On Monday morning, in a cherry red blazer and leopard-print heel booties, Rachel Hollis kicked soccer balls representing bad habits, one by one, into a small goal on a stage surrounded by a cheering crowd.
“I work 10 times harder today than I have ever in my life, I just sit in a better seat on the plane,” Hollis said, responding to a woman’s question about how her life has changed since achieving her goals. It was not at one of her wildly popular motivational conferences, where suburban women flock to soak up Hollis’s energy, advice, and dance parties, but it might as well have been. This time she was on “Good Morning America,” promoting her new self-help book on goal-setting, “Girl, Stop Apologizing.”
A 36-year-old mother of four, Hollis’s popularity soared when her previous book, “Girl, Wash Your Face,” spent 46 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list last year. Hollis began her career as an event planner in Hollywood, where she met her husband, an executive at Disney, Dave Hollis. Her event planning business, Chic Events, became the lifestyle blog, the Chic Site.
She recently moved outside of Austin, Texas, and her blog has since morphed into an expanding media empire. Initially called Chic Media, now the Hollis Company employs 22 people, hosts podcasts, and oversees her speaking engagements, including the personal growth conferences they host for both women and couples. Her husband Dave is the CEO, and her “tribe,” as she refers to her loyal fans, make up her 1.2 million Instagram followers. They tune in everyday at 8 a.m. CT to watch her “morning show,” filmed on her iPhone and streamed on Facebook live.
She posts recipes, decorating ideas, fashion tips, business advice, and lots of pictures of herself tucking her signature wavy hair behind her ear (which are extensions she’s also blogged about, of course). Fans love her kitschy Southern phrases (even though she’s from California) and her honest, self-deprecating humor. After dropping her mic pack on GMA, she told the audience, “If you thought I wasn’t going to be awkward on this show, you don’t know me very well”.
They also love her transparency. She blogged about her experience getting a boob job, and her Instagram post went viral in 2015 when she posted a bikini photo showing off her stretch marks. Some of her deepest connections with her audience come from sharing her personal stories of growing up poor, her brother’s suicide, drinking problems, and her rags to riches success story after working the grueling L.A. events scene and starting her own business.
At her “RISE” conferences, Hollis runs down the aisle of a hotel conference room, high-fiving the crowd of dancing women. The two-day weekend events are described as “the perfect balance of loving encouragement and straight-up kicking your butt!” and often host more than 4,000 people, mostly working moms and suburban women. The one scheduled in Minneapolis, Minnesota this June is already sold out. She has compared herself to Tony Robbins, while her critics compare her to Joel Osteen.
In her new book, “Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals,” Hollis writes that “Embracing the idea that you can want things for yourself even if nobody else understands the whys behind them is the most freeing and powerful feeling in the world.”
She coaches women through the process of dreaming and harnessing their skills to achieve those dreams, whether it’s running a marathon, growing their MLM business, or writing a book. She reminds readers constantly throughout the book that she ran a marathon, and has written a New York Times best-selling book. She shares her secrets to success, including her morning routine of waking up at 5 a.m., working out, feeding her children, school drop-off, and writing in her gratitude journal.
As with Osteen, Hollis’s books come with a twinge of prosperity gospel. The self-help manifestos are mostly stories of her own successes, where she addresses “lies” women should stop believing, and “excuses to let go of” if they want to reach their goals like she did.
Success for her is often material, and she’s upfront about it. In “Girl, Wash Your Face” Hollis writes about her burning desire for a thousand-dollar Louis Vuitton purse. The day she made her first $10,000 from consulting, she drove to the Beverly Hills Louis Vuitton store and bought one.
In her new book, Hollis writes that a goal on her “dream list” is “I only fly first class,” and in a chapter titled “Good Girls Don’t Hustle,” she addresses friends who criticized her decision not to be a stay at home mom when she wanted more money and influence.
My goal is simple, even if it’s grandiose: I want women to understand they have the power to change their lives. It’s at the core of everything I do. It’s the platform I’ve built everything else on, and I truly believe it’s what I was put on this earth to do I’m building a media empire around the idea.
No, I did not mistype. Yes, I just said A. Media. Empire.
Not a company, not a side hustle, not a small business—an empire.
Hollis did not go to college, but if there is one credential this woman has for writing books about goal setting, it’s that she literally has the word “mogul” tattooed on her wrist.
Hollis’s explosion onto the influencer scene has not been as flawless as she often projects in her put-together gym outfits and bold lip. She’s been hit by critics from both the left and the right for her “You can have it all like me” attitude.
BuzzFeed criticized Hollis for her lack of awareness of disenfranchisement that withholds success from certain groups. They interviewed a former employee of Hollis’s who said she “felt that Hollis had a blind spot around race,” and felt that she was fat-shamed by Hollis for her weight: “There’s a lot of talking about how being overweight is hindering you from achieving your dreams, or, ‘If you don’t stick to your diet, then you’re not a person of integrity.’ That shaming component is really harmful.”
Conservative Christians have reacted negatively to her scattered but often inaccurate references to Jesus and the Bible. Christian bloggers and pastors hit Hollis for her religious pluralism and endorsement of self-love and self-care, something quite the opposite of the life of service and self-sacrifice Jesus has called Christians to.
In a review for The Gospel Coalition, Alisa Childers said she felt sad after reading about Hollis’s dreams. “Jesus never called us to chase after power, money, and fame; he calls us to follow him.” Both of her last two books were published by HarperCollins, but “Girl, Wash Your Face” was under their Christian imprint, Thomas Nelson. It is still ranked No. 1 on Amazon’s Religion and Spirituality book list, even a year after publication.
However, her new book, “Girl, Stop Apologizing” is under the HarperCollins Leadership imprint. HarperCollins could not be reached for comment on why the move was made. It’s plausible that it was because of the backlash from religious leaders, or that the second book is more focused on goal-setting, leaving out the chapter and verse Bible references she included in the first book.
Yet at one point in “Girl, Stop Apologizing” Hollis asserts herself as a theologian when one of her followers questioned whether feelings of guilt and shame come from God. She proclaims the idea that God gives us guilt to know we are making bad choices is “a load of crap wrapped up and pretending to be holy… you weren’t taught guilt and shame by your creator. You were taught guilt and shame by people.”
And what polarizing public figure would be complete without some plagiarism accusations? Hollis has been accused of her lifting her phrases and some of the concepts in her new book from others. Mommy bloggers on Facebook have noticed Hollis reposting their memes without attribution, and Christianity Today writer Katelyn Beaty noticed Hollis’ concept for dreaming and setting goals, which she calls “10, 10, 1” is similar to an exercise created by designer Debbie Millman.
Millman calls it ‘Your 10-Year Plan for a Remarkable Life.’ There is no attribution to Millman, and the phrasing in Hollis’s book is very similar to what’s in the podcast transcript. For example, in coaching a participant to imagine her life in 10 years, Millman writes, ‘Dream big, dream without any fear. … What kind of clothes do you wear?’ Hollis writes, ‘Dream big. Don’t put any restriction on it. … What kind of clothes does she wear?’ The stylistic and conceptual similarities are striking.
The irony is that in “Girl, Stop Apologizing,” one of the excuses Hollis writes women need to let go of is the fear that it’s been done before. “If you find yourself worried about the idea that someone else has already done it, you need to flip the script on whether that’s a bad thing.” Maybe drop this one if you’re literally stealing what other people have done before, Rachel.
It’s easy to criticize the growing self-help industry and it’s plethora of platitudes and empty promises. And it deserves criticism when writers make sloppy mistakes or become poor representations of the faith they claim. But it’s clear that Hollis’s message has resonated with a number of women who are just looking for a little encouragement and inspiration, and it’s even more clear that she’s not slowing down, or apologizing, anytime soon.
As Hollis plugs away at her empire-building, critics will continue roasting her for the meatless messages. And it seems her audience, especially her Christian fans, have learned how to chew the fat and spit out the bone.