Rachel Hollis, best-selling author of Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing and an MLM sales pitch personified, should maybe wash her shoes because she really stepped in it this weekend. It began when the lifestyle influencer-turned-author-turned-motivational-speaker posted a TikTok describing a (totally real, not at all fake) interaction she had with a user on a live who called her privileged for having a house cleaner.
In a video that is perplexingly still up on her Instagram, Hollis says that in one of her lives, “I mention there’s a sweet woman who comes to my house twice a week and cleans,” and if it weren’t obvious enough what the woman’s role is, Hollis elaborates, “She’s my house cleaner. She cleans the toilets.” When this (totally real, not at all made up as a vehicle for her subsequent bragging) user called her privileged for it, Hollis agreed she is “super freaking privileged”, but also, she says as what’s meant to be a sort of gotcha moment, “I worked my ass off to have the money to have someone come twice a week and clean my toilets.”
Hollis is the NYT best-selling author of the mega-popular self-help book Girl, Wash Your Face. In 2004, 11 years before her first viral Instagram post that launched her into the public sphere, she married Dave Hollis who, at that time, was working as the director of New Business Development for Disney. He would later become Disney’s President of Worldwide Theatrical Distribution before, in 2018, quitting to become the CEO of The Hollis Co.
When, Hollis recounts, the definitely real commenter, running out of steam and looking to throw one last barb in, then replied that Rachel is not relatable, that’s when things took a turn for the even more bizarre. After a condescending laugh, Hollis asks rhetorically, “What is it about me that makes you think I wanna be relatable?” seemingly forgetting about the massive $3 million empire she’s built off of putting forth the idea that her lifestyle is attainable if you simply do pithy things like “wash your face” and “stop apologizing”.
“No, sis,” she continues, “literally everything I do in my life is to live a life that most people can’t relate to. Most people won’t work as hard. Most people won’t get up at 4am” (to do what, she doesn’t say). “Most people won’t fail publicly, again and again, just to reach the top of the mountain. Literally every woman I admire in history was unrelatable.” Then she sneers, “if my life is relatable to most people, I’m doing it wrong.”
If you haven’t cringed all the way back into your mother’s womb yet, Rachel captioned the video, “Harriet Tubman, RBG, Marie Curie, Oprah Winfrey, Amelia Earhart, Frida Khalo, Malala Yousafzai, Wu Zetian… all Unrelatable AF. Happy Women’s History Month!”
The backlash was swift. At first, many commenters took issue with Hollis’s flippant characterization of her house cleaner, reducing her to one of the more demeaning parts of the job. Commenters also expressed displeasure at her assertion that hard work directly translates to wealth—ignoring the fact that many people who do get up at 4am (essential workers, people working two jobs, just to spitball here) are not able to build million-dollar empires.
The tone deafness of the post elicited responses from the likes of Rachel Cargle, Austin Channing Brown, and Luvvie Ajayi. Cargle commented, “She. Cleans Your. Toilets? There is so much here that others have so eloquently addressed but I can’t fathom the root of you addressing your housecleaner as the person who ‘cleans your toilets’.” Others took issue with the fact that she was seemingly comparing herself to women like Harriet Tubman. And then people noticed that comments, especially by BIPOC women—most notably, Brown’s and Cargle’s comments—seemed to have been deleted.
On Sunday, Hollis posted an apology that began cavalierly with, “Someday I’ll learn. Not yet apparently—but someday I’ll learn.” Apparently indeed. In the 10-post Notes App screenshot carousel that followed, Hollis made a point that her intention was not to hurt anyone with the video, but writes that “I own that it was and I apologize.” Again, the video remains up on her Instagram.
She then poses the question, “Was my post upsetting because I said I have someone who cleans my house twice a week?” and then goes on to say, “I have a nanny, I have someone who helps with cleaning, I have a team at work who helps to build this business and I think it’s CRUCIAL that I keep talking about it. I could very easily pretend that I don’t have any assistance.” Perhaps if she’d read the critical comments instead of deleting them, she’d know the post was not upsetting because she said she has someone who cleans her house, but because she described that woman as the person who cleans her toilets, refused to acknowledge her own privilege even while seeming to agree that she is privileged, and appeared to compare herself to the likes of Harriet Tubman.
Regarding the comparisons, she writes, “There is NO comparison. To believe that because I mentioned them, I am comparing myself to them is ludicrous.” To recap, Hollis said she aims to live a life that is unrelatable and then lists out a number of influential women (many being women of color) who were also, as she calls them, “unrelatable”. As an author, one would think Hollis would understand how this can read as an implicit comparison.
Then, after shouting out her “team” for helping her build her business, she blames them for her failure to quickly respond, writing that she didn’t initially respond to the backlash, which started on Friday, because “I listened to my team instead of my gut.” She said it was her team who decided to “monitor comments” and said “certain comments had been muted”—such as Cargle’s and Ajayi’s—when the comments actually appear to have been deleted.
This isn’t the first time Hollis has confused the term “apology” with throwing her team under the bus. In April 2020, Hollis posted a screenshot of one of her tweets to her Instagram reading, “Still… I RISE.” Using such a format could make it appear as though Hollis came up with the quote, when in fact, it’s the title of a famous Maya Angelou poem. Hollis got called out back then, notably by Austin Channing Brown, for plagiarizing Angelou. In her apology post, Hollis wrote, “I heard once that the only real apology was one where you don’t make an excuse, and so I won’t,” only after stating, “While I didn’t create or post the graphic, I am the leader of the team that did and so I accept full responsibility for their actions.”
Hollis had been accused of plagiarism before; in 2019 she was accused of plagiarizing a number of quotes on her IG page, stylizing them in her cute branded font and attributing them to herself, when in fact, most were derived from other inspirational speakers. She self-attributed quotes like, “Every year you close a new chapter in your story. Please…don’t write the same one 75 times and call that a life –Rachel Hollis” (which is very similar to a popular quote by leadership expert Robin Sharma) and “someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business –Rachel Hollis” (which can be traced back to a 1979 self-help book of a very similar title, or even a RuPaul tweet from 2011). It all just has big “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take -Wayne Gretzky -Michael Scott” energy, except at least Michael Scott had the decency to attribute Gretzsky first.
Even as Hollis maintains her 1.7 million Instagram followers, some are becoming disillusioned with her messaging. In June 2020, Hollis and her husband announced they had decided to divorce, an announcement that was shocking, considering the couple was dispensing relationship advice mere weeks prior to the announcement. Rachel wrote she and Dave “worked endlessly over the last three years to make this work and have come to the conclusion that it is healthier and more respectful for us to choose this as the end of our journey as a married couple.” Yet in a March 2020 video published to her Youtube channel entitled, “Rachel Hollis and Dave Hollis Check-In on their Relationship”, the couple discuss their relationship—Rachel says, “Our relationship means something so much bigger today” than it did 18 months prior—with no mention of the struggles they were apparently going through. Dave Hollis’s March 2020 book, Get Out Of Your Own Way, includes an anecdote on how he became a better husband. Many of the commenters on the YouTube video express feeling lied to: “I just have to say that I feel duped by these two,” wrote one commenter. “They sold me the curated version of their lives. So much for being ‘real and authentic’.”
Another group Hollis may have lied to? Multilevel marketing consultants. To briefly circle back to Hollis’s brand basically being an aggressive MLM pitch from the girl who bullied you in high school incarnate, Hollis herself is no stranger to multilevel marketing. She has spoken at a number of events for various network marketing companies, including an Arbonne convention in Vegas in 2019, a Beachbody Coach Summit in 2019 (the company’s largest event of the year, for which she was the keynote speaker), and a 2018 Lularoe leadership conference. In an Instagram post following the success of Girl, Wash Your Face, she specifically thanks MLM consultants for helping the book become so successful: “Thank you for hollering at the other girls on your MLM team to read it!” And yet in her 2020 book, Didn’t See That Coming, she bites the very triangle-shaped hierarchy of hands that fed her. She instructs readers to “figure out a way to make… income that doesn’t cost any money to start.” She continues, “I’m positive someone is going to read this and be inspired to head on over to the internet and ask how she can make extra income and then, four weeks later, her starter kit has arrived for the new at-home business she paid $700 to join. Don’t be dumb!” So it’s dumb, unless you’re instructing your downline to buy her book. Ouch.
So far, Hollis’s latest apology is failing to placate critics. Ajayi wrote underneath the carousel, “Rachel, I’m astounded that you missed the point so hard. I’m actually shocked that 5 days went by and you still don’t understand why what you said was so deeply problematic. If you will invoke my name, at least do the work of understanding why you failed loudly and why you have to take accountability. But here you are blaming your team. This lacks integrity and is shameful.” The rest of the comments aren’t much better. One comment, which has over 8,900 likes, reads, “Why do you always blame your team?? They work for you and are led by you.” Another comment with nearly 6,400 likes reads, “Maybe take a look at the comments from the post because it seems you’re still missing the point(s).”
It’s one thing to stop apologizing needlessly for being assertive and taking up space, as women are conditioned to do; it’s another to fail to take actual accountability. Perhaps Hollis needs to stop taking her own advice and start apologizing.
Image: Jim Spellman/WireImage