Author and influencer Rachel Hollis issued an apology earlier this week for seeming to compare herself to Harriet Tubman. In an Instagram post, the author of Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing said, “I know I’ve caused immense sorrow by referencing prominent women, including some women of color, whose challenges and successes I couldn’t possibly understand.”
Her tweet represented her second attempt to address the social media kerfuffle, which has been going on for almost two weeks.
In a now-deleted TikTok video that she posted in late March in response to criticism that she sounds “unrelatable” when she talks about “this sweet woman” in her employ who “cleans the toilets,” Hollis’s unfortunate comparison to Harriet Tubman first surfaced.
What is it about me that you believe I’m trying to be relatable? Hollis posed a rhetorical query. “No, sis. To live a life that most people can’t connect to is literally the driving force behind everything I do in life.
After describing some of the ways in which she believes she is exceptional, such as her willingness to get up at 4 am and fail in front of others when necessary, Hollis draws the conclusion that “literally every woman that I look up to is unrelatable.” “I’m doing it wrong if my life is relatable to the majority of people.”
The caption for the video states, “All Unrelatable AF: Harriet Tubman, RBG, Marie Curie, Oprah Winfrey, Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Malala Yousafzai, Wu Zetian. Greetings for Women’s History Month.
The post was perceived by many viewers as awkward at best and bigoted at worst. Was Hollis really implying that Harriet Tubman’s efforts to free herself from slavery and then return to aid other enslaved people in their efforts to do the same were analogous to her struggles to establish a brand as a lifestyle expert, a brand built on the impression she has created that she is just like her fans?
She sold thousands of books detailing all the ways in which she shared their traits, so was she really attempting to tell her followers that she never intended to be relatable? And did she actually say that her housekeeper is the “lady who cleans her toilets” while doing it?
Everyone puts in as much effort as you do, according to a Twitter commenter, “particularly the woman on her hands and knees cleaning your toilet while you prance around making videos about how much better you are than she is & calls it ‘work.'”
The self-help author Luvvie Ajayi Jones stated on Instagram that “the privilege to fail so majorly so repeatedly is one I, or any Black woman, do not have.” People attempt to ruin us for far less. She continues to say disgusting things while effortlessly selling 2 million books. Still, she has 1.7 million fans. That is an advantage.
On April 4, Hollis issued her first apology, but it was a statement that placed all the blame for what had happened on those who, in her words, had misunderstood her and a “team,” which had performed improperly.
She claimed in a since-deleted Instagram post that she had not truly been comparing herself to any of the ladies she had mentioned, and that “to infer that I am comparing myself to them just because I mentioned them is absurd.”
She continued, “I should have listened to my instincts, but I believed my ‘team’ when they stated they could manage things and I waited so long to respond to the backlash over my original video.”
Hollis would subsequently remove this apology and substitute another after receiving substantial criticism. Her apology said, “I am so profoundly sorry for the things I stated in my recent writings and the hurt I have caused in the last few days.
By boasting about my personal achievement, I minimized the challenges and hard work of many others who work relentlessly every day.”
There are a few reasons why the Rachel Hollis dispute has endured. It is hypocritical for an influencer to declare that being relatable has never been her goal when, in reality, it is the cornerstone of her brand.
There is an implied comparison between her accomplishments as a self-help author and those of other women, such as Harriet Tubman. Referring to a housekeeper as someone who “cleans the toilets” has an unintentional dehumanizing effect.
Hollis maintains that other people are not as successful as she is because they are not working as hard as she is in her profession as a lifestyle and self-help influencer, which would likely include her housecleaner.
However, the reason the issue has persisted for as long as it has is that it is in some ways expected.
Recently, it has strangely become usual for prominent members of the quasi-feminist corporate “lean in, girl” white women’s empowerment movement to contrast their own hardships with the significantly more difficult challenges encountered by well-known women of color.
Hollis herself has gone through iterations of this debate in the past. She seems to have copied a number of motivational sayings from women of color in 2019 on her Instagram.
From her decision to refer to her imagined interlocutor in the Harriet Tubman film as “sis” to the title of the Girl, Wash Your Face series, she enjoys using snarky white woman African-American vernacular English.
But Hollis is not the only white person who has dressed up her own hardships by borrowing from black and brown women’s struggles. In her 2017 self-help book Women Who Work, Ivanka Trump introduced the notion that working women might occasionally become slaves to their schedules by using Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which tells the story of an enslaved woman who killed her infant to keep it from being sold into slavery.
Additionally, Hollis’ self-help movement has its origins in this idea of appropriation. The foundation of Hollis’s Girl, Wash Your Face business is the concept of wellness and self-care, which is founded on the idea that taking the initiative to take care of oneself is a courageous and radical act and that it can seem as easy as, well, washing your face.
Self-care, though, wasn’t a concept until it became clearly political. Audre Lorde stated in 1988’s A Burst of Light and Other Essays, “Caring for oneself is not self-indulgence,” a quote that has since been used on motivational Instagrams all over the internet. It’s an act of political terrorism because it’s self-preservation.
Lorde’s self-care was distinct from the yoga sessions and bath bombs that today’s health influencers recommend. Black lesbian poet Lorde underwent a single mastectomy after being given a cancer diagnosis. Despite being someone who our culture considered disposable, she was doing the best she could, to be honest, kind, and caring for herself.
The problem I have with many prominent white wellness spaces and women’s empowerment influencers or brands is that they appear to curiously associate “success” with obtaining what white men have and using that power in the exact same oppressive, inhumane way that white men have been doing for millennia.
In the end, the problem Cargle points out is the biggest instance of corporate white feminist appropriation in the entire endeavor Hollis is marketing. It’s the choice to use a political movement created to challenge our current structures of power to advance only the status quo.
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