Title: Girl, Wash Your Face
Author: Rachel Hollis
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
At 18, Rachel Hollis, a high school graduate living in Los Angeles, decided that what she really wanted in life was to marry actor Matt Damon. She failed in her quest, as expected, but she came closer than many of her peers.
“I applied over and over again for jobs at Miramax Films (because they had produced Good Will Hunting and my 18-year-old brain assumed that Matt Damon might stroll through the lobby at any given moment),” she recalls in her latest book, Girl, Wash Your Face.
What brought Hollis closer to her goal was her determination, her persistence, and a sense of purpose. She did get that job with Miramax as a junior in charge of event-planning, rather than a chance to be one of the studio stars’ potential brides. “In the absence of clear direction or a real vision, I just imagined one,” she writes. “I latched on to the idea of a future so I knew a direction to walk in.”
That might well be the difference between crazy stalker and hopeful dreamer, and the latter is what seems to drive Girl, Wash Your Face, the seventh book by Hollis, a food blogger turned life coach and social media darling with nearly 1 million followers on Instagram (see author interview below)
Since its release last year, the book has sold more than 1 million copies worldwide with its folksy “I’ve done it and so can you” style. Hollis talks to rather than down to her readers, explaining how she went down a few wrong roads of life before eventually finding the right one.
The book is a voyage of discovery as the author begins each chapter with a lie she believed about life, and then explains how she uncovered the truth. In the chapter titled “I Need a Drink,” for example, she had become unnerved by her apparent reliance on alcohol to numb the strains of raising three children under five. Hollis explains how she managed to give up drinking and achieve mental clarity through self-realization.
Instead of blinding flashes, Hollis appears to have only gradually turned her life around, focusing on positive influences and cutting out the negatives – whether they are wine, Oreo biscuits, or bad thoughts about her body image.
There’s no secret about the foundation of Hollis’ inspiration. The publisher, Thomas Nelson, is the Christian content imprint of book giant HarperCollins. In the pages of Girl, Wash Your Face, Hollis often refers to the strength and virtue of her religious faith. Even the book’s title invokes cleanliness, a state once popularly regarded as next to godliness.
To be fair, Hollis wears her religion relatively lightly as she encourages women to be inspired and independent enough to live their own lives. But as she advises readers to “be the hero of your own story,” she encourages them to also think of others. “This doesn’t mean you become selfish. This doesn’t mean you discard your faith or quit believing in something greater than yourself.”
Much of her advice is basic common sense, but Hollis’ peppy style refreshes some well-worn arguments. Be true to yourself, stick to your commitments, or start with achievable goals like removing something bad from your menu. “Diet Coke felt like my great white whale at the time, but in retrospect, giving up a soda was a million times easier than running marathons, hitting our annual budget goals, or writing a book.”
Any self-improvement book needs a takeaway, the pivot on which the reader can determine how the writer got to live his or her dreams, rather than merely dreaming them. “[Family] connections haven’t been the secret to my success,” Hollis writes. “The secret to my success isn’t celebrity status... It’s not about talent, skill, money, or connections.”
And the big reveal of Girl, Wash Your Face? “I am successful because I refused to take no for an answer. I am successful because I have never once believed my dreams were someone else’s to manage. That’s the incredible part about your dreams: nobody gets to tell you how big they can be.”
Author interview: Rachel Hollis
Rachel Hollis isn’t the first social media celebrity to have launched herself into fame with a bikini photograph. But she’s surely one of the few to have emphasized not her curves but her post-natal stretch marks.
“I had just run a marathon so I was, like, this is the best shape I’m ever going to be in my whole life,” she recalls from her home in Austin, Texas. “I had just got this new bathing suit and I thought, I’m going to show off this bikini.”
Then, in 2015, Hollis was a blogger, offering advice and anecdotes on cooking, style, homemaking and life with children through TheChicSite.com website. Her homespun charm had brought her followers on Instagram and Facebook. Many of them, like her, were young parents.
“In the very last picture, I have stretch marks all over my stomach – I carried three babies – and then I’m like you know what, all the women who follow me are mums and they probably have stretch marks too. So I end up posting the photo.”
That decision propelled the photo to “viral” status, and Hollis to social media fame. “Of all the things that you want to go viral, that's probably not it, but that was very overwhelming.”
There’s much to commend Hollis’ own life journey as an inspiration. Born into a dysfunctional, sometimes violent, family – her older brother committed suicide when she was 14 – she managed to escape her hometown of Weedpatch, a settlement in southern California, best known as the desperate migrant camp in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, for the bright lights of Los Angeles.
Hollis had flirted with writing all her life – she began her lifestyle blog in 2008 and self-published a series of novels – but her experience with the bikini photo convinced her to turn her literary efforts towards helping other women. “It really was the first time that I saw the power of just being yourself, and showing not just the pretty stuff.”
The reaction gave Hollis’ inspiration for Girl, Wash Your Face. “As a [social media] influencer, I had years of women all over the world sending me [direct messages], asking: ‘How do I save my marriage?’ ‘How do I get my son to stop using [drugs]?’ ‘How do I lose the last 50 pounds?’ What I wanted to say, which never felt appropriate to say, was: ‘Stop reaching out to a stranger on the Internet and fix your own life.’”