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Girl, Wash Your Face

My assistant put me up to this. She does a first pass on most of the emails I receive and recently called to say, “There’s a book out there called Girl, Wash Your Face, and you’re getting multiple emails about it every day. You need to review it.” I looked it up on Amazon and noticed it has accumulated nearly 6,000 reviews averaging 5 stars. That is no small feat for a book authored by a professed Christian (Rachel Hollis), published by a Christian company (Thomas Nelson), and widely read and distributed in Christian circles. So I ordered a copy and gave it a read. I’ve chosen to focus this brief review not on the many details of the book, but on its big point and central message.

Many Lies, One Truth

Rachel Hollis is the founder of a tremendously popular and successful lifestyle blog targeted at women. Though she has written a few novels and cookbooks along the way, Girl, Wash Your Face is her first non-fiction work. The conversational, friend-to-friend tone that marks her blog is apparent from the opening pages, and she wastes no time telling what it is all about: “This book is about a bunch of hurtful lies and one important truth.” That sounds positive since it’s clear that as human beings we are prone to believe lies about ourselves, about others, and even about God.

So what is the one important truth at the core of Hollis’s work? “You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.” This will resonate with many people. We are moral beings who bear the responsibility of making decisions about who we will be and what we will do with our lives. We all feel the desire to become better people. Yet whether we, as Christians, can fully agree with Hollis depends on how she answers a number of questions: What is happiness? What is involved in achieving happiness? What can guide us into happiness? What power is available to those who want it? And what hope is there for those who have tried and failed to gain it?

So what does it mean to be happy?

Happy people—the ones who are enjoying their lives 90 percent of the time—do exist. You’ve seen them. In fact, you’re reading a book written by one right now.

Ultimately, I think that’s what people are commenting on in my photos. They’re saying, ‘Your life looks so perfect,’ but what I think they mean is, ‘Your life seems happy. You look content. You’re always optimistic and grateful. You’re always laughing.’ …

When you’re engaged and involved and choosing to enjoy your own life, it doesn’t matter where you are, or frankly, what negative things get hurled at you. You’ll still find happiness because it’s not about where you are but who you are.

Here Hollis defines happiness as contentment, optimism, and gratitude, and says it is displayed in fun and laughter. A happy life looks to other people like a perfect life, one that is worthy of Instagram. It means enjoying life 90 percent of the time. Though Hollis has experienced great pain and anguish, she has still managed to build this kind of happy life and means to tell others how they can do the same.

Now, what is involved in achieving happiness? “You need to identify—and systematically destroy—every lie you’ve told yourself your whole life. … Recognizing the lies we’ve come to accept about ourselves is the key to growing into a better version of ourselves.” A woman’s happiness depends upon how she responds to the multitude of lies surrounding her. This is why the book is framed around 20 lies women believe about themselves. In almost every case, Hollis describes how she once believed this lie and how she improved herself by overcoming it.

If the key to the good life is becoming happy and if happiness depends upon overcoming lies, what rule or standard is there to help women distinguish truth from lies? She is never clear on this. She never directs her readers to a single source, guide, rule, or book meant to serve as an authoritative source on what women ought to believe and disbelieve about themselves. Instead, women are left to create their own standard according to either their own criteria or Hollis’s.

What power is available to those who want to reject lies and choose happiness? According to Hollis, the power comes from within:

Your life is up to you.

If we can identify the core of our struggles while simultaneously understanding that we are truly in control of conquering them, then we can utterly change our trajectory.

God, your partner, your mama, and your best friends—none of them can make you into something (good or bad) without your help.

You need to prove to yourself that you can do it. You need to prove to yourself you are capable of anything you set your mind to. You have the power.

Her call to women is to identify their inner power, then to direct that power toward conquering lies.

Is there hope and relief for those who have tried to conquer lies, but failed? Hollis freely admits she has spent much of her life in this cycle of success and failure. Though in some areas she is “crushing it,” in others she is “constantly working on different angles to attack the same problem.” Her confidence is “that every day I’m learning and growing, which lets me feel at peace with myself.” To her readers she says, “Stop crying about what happened and take control of what happens next. Get up, right now. Rise up from where you’ve been, scrub away the tears and the pain of yesterday, and start again … Girl, wash your face!” Those who fail can rest assured: At least they tried, and they can try again tomorrow.

Because of the author’s Christian background and publisher, you might wonder, what is the role of faith in this process of change? She says she is a Christian who believes “God loves each of us unconditionally” and that her creed is “love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet she affirms the validity of all other faiths and is clear that her instruction is equally effective for all women, no matter their lifestyle or religious convictions. Thus the book and the happy life it describes are available not only to Christians, but to all people who are willing to put in the effort.

No Way To Live

It has long been my observation that there are two kinds of books being marketed to Christians. There are some whose foundational message is what you need to do and others whose foundational message is what Christ has already done. The first make a model out of the author, the second make a model out of Jesus. The first place the burden for change on personal power while the second place the burden for change on Christ’s power. It is clear that Girl, Wash Your Face falls squarely in the first category.

Here is the book in short: The great truth every woman needs to know is that she, and she alone, is responsible for her happiness. Happiness (defined as contentment, optimism, gratitude, the appearance of perfection, and enjoyment of 90 percent of life), depends upon identifying and destroying whatever lies she believes about herself. To do this, she must take hold of the power she has within. When she fails, she should take comfort that at least she made the effort and determine she will try harder next time. The big takeaway is this: Try harder! And when that fails: Try even harder! And when that fails, try again!

Hollis says, “Good news! Tomorrow is a new day.” The Bible says, “Good news! Christ can make you a new person.”

This is not merely inconsistent with the message of the Bible, but antithetical to it. The Bible is clear that the greatest need of every woman is not happiness but holiness, not Rachel-likeness but Christ-likeness. The problem at the heart of every woman is that she has sinned and falls far short of the perfection God rightfully demands of her. What she needs most and first is not to make incremental changes to her lifestyle but to look to Christ who will bring lasting change to her heart. Hollis says, “Good news! Tomorrow is a new day.” The Bible says, “Good news! Christ can make you a new person.” Girl, Wash Your Face falls woefully short in both its diagnosis of the problem and its proposal for a cure. In its own way it actually leads women farther from holiness and, ironically, farther from happiness.

(For other reviews of the book that discuss further concerns, consider this review by Alisa Childers or this one by Summer Jaeger.)

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