Recently I read Rachel Hollis’s book Girl, Wash Your Face. To be honest, I read the book on a dare. I shared an article many months ago that I’d read that offered some critiques of her book, but several friends who had actually read Hollis’s book suggested that I should read it for myself before I jumped to conclusions. I agreed to do just that, since I strongly dislike when people say they are against something they’ve never actually read (ahem, Harry Potter). After months of having the book on hold, a copy finally became available at the library this week, and I was able to read and review it for myself.
There are a few reasons why my review of this book should be taken with a grain of salt.
I love to read, and I read a lot of fiction and nonfiction alike, but as a general rule, I don’t read self-help books, nor do I have a high opinion of them. I think books are meant to take us outside of ourselves and help us be less self-absorbed than we are all naturally inclined to be. A self-help book is, by definition, going to draw our attention inward on ourselves and how to make ourselves better. Also, I think that 99% of the time, we don’t need a self-help book to turn our lives around. What we need is to put on our big-girl panties and do the next right thing. If we aren’t willing to do that hard, grimy, oftentimes unnoticed work of living as we ought to, no book or vision board or motivational quote is gonna fix our lives.
Second of all, though I’m in my early 30s, I have the soul of a curmudgeonly old lady. I don’t drink Starbucks, shop at Target, or highlight my hair. I have never in my life called anyone “savage,” none of my jeans have holes in them (at least not intentional ones), I have no cute tattoos (or ugly ones either), and I willingly drive a mini-van. I’m a loooooooooow maintenance country girl, and I am most definitely not Ms. Hollis’s target audience. I realized this as soon as I opened the book and saw that the introduction begins with “Hey, girl, hey!” The cutesie factor is utterly lost on me.
So. Acknowledging all of that, I truly did try to give it a fair shot and a level-headed reading.
Let me say that the book was not at all as painful to read as I expected. Rachel Hollis definitely has an engaging and easy-to-read writing style. Her stories are relatable, and her honesty and occasional self-effacement is endearing. Some of her chapters offer good truths and perspective. I loved what she had to say about romantic relationships and never letting a man determine your self-respect. I enjoyed her raw honesty about the absolutely terrifying and overwhelming process of becoming a new mom, and all the insecurities and obsessions that come with it. Like Ms. Hollis, I’m an intense workaholic who loves to accomplish and achieve and can fall into the trap of performing for approval, so I could relate to those struggles as well.
But overall, I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone. Here’s why: at its root, this book is about making much of yourself. Let me explain what I mean by that. I don’t think we are meant to be lazy or do less than our best in life. It is incredibly important to give our all, to offer our whole selves to become more like Christ and to fulfill his purposes for our lives. But this book isn’t about becoming a better servant of Christ (or a servant of anyone, for that matter). This book is about how to make your own dreams come true. Truly. Strip away the pithy quotes and seemingly profound platitudes, and what this book boils down to is that you need to do what it takes to make your dreams come true. She even writes in one place, “You have to decide to pursue your wildest dreams. No matter what they are, no matter how simple or extravagant. No matter if they seem ridiculous to others, or maybe even too easy . . . it doesn’t matter. They’re your dreams and you are allowed to chase them. . . .” (70).
I strongly believe that two of the most insidious lies recent generations have swallowed hook, line, and sinker are that we should listen to our hearts and that we should chase our dreams. It sounds so sweet and innocent, and Disney has us belting out songs about how far we’ll go. We’re told to dream big and follow our hearts. But at their root, these are harmful lies, hiding behind a thorough coat of paint.
I wasn’t put on this earth to make my wildest dreams come true. I was put here to be a bondslave to the One who gloriously loves me and undeservedly redeemed me.
I believe that with all my heart.
In one spot, Ms. Hollis writes, “When it comes to your dreams, no is not an answer” (58).
But sometimes, in fact oftentimes, it probably should be.
For the believer, our lives are not about pursuing that thing that ignites our fire and fuels our passion. God does give us talents and delights that we should use for good as He leads, but our purpose in life is not to become our most successful, most enviable selves. I’m fairly certain the early church martyrs didn’t think, “Man, someday I really hope I am tortured and killed for my faith, because that just makes me feel truly like my best self and brings me so much joy. I think I’ll put a picture of myself being beaten and then beheaded on my vision board.” They followed faithfully not because they had envisioned great successes for their lives and, as Ms. Hollis says, made themselves their own first priority (31). Instead, they were utterly surrendered and submitted to God, at the cost of all else.
When our dreams are just about self-aggrandizement, I think those dreams deserve some serious scrutiny. What are the images that Ms. Hollis has taped inside her closet to see every day and encourage her to pursue her goals? They are “the cover of Forbes featuring self-made female CEOs, a vacation house in Hawaii . . . and a picture of Beyonce, obvi” (71). In various other places she talks about the dreams she’s chased, including owning a $1000 Luis Vitton bag and being a leading media guru. Most of the things Ms. Hollis dreams of and works tirelessly for involve wealth and fame. Now hear me out, neither being wealthy nor famous are sinful. But when the whole goal of our lives is to be our “best” selves, to make our dreams come true and achieve great success in finances or fame or figure or anything else self-aggrandizing, we have certainly not followed the example Christ set for us, who became nothing, who set aside all personal glory and comfort to submit to God’s will.
I don’t believe any of the little fallacies or illogical contradictions in Ms. Hollis’s book are deliberate or nefarious in purpose. I think she is a woman who tries hard to be kind and compassionate and helpful. But I do think she lacks maturity and discernment and yet makes a living trying to tell people how to live well. She means well and touches on some kernels of truth. But her main frame of reference in this book is ALWAYS herself. The “wisdom” she offers is entirely her own life experiences, which she uses to tell people how they can achieve success in the same way she has. And at the end of the day, her description of a life well-lived is contradictory to what I think Scripture teaches.
Any believer whose vision board is all about getting their ideal size or their ideal home or their ideal income or their ideal anything, has missed the whole point of the redeemed life. We are not our own. We’re bought with a price. We must decrease, but he must increase. We are meant to live “a quiet life in all godliness and honesty.” Our success is never meant to be the measure of our lives. Our humble fidelity, our willingness to be broken and led wherever, whenever, and however God leads – that should be the measure of our lives. Most of the time, that life lived well in the spirit of Christ doesn’t come with magazine covers and television interviews and exotic vacation homes. Oftentimes, that life involves letting someone cut you in line, getting stretch marks, changing dirty diapers, making dinner for a friend going through a tough time, packing a Christmas box for a refugee child, calling a lonely neighbor, offering a kind word to your spouse even when they’re annoying, taking your elderly parent to their doctor’s appointment, and choosing to die to self over and over and over, in all the many gritty, painful, un-fire-igniting ways.
When the book first came out and many people were discussing it, I saw a meme online that, I think, summarizes my main disagreement with the book (though I have issues with several other things in the book that I don’t have room to cover here). The meme said, “Girl, wash some feet.” There it is. Stop making yourself your first priority and being the hero of your own story, as Ms. Hollis suggests, and just do the humble, quiet, unassuming work of washing the grimy feet of the next person God puts in your path. Stop worrying about your own face so much, and girl, just wash some feet.