these three thoughts, I would not recommend Hollis’ book as an example for attaining happiness. Yes, she’s a great writer. Yes, she’s a wonderful storyteller. If you want to grow in those areas, consider the book.
Yet despite fluid writing, the ideas threading the volume are as deep as a minor pothole. Beyond the general goal of happiness by attaining success, there is not much else. It is popular wisdom put to paper. Yet as most of us know, happiness is not easy to attain or to keep in this life. Something deeper and sturdier needs to support us in life and bestow happiness upon us than Hollis can provide.