Girl, It’s Okay To Be Dirty: A Look At Toxic Self-Help
Self-Help has been taking over our media; from Instagram to books, messages of self-help and a “can-do” attitude are everywhere.
I recently sat down to finally read Girl Wash Your Face by motivational speaker, Rachel Hollis (I know, I’m probably the last person to read it).
I was looking forward to some real talk and honest messages about increasing your self-love. However, what I found was a book full of toxic self-help messages—messages that I sadly see all of the time.
The main idea of the book was that if you “choose positivity” then your life can be fuller and you can reach your full potential.
Sprinkled in this book were also problematic messages involving: body image (she states that you show people you can’t be trusted if you don’t stick to a diet); romantic relationships (romanticizing a love that isn’t reciprocated and is emotionally harmful); and substance abuse (it’s not healthy to escape to wine whenever you’re stressed and this practice shouldn’t be celebrated or taken lightly).
However, that’s a subject that needs its own space to discuss. Today, I want to focus just on the thought of “choosing happiness.”
I believe there is power in positivity, in fact, I try to be hopeful. I believe there is strength in kindness and helping others. However, I think that it is detrimental to think that by simply “choosing happiness” that our lives can be better.
By reading messages like this in books such as Girl Wash Your Face and on social media, it completely disregards two large populations of people:
1. People with depression or other mental illnesses.
2. People who are less privileged than a middle-class white woman.
Don’t Disregard Depression
As an individual with depression, nothing is harder to hear from others than hearing that you can “just choose happiness” and that will “cure” you.
Firstly, there is no cure for a mental illness. There are practices and medications that can help you process and live with it, but nothing will get rid of it permanently—certainly not just a simple mind-shift.
Mental illness has everything to do with mindfulness. But that’s the problem: individuals with depression don’t have the luxury of being able to control their minds at all times.
Trust me, I try to meditate every day, and while it is extremely helpful, it doesn’t cure my depression, it only helps to manage it. However, while it helps me, I know that it doesn’t help everyone.
Hearing these messages of “choosing happiness” can be so difficult to hear, because people with depression or other mental illness CAN’T choose that. We don’t have the luxury to be able to. Therefore, when we hear these things, this can bring us down even further and be destructive to our already destructive mentality.
It can make us think: “well, what am I doing wrong”; “why can’t I just choose happiness”; “what is wrong with me”? It further perpetuates feelings of self-loathing, which, in the end, can actually be deadly.
Don’t Forget About Your Privilege
The second thing that this message of “self-help” fails to recognize are people who don’t have Hollis’ privilege: people who aren’t white; people who aren’t cis, heterosexual, women; and people who aren’t upper-middle class.
This disregards people who struggle to get by day-to-day. They don’t have the luxury of just choosing to be happy in order to change their lives. Especially not when there are systems in power currently working against their choice to happiness.
You can’t just wish away racism, classism, and prejudice. This message of you can do anything you put your mind to is a message rooted in self-privilege. And sadly, it helps this disparity grow.
So, what now?
I don’t think for one minute that Rachel Hollis or other lifestyle influencers are bad people. I don’t think that they have bad hearts or agendas against others. Not at all. In fact, I appreciate that they’re trying to help others.
It’s incredible that this message has helped them get through their own trials and tribulations. However, we need to keep in mind that this mentality won’t help everyone. You may be acknowledging something that has worked for you (which, I am so grateful for), but you’re not acknowledging that this may not work for everyone.
This message of “self-help” is toxic in its disacknowledgement of privilege.
When telling our stories of struggles and triumph, we need to be aware of our own privilege and how that influenced what ultimately helped us succeed. The truth is, that what worked for you, won’t work for everyone. To prescribe that it will is detrimental, ignorant, and dangerous.
Hollis’ book is organized in a way that challeneges different lies we tell ourselves, however, I found that the biggest lie was the one that she was telling her readers.
In order to make real and lasting change in our lives to ensure that everyone is able to experience happiness and the ability to follow their dreams, we need to start with fixing the systems that aren’t making this possible for so many.
Before we can even focus on helping people achieve their dreams, we need to look at changing systemic problems that aren’t allowing people that luxury: lack of access to good public education, mass incarceration and the criminalization of people of color, access to affordable health and childcare, the demonization of mental illness and addiction, equal pay, etc.
The lie that we keep believing isn’t within ourselves, it’s that we tell ourselves that everyone has the same ability to be happy.