Oh, boy. Okay. This book is a mash-up of “here’s how to get more done” and “if you’re not successful it’s 100% your fault” with a little bit of Jesus talk thrown in. I came to Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis knowing what people have said about it, both good and bad. I have friends who are absolutely in love with this book and can’t say a bad thing about it. But I also have friends who can’t say a good thing about this book. There’s really not a lot of in-between (that I’ve seen). With this review, I’m going to attempt to be the in-between. But I will warn you now, it’s going to lean towards the bad.
I’m going to say a lot of things in the following paragraphs. Some of them you may not like, especially if you are an avid follower of Rachel Hollis (or if you just really, really love this book). I don’t want to come across as haughty or snooty or as a know-it-all. I definitely do not have all the answers. But neither does Rachel Hollis (despite what she claims). All of what I am about to say is said in love and out of concern, especially for my fellow Christians. Although I would normally take a review like this and use at least part of it to speak directly to the author, I will not in this review. Rachel states very clearly in her book that she does not read reviews, good or bad. I do not feel the need to speak directly to someone who isn’t going to listen anyway.
First, let’s talk about the good. If I needed someone to cheer me on and yell at me to keep going during those last minutes of a work out, I’d find a Rachel Hollis. She is a motivational speaker and a good one. If you need someone to tell you Go! Fight! Win! Do the thing!, she’s a good person to go to. Maybe even one of the best (I don’t regularly seek out motivational speakers so I don’t know for sure). She has tons of energy and scrolling through her Instagram makes you want to go on a hike, shower, put on cute clothes, and go to a book signing (for your book that you wrote while she cheered you on).
Rachel Hollis is quintessential. She can help you plan a party, organize your home, teach you how to make a throw pillow, and shower you with hundreds of crowd-pleasing recipes. She’s cute, funny, sassy, and self deprecating. She’s everything you could want in a friend. Or… is she?
While reading Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis, I could see why so many women like her. She tells crazy but fun stories, talks to her readers like each one is the only person in the room (and also her best friend), and tells you that you can do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. She oozes positivity and motivation. With so many things to love, what could possibly be my issue with her and her book? So many things.
I found a lot of problems (both big and small) while reading, so I will just draw out three overarching issues I found with Girl, Wash Your Face. I will head them in the style that she heads each chapter of her book: with the lie that will be discussed in the content.
1. Lie: You are in control of your own life.
This was the mantra that Ms. Hollis repeated in those words or through her ideas throughout this entire book. She even goes so far as to say that if your life isn’t great, it’s because you let it not be great. After everything she says throughout this book that she has been through, I am honestly shocked that she would still believe such a devastating lie. Unfortunately, this lie that is flaunted by motivational speakers and gurus everywhere continues to have influence. The fact is that we are not in control of our lives. We can try all we might to control our lives, our circumstances, what is happening to us, whether or not we feel well, or whether or not we get through something, but ultimately, most stuff isn’t up to us.
Chronic illness doesn’t go away just because we want it to. Poverty doesn’t turn into wealth overnight, even if we work hard. Trials and horrible experiences don’t skip us just because we are positive thinkers. Just because we try to suck it up and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps doesn’t mean things will actually get better. Life is lived in the trenches. It is overwhelming and difficult. Working hard, trying harder, being “better” (whatever that means) doesn’t always equal success, a better life, and better circumstances. Positivity does not take away pain.
Jesus suffered. He suffered deeply. The Israelites suffered. David suffered. Paul suffered. The early Christians suffered. The Bible is filled to bursting with stories of people who suffered deeply throughout their lives. Nowhere in the Bible does God say, “Suck it up, buttercup! Time to pull yourself up by your boot straps and just say no to negativity!” Quite the opposite, really. God meets us in our suffering, walks with us in our pain, and promises to be our guiding light through the deepest valleys. He chastises us when we are wallowing in sin. He provided a way of forgiveness for our sins. He is our strength when we are weak. These truths are what we should turn to. Not a kitschy “you are in control of your own life” poster.
2. Lie: The Gospel is loving your neighbor, the fruits of the spirit, and quoting Bible verses to motivate yourself
Rachel Hollis talks a lot about Christianity, faith, spirituality, and “tenets of Christianity” in her book. However, if she didn’t talk so much about being a preacher’s daughter and going to so many churches in LA, I would sincerely wonder if she had ever been to a church. Now I wonder if she has ever been to a good one.
I don’t expect everyone to be experts on Scripture and theology. Most experts will even admit that they are not as expert as they wish to be. I do, however, take issue with people who pull Bible verses out of context, say “I’m probably getting this wrong but…,” and then do nothing to study and understand the Scripture they’re trying to interpret. She does this at least once or twice in a blatant manner and multiple other times throughout the book.
For someone who claims to be a Christian, Ms. Hollis does not even understand the Gospel. Here’s the thing: loving our neighbor and having the fruits of the spirit are important. In fact, they’re extremely important. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus says it is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And he goes on to say that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. When it comes to how Christians are to behave, the Bible puts a lot of emphasis on the fruits of the spirit.
But these are not the main tenets of the Christian faith. Let me be clear: Ms. Hollis claims that the main tenet of the Christian faith is loving your neighbor. This is not the truth. This is not the Gospel. The Gospel is so much more than this.
The Gospel is Jesus Christ crucified on our behalf for our sins and resurrected on the third day. The Gospel is not about loving our neighbor, following the fruits of the Spirit, or repeating the mantra “I am enough.” The Gospel is that we are not enough. We cannot save ourselves. We need Jesus Christ. He came, lived a perfect life that we could not live, died a horrific death to pay a debt we owed but could not pay, and then did what no one else has done: conquered death, hell, and the grave and rose to live again. This is the Gospel. This is our hope. Not in our own actions and abilities or sufficiency. But in Christ’s actions. Christ’s abilities. Christ’s sufficiency.
3. Lie: You are enough.
I touched on this briefly already in the previous section, but this needs its own section. I have been hearing this mantra since I was a teenager. But here’s the truth: none of us is enough. We are broken, flawed, utterly sinful people. We cannot do it all. We cannot be enough for anyone, especially not ourselves. The only one who is enough is God. He is enough. He is sufficient to provide all of our needs. Our rest is found not in telling ourselves that we are enough but rather in resting in God’s goodness and grace. We can get back up again when we fall because he is picking us up – not because we are enough to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.
You can do all of the hard things, break all of your bad habits, and work from sun up to sun down, but you are never going to find the perfect formula for the perfect life. There is none. It does not exist. Whether or not you are a Christian, you are not going to find success by thinking that you just have to be good enough while also chanting “I am enough.” Life doesn’t work that way. Some people are wildly successful and have tons of money and a booming business, while others die in poverty, and still others live somewhere in between.
Success isn’t about the money you have, the size of your business, whether or not you’re a working mom, whether or not you’re a mom at all, whether or not you’re married, and so on. Success is not something that can be measured. It looks different for everyone. At the end of the day, what matters is the Gospel. The true Gospel. And living our lives centered on the fact of our great need and God’s great grace.
Yes, by all means, wash your face. It’s just good skin care. But don’t forget that it’s not all about you.
There were a lot more things that I took issue with in Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis besides just these things. But as these seem to be the key tenets of what she teaches, I decided to focus on those. I am happy to continue this discussion with anyone who wants to talk about anything I have said or anything else about this book. Everything I have said is said in love. If Rachel Hollis herself wants to talk to me about what she said in this book (doubtful, but you never know haha), I’d be happy to.
I do think that if she did not claim Christianity and if so many Christian women were not enamored by her, I would have much less of an issue with her. I have seen many complains from her Christian fans that Christians giving negative reviews of this book are being too harsh on her. That she wrote it as a self-help book, not a Christian book, and there’s nothing wrong with reading books that aren’t about the Bible. I agree: there is nothing wrong with reading or taking to heart a book that is not about the Bible or written by a Christian.
However, if the author of a book claims to be a Christian and mentions aspects of the Christian faith in his or her book, they need to be held accountable for whether or not what they have to say is biblical. What Rachel Hollis teaches in Girl, Wash Your Face is not biblical at all. Furthermore, my fellow Christians would do well to read books with the Bible in mind, especially if they’re self-help books. Not all of the books about life and principles for life on your shelf have to be from Christian writers or even based in Scripture. Those who are not Christians still have the ability to say wise things (we were all created in the image of God, after all). But we must read with Scripture in mind. We cannot toss out the truth of the Bible in favor of truth from the world. Test all teachings against Scripture.
I am not the first nor will I be the last to test Ms. Hollis’s teachings against Scripture and find her teachings lacking. My dear Christian sisters (and brothers), please do not read this book. Or, if you do read it, please do not take what Rachel Hollis has to say as truth. We were made for so much more than doing better and trying harder.
Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis gets 2/5 stars.