In its simplest form, feminism is the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, or organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. Despite the overarching generality of this definition, feminism looks incredibly discordantly for diverse groups of women around the world. White feminism, an appellation surrounding feminist theories or movements that encompass solely white women, oftentimes overlooks the various forms of oppression that others of ethnic minorities confront. As a white woman myself, I have never directly experienced the nature of misogyny that a black woman, a Latina woman, or an Asian woman has faced. Moreover, as a woman from a privileged economic background, I cannot directly relate to underprivileged women who do not have the means to an education, live paycheck to paycheck to feed a family, or reside in unsafe neighborhoods. Additionally, as a cisgender, cissexual, heterosexual woman, I have never experienced the discrimination that a transgender, transsexual, or homosexual person might encounter. Furthermore, having been raised in the United States, I have enjoyed freedoms that many women in other parts of the world do not, such as the right to vote without having to ask my husband or father for permission to leave the house to do so, and without experiencing violence at the polls, as women in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and many other countries, do. The list of underprivileged groups throughout the world appears to be never-ending, but it is important to recognize that white feminism is “a thing”. A very prevalent, and oftentimes problematic “thing,” at that. While I cannot change who I am, where I come from, or how I identify, I believe that it is our responsibility to acknowledge this privilege before talking about certain issues, especially as they relate to women.
Despite the notion that within the overarching subjected group of women, some are more disadvantaged than others, women as a collective group have a long way to progress before equality is achieved, and there are a few universal topics that the vast majority of women, alongside men, struggle with, notwithstanding distinct racial, sexual, economic backgrounds, or global origin. Rachel Hollis’ book Girl Wash Your Face touches on many of these concepts: lack of confidence; marital issues; familial struggles; devastating loss; alcohol misuse; and body insecurities, to name a few. Hollis’ tips to a better life encompass looking to the goodness within as opposed to comparing ourselves to others; surrounding ourselves with positivity; and finally, doing what makes us happy. The overarching message seems pretty simple, and you’ve probably heard at least one of these inspirational life lessons once before. Throughout her book, Hollis offers personal anecdotes evidencing how she used those very practices to subdue negative thoughts around her weight, judgmental feelings towards others, stress over an overwhelming amount of work, insecurities surrounding her sex life, doubts on her ability to parent, and discouragement as her dreams were not coming to fruition as quickly as she’d like. While not all of these topics are relatable to women at large, many of them are, and Hollis’ opening-up and transparency into her most personal experiences deserves a great deal of credit and applause. It takes a lot of bravery to unravel the darkest pieces of our past and admit some of our most troubling thoughts to an audience of millions of people.
While I admire Hollis, her overarching message, and her catchy writing style, there are a few areas in which I think her message might have an adverse effect for women at large. First and foremost, weight issues. It’s not an easy subject to tackle, especially as I’ve witnessed various family members struggle with eating disorders first-hand. That said, one particular passage in Hollis’ chapter I’ll Start Tomorrow was a bit striking. In this chapter, Hollis strives to unravel the concept of flaking on our goals and not possessing the tenacity to power through hardship, which is certainly a topic worthy of discussion. However, in some places, it seems she undermines a woman’s goals and accomplishments, by grouping weight loss into the same category as any other goal, whether it be a promotion at work, starting a business, or having a baby. She writes, “Or what if a friend from work was constantly starting something new? Every three Mondays she announced a new diet or goal and then two weeks later it just ended? What if you called her on it, like, ‘Hey, Pam, I thought you were doing Whole30’? Meanwhile Pam is sitting in the break room eating a meat lover’s pizza and telling you that she was doing Whole30, and even though it made her feel great, two weeks into the program her son had a birthday party and she couldn’t resist the cake and then figured there was no point. Now she’s gained back the pounds she lost plus a few.” Upon reading this passage, I was overwhelmed with the notions of judgement, body shaming, and the sheer concept of valuing women for their bodies as opposed to who they are. While the passage may have intended to empower women to accomplish their goals and reach for the stars, it instead valorizes a woman’s weight and body size over more tangible ambitions.
While Rachel Hollis receives a great of critique for staying with her husband, Dave Hollis, despite the toxic and emotionally abusive onset to their relationship, I don’t entirely agree with this commentary. In her book, Hollis admits about the early stages of their dating, “… here’s the ugly truth: I was a booty call.” This section is quite relatable to many women. Whether they’re romantic or not, toxic relationships are abundant, and women are more apt than men to find themselves in an unhealthy relationship. I believe one of the biggest mistakes made when a friend, or stranger at that, is trapped in a toxic relationship, is to judge or cutoff. It’s annoying to have a friend that won’t talk to you for weeks, and then calls when she and her boyfriend go through their 37th major fight or breakup. While I’ve certainly been on the receiving end, I’ve also been the girl in the toxic relationship. I vividly remember a summer evening just a few years back. I was out to dinner with my cousin, and my jealous boyfriend at the time was incessantly calling, exclaiming that we would break up if I didn’t answer. I finally answered, walking out of the restaurant to the parking lot, where he broke up with me, at which time I threw up all over the empty parking space I was standing in (I have anxious-vomits). When I returned to the restaurant after getting dumped while simultaneously puking in a parking lot for fifteen minutes, I tried to pull myself together and walked back into the restaurant. My cousin was royally pissed at me (and hangry, which certainly didn’t help), so proceeded to get up to leave asking me, “Why can’t you just break up with him?” Little did she know. No feeling is worse than the cognizance that you’re in a toxic relationship, in which you are constantly hurt by a person you love, and then on top of that, you are inadvertently hurting other people in your life who you truly care about, only to watch them grow increasingly frustrated as they attempt to fathom why on earth you would stay with an awful person, in such a ridiculous situation. Nonetheless, as opposed to seeing these circumstances or relationships through an unsupportive, thwarted or judgmental lens, it’s important to approach them with sympathy or empathy. During Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Bill Clinton having cheated on her came up as a drawback to her being a suitable candidate for President. Critics went on to question why a feminist would choose to stay with a man who treated her in such a way. Not to mention the double standard (but you know I’m going to mention it anyway): As Clinton’s opponents undermined the campaign for her husband’s affairs, alongside her romantic and personal (not political) decision to stay with him, President Donald Trump’s recorded bragging about touching, groping, and assaulting women in other ways was not nearly as negatively regarded. As women and men alike, we need to focus less on shaming and judging as we encounter someone in a problematic situation. We all have difficult relationships, and none of them are perfect. Let’s use these experiences not to hinder others, but instead to help. Rachel Hollis is strong to speak about this rocky road to marriage with Dave Hollis, and I not only applaud her for that, but also for her seemingly happy marriage today.
Rachel Hollis’ message around dreams and ambitions are motivational for the most part, yet her goals are not entirely relatable to women at large. Hollis speaks of a home in Hawaii and finding herself on the cover of Forbes self-made millionaires. She also mentions that one of the biggest goals she achieved early on in her career was purchasing a Louis Vuitton bag. While dreaming big is phenomenal, and I am not one to judge anyone’s deepest ambitions, I don’t think the vast majority of women truly aspire to those aforementioned goals. More transferable goals might be quality time with the kids after pulling a night shift, scrounging up enough cash to buy a new car, finding an affordable apartment in a safer area, or going back to finish school and earn a degree. Many of Hollis’ goals are materialistic, when, based on her dark past and upbringing, she could instead add goals surrounding helping others, whether it be a foundation for abused children or support for fighting alcoholism. Just as Hollis should not send a message that a woman’s success can be found in how much weight she is able to lose, I don’t think she should be sending the message that a woman’s success can be found in the material items she is able to purchase, either. Money is just one of many forms of success.
One piece of advice, which I think might be my favorite in the entire novel, is “Someone else’s opinion of me if none of my business.” As women, we are innately inclined to be people-pleasers. That is, we do everything in our power to be likeable. People-pleasing is something truly dangerous as it begins to translate into agreeing with others even when your personal ideals could not diverge more; accepting unwanted sexual advances from someone because you don’t want to be “difficult” and say no; remaining silent as someone passes you up for a promotion or pays a man in the same position more, because you don’t want to be “aggressive”; or agreeing to lend someone money when you are working doubles to make ends meet as it is. As people-pleasers, women are accepting what others want them to be. Moreover, when we catch wind of someone gossiping or bad-mouthing us, we take it to heart way more than we should. Far too often, we receive feedback personally and not professionally. We allow someone ignoring a message to strike down our self-confidence. We hear about someone bad-mouthing us and wonder if what they’re saying is true. When people question our biggest dreams, we in turn probe whether these ambitions were ever viable in the first place. However, in the chapter “I’m a Terrible Writer,” Hollis says, “You have to choose a path or live the rest of your life slowly killing your ability to do great work for fear or what others will think. You have to decide that you care more about creating your magic and pushing it out into the world than you do about how it will be received.” When we accept Hollis’ advice that someone else’s opinion of us is none of our business, we find the bold, carefree, and strong women that we are meant to be.
Hollis’ motivational speaking and writing is wonderful, but also idealistic. In her chapter “There’s Only One Right Way to Be,” Hollis writes, “Every day you get to choose the way your world looks. Regardless of how you were raised or what you were taught to believe, you get to decide where your story goes from here.” While mindset is certainly important in moving on from our pasts and living in the present, and this advice certainly rings true for those who had miserable or traumatic upbringings and now find themselves in a better place, some people simply do not have that privilege. However, many people find themselves in a present situation that is decidedly akin to their dark past, thereby making it difficult to choose a better future for themselves. The idea that “Only you have the power to change your life,” in the chapter “I Need a Hero,” is therefore a bit assuming. While yes, the onus falls on each individual to change outlook and perception on challenges, there are many situations (e.g., cyclical poverty, societal marginalization, and illness) to name a few, in which this statement is not fitting.
While Hollis is often critiqued for her “Pick yourself up by the Bootstraps” ideology, I found a great deal of reason in one particular message surrounding hardships in life. While unraveling the shocking loss of her brother to suicide, in the chapter “I will never get past this,” Hollis writes, “You’re not supposed to acknowledge the good things that come out of trauma… there’s something perverse and unhealthy about it. It seems wrong to look for any silver lining, because that means appreciating something terrible that happened to you. But I recognize now that if you don’t look for the good that came out of what you’ve lived through, it’s all wasted.” There is so much truth to this statement. Regardless of where you come from, what curveballs life has thrown your way, the onus falls on you to react. The saying “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it,” rings true in this case, even if I might personally vouch for a 20:80 ratio instead. However, regardless of our situations, it ultimately is up to us to build ourselves up again, even if that means asking for help along the way. As Hollis writes, “But what is the alternative? We live through something crappy and that’s it? We’re done for? We allow the hard, ugliest parts of our lives to color everything else?” Hollis’ latest tattoo says “Embrace the suck,” which to me signifies the following: Find a lesson in every setback and learn from it; discover a meaning behind every challenge and recognize the skills you need to push through it, and lean on others to propel you forward.
As much as Rachel Hollis places all encumbrance on ourselves to be more, better, bigger people, I find it curious that Dave Hollis, her husband, is the CEO of her own company. While there is minimal media around this topic, and I haven’t heard it arise in any interviews as of yet, optically, it seems a tad offbeat that a feminist, independent woman would allow her husband to take over as CEO of her own, self-made company. Despite this abnormal component to her business structure, in the final chapter of Girl, Wash Your Face, “I Need a Hero,” Hollis writes, “I hope, pray, wish, cross my fingers and toes that you will look around and find an opportunity to be your own hero. Every woman should feel that kind of pride, but if you’re seeking change you shouldn’t just want that for yourself, you should need it.” I absolutely love this quote. While I was moving into a new apartment this past weekend, I found a self-perpetuating thought revolving in the back of my mind. It involved the fact that I somewhat wished I had someone there to help with the move, and in my mind it was a significant-other someone. Being Miss Independent, this was a striking thought and one I hadn’t felt in some time. Shortly thereafter, I sat back for some dinner in my new place, and felt as the idea reappeared: I really wanted someone to chat with about the day. Again, a significant-other someone.
So, here’s what I did. When I graduated high school, a cousin gifted me a toolkit. While it seemed a bit odd at the time, as I could have never imagined in that moment when I would use these tools, it was just what I needed in this moment. I removed the hammer from the case, found some nails, and started hanging my pictures around the walls of my new place. While growing up it was typically a “man’s job” to take care of the handiwork, I found that it was easy to do, and I also ensured everything was arranged to my liking. Later, I turned on Gilmore Girls, watched one of my favorite episodes, and fell asleep in my new home. I found in this very moment that I didn’t need anyone. I only needed myself. I am my own hero, and I think Rachel Hollis would be quite proud.