The unraveling of Rachel Hollis’ empire is the train wreck that I just can’t look away from.
I think it’s because I know so many women who were really taken with Hollis’ inspirational story, her “grind it out” messaging and her convenient line of books and products to show those women how to make it happen in their own lives. Many of them have been left feeling knifed in the back, and it isn’t fair. I also know many women who were looking for serious inspiration or help, and were turned off by Hollis’ lack of substance, her flirtation with multi-level marketing and her dishonesty. Some of these women were then treated as lepers by those who bought in.
The oversimplified story is that Rachel Hollis gained a huge Instagram following, and published three New York Times bestselling books that were quasi-self-help rounded out with a hefty dose of autobiography. She hosted a daily podcast with her husband. She held conferences with massive attendance. The whole message was one of women’s empowerment and strong family and healthy relationships. Hollis had come from nothing, but turned into something. So can you. And if anything is standing in your way, it’s your fault. You’re making excuses. You’re a hostage to that phrase that lingers in the lexicon of every self-help guru/pyramid scheme/cult, “limiting beliefs.”
(Hollis also downplayed the fact that, before her husband became CEO of her company, he had been head of international film distribution at Disney. It’s certainly easier to keep grinding and not make excuses with the types of opportunities afforded by that status.)
Things began to unravel when the couple announced last year that they were divorcing. That in itself wouldn’t be so remarkable, if they hadn’t been hosting podcasts up to that very week talking about their blissful marriage and how, if there’s trouble in paradise, you’ve got to work it out. It’s a problem to be solved, not something run from. A lot of her audience felt betrayed.
But Hollis Co.’s downward glide accelerated into a death spiral last month with, as so many things do these days, a social media post, in which Rachel Hollis compared herself to women like Amelia Earhart and Harriet Tubman. Yikes.
After deleting that post, she responded to a follower who called her “unrelatable.” Hollis sniped about how hard she works, how she’s able to hire a woman to “clean my toilets” and, the back breaker, “What makes you think I want to be relatable?”
Um, just about everything you’ve publicly said and sold right up to that sentence. That’s what made people think that.
There’s certainly a morbid fascination with Hollis’ Hindenburg moment. But I think it matters beyond that.
It shows the danger of putting your money, your goals and the way you approach life in the hands of someone who might have a few good points here and there but has absolutely no qualifications as a mental health, marriage or financial counselor. And even though Hollis might say she’s none of those things, every aspect of her business was designed for people to go down the rabbit hole.
She’s not the only person to have done this (Tony Robbins and Dave Ramsey, both of whom are having their own troubles here and there, come to mind). That doesn’t make it right, especially when you’re dealing with people who are desperate and looking for help.
More than that, though, it shows the danger of turning your personal life into your business. When you decide that you and your story are the product, that sets up a lot of pitfalls if you’re not extremely careful.
Hollis is one of many shooting stars that flash brightly before flaming out that you can sort of see coming in this day and age. Every aspect of her life was the product, and it was promoted as if it was 100% sincere.
Through her own narrative she was setting up, Hollis was in trouble.
There’s no question she had a rough childhood. There’s no question she went from being someone with no prospects to a huge success. There’s no question she worked hard to do it. But when that’s what you’re selling, what do you do when you’re not the scrappy, up-and-comer anymore? What do you do when you’re on the throne? That’s the vexing part that knocks so many following the self-as-product formula from their perch.
In many ways, Hollis tried to keep going back to the well, which was dishonest. Ironically, it all came crashing down when she was finally truthful. This might not be the end for her, but it sure seems like a long road back to the top. And the redemption story can sometimes be twice as hard as the arc of the underdog.
Ben Fields is the Gazette-Mail opinion editor. He is currently working from home. Reach him at [email protected] or follow @BenFieldsWV on Twitter.