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Rachel Hollis Getty 1.jpg

Rachel Hollis and The Problem of Influencer Culture When Everything Is Content

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | August 6, 2020 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | August 6, 2020 |


Rachel Hollis Getty 1.jpg

The phenomenon of Rachel Hollis is one that is simultaneously highly familiar and wholly unique to the current moment in time. She’s a uniquely American figure whose status as a blogger, author, and motivational speaker has seen her garner worldwide attention. Her work is halfway between Instagram influencer and televangelist with a #girlboss twist. All in all, it’s easy to see why she attracts equal levels of fan adoration and utter repulsion.



Arguably, Hollis’s most potent exemplification of her brand is her first self-help book, Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be. The book was ‘a publishing phenomenon’ according to Quartzy and a major best-seller with both Amazon and The New York Times. It’s a curious mixture of ‘you go girl’ bland platitudes, Bible quotations, memoir, and The Secret. Hollis holds up herself as the standard for her readers to aim towards: a self-deprecating but deeply ambitious woman of means who pulled herself up by her bootstraps to be a good wife, mother, follower of the Lord, and badass boss b*tch. That book was followed by another guide with a lengthy title, Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals, which further strengthened her image. On top of that were brand deals, YouTube videos, speaking gigs, and a podcast, which she co-hosts with her husband, Dave Hollis. Indeed, it is her relationship, both personally and in terms of corporate synergy, with her partner that has inspired the latest round of controversy surrounding Hollis.

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In June, the Hollises announced their separation. A month later, HarperCollins announced their intentions to release a new book by Hollis on September 29 of this year, entitled Didn’t See That Coming. On her personal website, Hollis describes writing the book ‘to share her ideas on how to get through hard seasons. Then, she entered into one of her most painful seasons of her own life, but kept writing.’ Eager readers are encouraged to pre-order now to receive free access to ‘an hour-long class and a 16 page workbook personalized by Rachel all about rebuilding your life.’


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This morning my friends at @goodmorningamerica made a big announcement for me… the cover of my next book!! 😭 Here’s an excerpt: “I set out to write this book because I have survived crisis and grief many times and I believed I might have something to share that could help others walk through it. I wrote the first draft as a sort of Sherpa, believing I could help guide you over the mountain of grief. Now I find myself back inside grief and editing from an entirely different perspective than the one from which I wrote. I’m no longer a Sherpa, leading from the front—now I’m also trudging through it with you, which means this book has the unique duality of being a creation both outside and inside of pain. As someone who lives by a plan, who has imagined in detail the next two decades of my life and how they might play out, I can honestly tell you, I never planned for the end of my marriage. Honestly? The fact that I didn’t see this or plan for it makes me feel like an idiot. I will add a bit more honesty and tell you something in confidence. I considered pushing this book away or scrapping the idea altogether. I didn’t think I was ready—I wasn’t sure I’d ever be ready. I questioned whether I could teach and learn at the same time— because this lesson, this work, feels like the hardest I’ve ever done. Even though the words were written, even though I believed they could be helpful to someone—I knew it was impossible to keep this book in its original form without acknowledging the fresh destruction I find myself in. And, the idea of writing about something so new goes against everything I have believed about my work. There’s an old expression that says we should teach or write or share only from our scars, never from our wounds, and I have lived by it. Meaning, I have been intentional about never processing the hard parts of life with you but instead have only ever shared what has been effective for me after I’ve done the work. But here we are. Everything feels fragile and scrubbed raw. Everything feels unreal and uncertain. Everything feels absent of all that matters and simultaneously too big to carry.” Didn’t See That Coming is out on September 29th. 🤟🏻

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Fans and skeptics alike were suspicious of this timing and intent. You don’t announce a traditionally published book two months before its release with heavy focus on a personal event you announced only weeks prior to that without making some people question your goals. I’ve seen some people try to play devil’s advocate and wonder if details on her separation were added at the last minute, but such things simply do not happen at that speed in the world of traditional publishing. Even self-publishing would struggle to achieve that goal. On the surface level, this seems to be, at best, a deeply calculated piece of branding, a side-effect of a system where everything is content. At worst, it seems downright icky.

As Hollis fans noted on her Instagram page, she and her husband had spent years selling themselves as the perfect couple to audiences. Not only was their marriage the aesthetic ideal, something they poured a lot of energy into maintaining, but it was deliberately positioned by them as the ultimate aspiration for any (cishet white middle-class Christian) couple. That all takes on a different taste when you hear the Hollises admit that they were struggling with their marriage for three years prior to the divorce, all while raking in the big bucks based on a growing lie. They’re hardly the first influencers to have a disconnect between their lived lives and the polished product they shaped from it, but this instance seems to hit harder for both their fans and those who dislike them.

A lot of online content is defined by the concept of radical transparency, or at the very least a highly bastardized version of it. Radical transparency is supposed to be a means for corporate and political overhaul, a chance to increase the openness of process, detail, and data. It’s a peek into how the sausage gets made. Online, and especially in the ephemeral space defined vaguely as ‘influencer culture,’ it’s a lot less communal. Think of the boom and bust of the agonizingly personal essays of xoJane or the emotional overshare of dooce’s blogging. Consider every hot model who’s ever posted a vaguely unflattering image of themselves and used it as an opportunity to hijack conversations of body positivity for purposes of profit and PR. Everything is content.

One of the most insidious aspects of capitalism is its ability to turn every single aspect of our lives and selves into a commodity. When you live under this system, it’s hard to ignore that thrall, especially when the benefits seem so strong. I can’t claim to be innocent in this either, given that I have written personal essays and shared details of my life in articles for pay. There will always be a market for ‘authentic’ representations of the self, regardless of how airbrushed or rose-tinted they are. Maintaining that illusion, of course, is where the trouble develops.

If you, say, have a line of self-help books where you brag about your red-hot sex life with your husband and he co-hosts a podcast wherein you bestow advice upon others based on your self-styled status as an expert in life, you have to be aware that perfection is fleeting. When your product is your life, there’s no escape from scrutiny or the accountability of your customer base. I imagine a lot of Hollis’s fans would have more sympathy for her current situation if there wasn’t an immediate financial benefit to her ongoing circumstances. Hollis sells herself as an authority, a woman who you should listen to as she shakes her finger in your direction and let’s you know that it’s your responsibility to be better. Do whatever Rachel tells you (via God) and you can be just like her. But now she’s ready to be ‘honest’ and that too is its own product for sale as well as further advice to be dispensed (often using plagiarized quotes and while pushing MLMs.) No time to wait, do it now.

This is a system built on crumbling foundations and it cannot be sustained in the long-term. Then again, it doesn’t need to be. There will always be fresh blood willing to recycle their own lives for the same purposes and gains. There will be other couples ready to sell you tickets to couples conferences, charging hundreds or even thousands of dollars to position themselves as indomitable personal and business perfection. Hell, the chances are that both Hollises are already organizing their long-term plans to sell themselves as a happily divorced pair, a balanced example of conscious uncoupling that you to can replicate for the right price. The book deals will keep coming, as will the financial rewards. Expect Girl, Where’s Your Prenup? in time for the 2021 holiday season.


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Kayleigh is a features writer for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.



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