Rachel Hollis has written a phenomenon. In February, the food blogger and lifestyle guru released Girl, Wash Your Face, a nonfiction title aimed at helping women overcome their insecurities. The book has now sold almost 800,000 print copies, and many more online. It is one of the bestselling new non-fiction books of the decade.
“This book is about a bunch of hurtful lies and one important truth,” writes Hollis. “The truth? You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are. That’s the takeaway.”
Girl, Wash Your Face is made up of 20 chapters, each structured around one of the 20 lies Hollis said she used to tell herself, platitudes that include “I’ll start tomorrow” and “I am defined by my weight.” Hollis then describes how she overcame each obstacle. (Thus, the book’s full name: Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be.)
The book’s success was far from a given at the start. The most popular nonfiction books typically have strong debuts, and then slowly fade out. That was the case for Bob Woodward’s Trump exposé Fear and Joanna Gaines’ recipe book Magnolia Table. Girl, Wash Your Face, meanwhile, had only sold 27,000 copies a month after publication. Six weeks after it was released, Girl, Wash Your Face hadn’t even shown up on Publisher Weekly’s hardcover nonfiction bestsellers list.
Then the book’s sales trajectory took a remarkable turn. In its seventh week, Girl, Wash Your Face made the PW list, and it hasn’t left since, with sales getting stronger throughout the year. It has been a top-five seller week after week since July.
The convex curve for Hollis’ cumulative sales over time is also extremely unusual for a blockbuster. Most slow-starting phenomenons gain their steam steadily, including hits like Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. Girl, Wash Your Face, meanwhile, but Girl, Wash Your Face’s accelerated growth is extreme.
Why the uptick? Though religion plays a small role in Hollis’ story, she is Christian, and the book, released by Christian publisher Thomas Nelson, has been marketed to a Christian audience. More than that, though, it’s intended to be an unpretentious and warm guide for women, released at a time when many women are feeling incredible pressure to be perfect in every aspect of their lives.
“What sets this book apart is — this sounds so lame to say—is my voice,” Hollis told the AP. “I’m not an expert. I’m not a guru. Anything I’ve ever done, the work I’ve done, has always been like your girlfriend telling you what worked for her.”
Not everyone is enamored. Girl, Wash Your Face has been criticized as self-help that exclusively makes sense for privileged, white women. After all, Hollis is rich and successful, and most of her problems are those of people that don’t face discrimination or trouble paying the bills. I also read several chapters and found the book to be lacking in novel insight, and the writing overly folksy and grating.
Still, I can imagine how someone might connect with Hollis. She comes across and kind and well-meaning, and is open about the darker parts of her life, including a difficult childhood during which her brother committed suicide. Hollis offers readers tough love with a peppy tone that makes it easier to swallow. Not every phenomenon has to be phenomenal.