Letter to the editor: Rachel Hollis is not the embodiment of female empowerment

Rachel Hollis, self-help author and speaker, announced the title of her 2018 book ‘Girl, Wash Your Face’ in a YouTube video. — video still

An open letter to Women Lead Change, by Heather Bachman

Women lead change.

That’s an empowering statement and one I can believe in.

Women Lead Change (WLC) is also the name of a non-profit organization headquartered in Cedar Rapids with the stated goals of advancing, developing and promoting women.

I like the goals. The mission statement is solid. The concept sounds great. But for WLC, what does it look like in practice?

Last week, WLC announced that Rachel Hollis will give a keynote address as part of the upcoming Women Lead Change 2019 Corridor Conference in Cedar Rapids. Hollis is a popular blogger, motivational speaker and author of the New York Times’ number one bestseller Girl, Wash Your Face.

Now, there are multiple speakers at the event, but Hollis is the featured presenter. She’s the person who got the publicized press release announcing her participation. It would benefit us to learn a little about Hollis….

Pull a quick Google search for Rachel Hollis and you’ll find countless articles about her selling out events and rallying crowds to get on their feet and lose their inhibitions. There’s no doubt Hollis is a social-media force, but troubling questions have recently arisen concerning plagiarism and the underpinnings of her message. And, while Girl, Wash Your Face is a New York Times’ bestseller, Entertainment Weekly also named it one of the worst books of the year.

There are many troubling aspects of Hollis and her philosophy, but here are just a few of the more concerning ones:

Hollis’ message of personal responsibility and self-guided well-being seem empowering on the surface, but don’t take into account the outside forces that impact a person’s social and economic mobility, like systemic racism, sexual-orientation bias or working-class poverty. Hollis’ credo seems to boil down to a mix of religious faith and tough love. Hollis’ brand of tough love can also take on some dark tones, like in the form of body shaming. In Girl, Wash Your Face, Hollis states that “humans were not made to be out of shape and severely overweight” while also urging people to keep their commitments around diets, even though diets have shown to be statistically ineffective at weight loss.

Hollis’ close association with multi-level marketing is also troubling. In a recent Instagram post, Hollis mentioned MLMs and encouraged women in MLMs to tell their fellow team members to read her book. If you’re not familiar with MLMs, they’re a modern form of a pyramid scheme in which an emphasis is put on recruiting new members in order to boost your commission. According to a [2011] report [by the Consumer Awareness Institute] on the Federal Trade Commission’s website, 99 percent of people who join MLM companies lose money. Not exactly an agent of empowerment or upward mobility for women, right?

Last but not least is Hollis’ idea of success. Hollis essentially pushes a prosperity gospel, combining monetary gain and Christianity to make an appeal that equates financial success and status-symbol purchases as the path to self-awareness and self-actualization.

In a world now consumed with personal branding, Hollis has centered her brand on white privilege and affluence. As someone who theoretically fits Mrs. Hollis’ target demographic, I feel even more of a duty to speak out. I wonder why WLC is choosing to promote her message. Is Hollis the dream? Is this what women should aspire to?

WLC presents the goal of empowering all women, but it doesn’t appear they give priority to diversity nor does it seem they want anyone from a socioeconomic group that couldn’t swing a $500 registration fee to attend the conference.

Women lead change.

That statement is true, but I’d ask the Women Lead Change organization if Rachel Hollis is the embodiment of that ideal, and also what they’re telling women everywhere by featuring her as their keynote speaker.

This letter is featured in Little Village issue 258.

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