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With Avast One, you can confidently take control of your online world by helping you stay safe from viruses, phishing attacks, ransomware, hacking attempts, and other cybercrimes. Learn more about Avast One at avast.com. [MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to Too Good To Be True, an investigative podcast about exposing the scams, schemes, and financial cults trying to separate you from your money.

I'm a journalist and editor, Ryan Houlihan. And I'm Julia Lorenz-Olson, cohost of PBS's Two Cents and an accredited financial counselor. What are we talking about today?

So let's start with a story, shall we? It's February 2020. Oh dear.

Oh yes. That's so Raven zooming me back. [LAUGHTER] How little we knew. I am at the airport, about to board a flight all by myself to go skiing all by my lonesome, the first time I'd gone skiing after having a child.

And I'm half Swiss so I grew up on skis. And so I was so excited to get out to Utah and get my butt on those mountains. So I'm walking up to the gate.

I'm already excited. And then my excitement shoots into the stratosphere, because who do I behold at my gate? My idol at the time, the one and only Rachel Hollis.

So for the listener, if you're unaware, Rachel in general is a writer and a self-help guru and a public speaker, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, event planner, a million other things. And I think I own her book, which I've never read. But who is she?

What made you so excited? Oh, that is a whole story, which we will get to. I will say so I think it's important to share where I was at the time that I saw her.

And not only was it her, but also her husband on the same plane, Dave Hollis, who will be a big factor in this whole story. But at the time my PBS show had just come out. And the numbers were just blowing up.

And I'm a theater kid. So I had dreams of Broadway that I had set aside. And I'm working with my husband, so my husband, Philip, and I cowrote, cohosted.

We were also running a new business together. We own a financial planning firm. And so I was also a newish mom.

Rachel Hollis also a mother. I looked at myself as-- I was self-identified as like a Christian at the time, but a liberal one. And so Rachel Hollis was this Venn diagram.

I mean, I saw her and I saw, this is a woman who's running an empire at the most basic level. She is or really has become a self-help guru. She started out as an event planner turned mommy blogger turned-- --guru celebuinfluencer type.

Yes, turned, in her own words, she wanted to become the female Tony Robbins. Wow. Red flag. [LAUGHTER] Oh, the amount of red flags that I missed.

I mean, I must have been colorblind. Actually, regarding all those red flags, we got the chance to talk with YouTuber and author Savy Leiser, who is an early voice on social media criticizing Rachel's advice on the channel Savvy Writes Books. Here's what Savy had to say.

My name is Savy. I run a YouTube channel. It's called Savy Writes Books.

On my channel my specialties are focusing on the intersection of books and business. So, of course, as a woman in business myself, I was drawn to the book Girl, Wash Your Face. So I, back in 2018, didn't like it.

I found a lot of positive reviews of it everywhere I could find. And I didn't see what the hype was. So I was like, you know what?

I've got a new channel I'm starting where I'm doing these book reviews. So I think I'll just share my thoughts on it. So then after that I'd make fun of the book here and there.

But for the most part, I was like, I didn't think about Rachel too hard, until I saw her start speaking at these multilevel marketing conferences. She was doing the keynotes at the Beach Body Conference and the LuLaRoe and the Rodan + Fields and just all those conferences. So I started doing some reaction videos to point out how the things she's saying about business were false.

And a lot of these things, she had to know better, because she was a successful business owner herself. So I was pointing out the manipulation. It's not just her there's.

The Tony Robbinses of the world. There's the Grant Cardones. There's all these other business gurus that do the exact same thing.

So I've been calling them out as well. But the thing that annoyed me about her was the same thing that annoyed me about so many other people. At this time, I'd been just reading so many self-help books in the business genre and getting no help from them.

And that's what annoyed me about her like. I didn't even know about the MLM stuff yet. I didn't even know about-- I didn't know about-- I knew that-- I could tell from the book that she talked about being married to a Disney executive and that's how she got her start.

And I was kind of like, well, that's not totally relatable. When I encountered her, I, like I said, she just hit this Venn diagram of relatability, accessibility, this-- there was this parasocial relationship that felt very-- she just felt accessible. I remember messaging her, of course, who I thought was her through Facebook when I initially heard about her through another podcast that I listened to.

And she responded to me. And I was like, hook immediately. So and then she also had a mix of biological children and an adopted child, which was something that I was really passionate about.

She had also experienced what it was like to be a foster care family. And that was something I was also very passionate about and have been for a long time. So seeing her felt like a sign.

I mean, it really did. You got bingo. It was like all the squares are in a perfect line.

It was all the things. And saying it now, one of the things in researching her and hearing other women talk about their experience of delving into the Rachel Hollis cult is that feeling of I saw myself in her. So it's actually not a unique experience, even though I may have a few more overlaps than most people do when it comes to her.

That feeling of seeing yourself in her is not at all uncommon. Guest Savy Leiser also got pulled into the thrall of Rachel's relatability. I noticed in my experience and in some of the videos that I've made, I've kind of pointed out that I have a lot in common with her.

There are a lot of things that I could relate to. I mean, for one thing, as I pointed out in my videos, I loved and hated her talks about getting a boob job, because I recently had plastic surgery and it's changed my life for the better. So I'm like, on the one hand, I love that you're positive about that.

On the other hand, she talks so negatively about her body beforehand that I'm like, there's a little negativity there. It was always kind of a mixed bag. I think the thing that drew people to her was, first of all, being a successful woman in business.

And I think she came right at this time of the blog and influencer world had been so into perfection and posting these very nice images, very professional looking photography, showing off all the things that you could achieve. And then she came in here also doing that, but with this injected layer of relatability, of I'm a mess just like you. Just I'm gross like you are.

Let me tell you about my farts for a whole page. I will say she's a good writer. She's got a great sense of humor.

She's funny. She's good at telling stories. So I think that that's definitely what brings people in as well.

And then from there, it's, OK, well, this woman is a successful business owner. And she has all the same issues that I might have to deal with in my life. So maybe I can do it too if I follow her path.

I think that's probably what draws people in. So this is February of 2020. And only four months later something would happen with her that somehow caused me to see this huge part of my vision for my future that I had borrowed from her crumble.

So let's maybe start down the rabbit hole of Rachel Hollis. Well, I remember her being vaguely popular. And then I remember hearing about a big cancellation.

I saw trending Twitter topics. But because I wasn't invested in it, I never really dived in. So had I been invested, what are the things I might have known about Rachel?

Like you mentioned earlier, she really started out as a blogger, an event planner back in LA in the mid-2000s. She eventually started a website called The Chic Site. But what really got her started in writing was writing a series of novellas in 2014 called Party Girl that centered around this small-town girl goes to LA, becomes this chic party planner, and she spills all the tea, right?

Very Devil Wears Prada. Yes, and she finds love, of course, in the interim, right? But then in 2015, what really put her, I think, on the, quote unquote, influencer track was a photo that she posted of herself on social media that just blew up.

I mean, it really truly went viral. So would you like me to read it for you? Yes, please.

Give me the take. The picture that she posted is of her. And so if you don't know, Rachel Hollis is a pretty short, as I am, white woman who is absolutely thin.

I mean, by every stretch of the imagination, she is a thin white woman with at the time the classic balayage hair, right? So this is what she posted. It's her in a bikini on what looks like a Florida beach.

And she says, "I have stretch marks and I wear a bikini. I have a belly that's permanently flabby from carrying three giant babies and I wear a bikini. My belly button is saggy, which is something I didn't even know was possible before.

And I wear a bikini. I wear a bikini because I'm proud of this body and every mark on it. Those marks prove that I was blessed enough to carry my babies.

And that flabby tummy means I worked hard to lose what weight I could. I wear a bikini because the only man whose opinion matters knows what I went through to look this way. That same man says he's never seen anything sexier than my body, marks and all.

They aren't scars, ladies. They're stripes. And you've earned them.

Flaunt that body with pride. #HollisHoliday." So tell me your impressions. First off, this all sounds good. But it still really does glorify looking as conventionally, quote unquote, perfect as possible.

And in the photo that you've linked to here, she is-- I mean, yes, there is, clearly she has some sort of stippling on her stomach, stretch marks from being pregnant. But she is by every other measure one of the most symmetrical and beautiful white women I have seen in today. You know what I mean?

She's absolutely stunning. And so I can see the intoxicating, especially in 2015, nature of talking openly about this stuff. Yes, because I think what really grabbed me is, because I haven't seen this photo in many years, but I was like, what did women say, these comments, right?

And so, I mean-- I mean, there's 500,000 likes here. 500,000 likes and just so many pictures of, I know how you feel. The kids gave me my body, too. I wouldn't change it for the world.

This is me, three kids, with the youngest being 19. And I had weight loss surgery almost two years ago, just these women who are like, thank you for posting this, but at the same time, let's talk about how thin I am becoming. Yes, I mean, it is a cathartic experience to start sharing these viewpoints.

But a lot of these viewpoints echo extremely similar, and in my opinion toxic sentiments about yes, I might not look perfect, but I'm close, which already admits that there is an ideal which we should all be working towards, which is white and thin and [INAUDIBLE].. Exactly. And the fact that she's talking about, and now I can see this, right?

This 20/20 vision, hindsight-- Hindsight, isn't it beautiful? --vision for me-- oh, it's actually a bitch when it comes to this. But when she says, "I wear a bikini because the only man," so it's very subtle, but there is this shift away from I'm proud of myself because of what my body has done to I am allowed to be proud of myself because of what a man thinks about me. And even if that man is your most trusted confidant, quote unquote, it still says, it sets the table that you need a man's approval, at least one.

Correct. Correct. So this image goes viral on Facebook, on Instagram.

And then pretty soon afterwards she comes out in February 2018 with her memoir/self-help guide called Girl, Wash Your Face. Have you ever heard of this book? This was the book that I own.

I got sent it by an old-- I used to do book reviews for a magazine. And they sent it to me. And I never got around to reading it.

But it is in my home right now. [LAUGHTER] So I know the-- and the cover is, I mean, it is a perfect book pitch cover. She's sitting, looking very relatable, a little tired, harried, but still perfect glam. Exactly.

So what you're describing is something that I saw come up a lot in journalistic interpretations of who she's become. And it's called curated imperfection. Hmm.

That is a good phrase. Oh my gosh. And I'm telling you, this is so pivotal to the success of brands like her and other brands, where they show you just enough of the, quote unquote, imperfections, of the, quote unquote, hard things.

But as you will see, not quite enough. No. Right.

It's just enough. It's these very filtered versions of imperfection. So Girl, Wash Your Face became a smashing success very quickly.

I mean, it just, absolutely New York Times best seller. The messaging of it-- so if you don't want to read this, here's the thing-- she talks about her life as kind of a syllabus. Yeah?

OK. Like here is my life. Here are the choices that I've made.

And here are the ways that I have overcome. And the reason I'm telling you this is that I want to convince you that only you are responsible for your fate and your happiness. So this is that kind of confirmation bias of I have a beautiful life.

It's worked out for me. So if I can do it, anyone can do it. Bingo.

Bingo. And to be semifair, she did grow up on the poverty line. She was the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher.

Oh, OK. Oh yes. So that just sets the background.

And there are lots and lots of tie-ins to the Pentecostal background. But she grew up watching someone on stage telling people what they should do with her life, right? And it isn't always-- it's not necessarily a red flag.

But it is a common theme among con artists and guru types, people who propose that they have all the answers, to have some of that in their background, because it gives you a common language with people you need to sell to. Yes, absolutely. And while there was some initial pushback on the messaging of the book, like through BuzzFeed, it was ultimately drowned out by this legion of adoring fans.

They were haters. So that is a big theme, of seeing criticism as hate. Here's a lesson that I'm taking away.

If you're following somebody whose only avenue of filtering criticism is to brand it as hate, you know there's a problem, right? There can be no nuance in my message. You either love me or you hate me.

And you hate me because you're jealous of me. And I'm polarizing because I have something to say, important to say, something that's right and they don't want you to know. And a lot of that filling in of narrative I've seen happen not on the end of the guru or the influencer.

It happens, the audience themselves will talk themselves into why the guru is correct. Here's Savy Leiser to talk a little bit about how self-help gurus can control their audiences' narratives about them. I don't think that necessarily all influencers are bad.

I mean, some people could even say I'm an influencer. I could say you guys are an influencer. I guess people will almost use that for anyone who makes their career online.

I think that the main thing to look out for, I guess, is the transparency and communication. And it's the same thing with any other job. If you're going to work a job for a boss who you feel like is never honest with you about what your job is or doesn't communicate clearly with you, that can tend to be a red flag for a bad work environment.

Same kind of thing. Do you feel that they're being honest with you? And if you do, do you feel that they take criticism?

That's a big thing as well, because one of the things I noticed-- and this is a thing, taking criticism is tough for a lot of people. And I understand the desire to want to close off a lot of the negativity you see in your life. I mean, I've been feeling it a lot more lately with being on Twitter and thinking, should I get off of Twitter?

Because I've seen so much anti-LGBT stuff on Twitter. It makes me like not want to see this. So it's knowing when to take in certain bits of negativity.

But if you see someone that doesn't open themself up to any negativity or any criticism at all, like that's generally going to be somewhat of a red flag. Or if someone says straight up, I only think positively, it's positive vibes only, I tend to say, OK, well, maybe this person, maybe they're not necessarily to be the most trustworthy source. That's one of the things I look out for.

I have fallen down a self-help journey myself as a teenager. Please help me not feel so alone in this. I worked in a library when I was in high school.

And it was my only access to queer culture, gay culture, the larger world of camp and the related things. And so I would check out stacks and stacks of books at a time that were filled with information I might want to know about my own community or the world. But in there would be self-help books that were written by people who were in my community.

And their sales strategy is very similar to what your sales strategy you got from Rachel was, which was look, I'm exactly like you, except better in every way. And I got to publish a book. So if you read my book, maybe you'll be more like me.

And filled in that book is a ton of stuff that will do nothing substantively to change my circumstances. Exactly. The messaging is actually very boilerplate.

When you get down to what are you selling me, there's nothing actually unique. It's just the packaging that it comes in-- [INTERPOSING VOICES] --looks more like you. Right?

And that, I think, is another big red flag that I noticed, is be careful when the end result is the person, right, where they are the ultimate arbiter of if you've done things well enough. Does your life look more like mine? Then you have done right.

Yeah. It also creates a subjective bubble around things, where it's how-- well, maybe you're not looking at it the way that I'm looking at it. And that's why you're not getting results.

Or maybe you're missing some X factor that I have. And all you need to do is think yourself there. Oh, we will get there.

So she has this narrative of herself that she builds, especially in her first book, as this bootstrappy person. So she dropped out of college. She accepts this production job at Miramax out in LA.

And she just conveniently leaves out the fact that, even though she says she did meet her eventual husband, Dave Hollis, at 19, he was 27. Boy. And yeah.

There's a whole other road we could go down on that. But he was a Disney executive. Oh wow.

And so she ends up leaving Miramax to start an event-planning business. And ostensibly, although she never says this or acknowledges it, basically uses her contacts through Dave to build this business. And she said that she had hosted all of these parties for Bradley Cooper and very big-name celebrities as evidence of her ability to come from nothing and then boom, we're with stars.

Look at how I met all these people that I'm not giving you the details on where they came from. And it's ostensibly her choices that got her there, right, nobody else's choices, nobody else's influence or resources that helped get her there. Or luck, frankly.

No. And I think something that I didn't really pick up on at the time but now is so apparent to me is the really intense financial messaging that comes through, especially in her first book and her second book, which we'll talk about a little bit later. So when it comes to money, Rachel has a very clear view on it, that monetary success is an intrinsic sign of success as a human person, period.

In one of her famous stories in Girl, Wash Your Face, she talks about being ashamed of this birthday party that her mother threw her that was very, very low budget. And she says, I knew I wanted to be rich, period, which I think is very interesting when you think about there is a culture in charismatic churches of naming and claiming, that there is power in your voice and being able to speak things into being. And she really kind of subtly weaves that in.

But it's very clear that wealth and financial prosperity, you cannot be deemed successful without it, period. It's part of the prosperity gospel thing, too, where you're intrinsically a good person or a better person. Yeah.

I think it's no coincidence that she hearkens to Dave Ramsey and Tony Robbins as being her idols, the people that she is trying to emulate in this. But I think it's kind of ironic in that there's really no acknowledgment that money is the key to having the time to devote to all of this self-improvement. Many of the goals that she's espousing that women should have price tags attached.

So one of the practices that she espouses, which I actually did for a long time and still see, honestly, a little bit of value in, is she writes in this journal. She writes 10 things that she's grateful for and then 10 dreams that she has, as if they're happening in the current moment. So I make $1 million a year, right, so naming it and claiming it.

I'm a very successful YouTuber. I can run a marathon, things that I would like in my life but aren't real. Yeah, exactly right.

And the thing that was on the top of her list was I only fly first class for a long time. And now, and guess what happened? So you know she was in first class when I passed her on that plane trip that I was with her on.

And, by the way, I went past her and I actually spoke to Dave I was like, hey, I just want to say like I really love your content. Thank you so much. And he was like, oh, thank you.

You're so sweet. Zero acknowledgment from her. Wow.

And I'm not saying that she owes that to me at all. But this image of answering every message and being so accessible-- Yes, exactly. I just thought it was interesting.

I've seen huge stars on a plane and they were-- I've seen the gamut of behavior. I've seen the bad behavior. I saw Kristin Chenoweth speak with every single person who walked by her first-class seat. [GASPS] Kristin, oh my gosh, I love her so much.

But there is a hedonic treadmill approach to her goals that she espouses for women. So once you are in that zone of flying first class, now guess what it became? I only fly private.

Ooh, no, oh my god. There is no kind of end to these. It's always, and the growth could be in your mind.

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That's avast.com. So it's this kind of magical thinking, go after your dreams, you can have it all, just hustle harder, that made her, of course, a perfect fit for the MLM conference circuit, which is what happened next. So she takes the success of this first book, Girl, Wash Your Face, and she starts speaking at Arbonne, LuLaRoe conferences, Beach Body conferences.

And, I mean, she made a lot of money for this. So she made reportedly somewhere between $100,000 to $200,000 for speaking. So she's getting this speaking fee.

And she's getting access to an already curated audience that-- Exactly right. --has needs and wants quick or easy solutions. Yes. So there is really no lack of really great commentary on this on YouTube.

There's this one particular woman who I want to shout out, Smokey Glow, she dives into this video that calls this out and be like, it's pretty shitty that Rachel is making millions off of, presumably, these conferences, when MLMs are successful due to the fact that most people are not making money. The way that they're able to pay her fee is because all of this product that these people are buying. And it's just really, really just all sorts of messy.

Just snake eating its own tale of just horrible financial situation. It's so true. So after becoming a really successful conference speaker, which, by the way, I have to say, she is a riveting speaker.

She has a ton of charisma. She does not go on tangents. She's really able to connect with people.

And that is a power of hers that, unfortunately, she has wielded in this way. But I do want to acknowledge, she has a talent. She has an innate talent that draws people to her, and definitely drew me to her, I mean, no question.

So she and her husband, Dave, decide to take her success on the MLM conference and open their own conference called RISE, which if you've ever seen any videos of this, it is Tony Robbins in pink wash. That is really what it is. That is the vibe.

There's lots of physical movement. There's lots of breakout sessions. There's lots of people telling you that you can have it all, that it is possible to be super victorious and successful in every single area of your life at the same time.

And it's just who's in the way of making that happen. That is essentially the messaging. So these things were very successful, I mean, selling out like hotcakes all over.

And then she follows up with another book called Girl, Stop Apologizing. And this is actually where I came in. I didn't read Girl, Wash Your Face.

I read Girl, Stop Apologizing. That's where I got on board. I have to say, I find it very interesting that the titles of these books are unassailably fine advice.

Exactly. Yes. It's the kernel of truth is right there in the headline.

And then the rest of the book is just kind of dancing around. So true. So it received a similarly enormous debut, smashing all sorts of records, and it's whereas before it was more about her personal story, there's still, obviously, a ton about that in the second book, but it's really about the acceptance of naked ambition and that there are all these lies that you're believing about yourself that keep you from this ultimate goal, again, of being a millionaire and having the perfect home life and having a super successful business and-- --perfect body and-- --all the things. --within the realms of that, as you said, curated imperfection.

Exactly. So how tied into her brand at this point is that curated imperfection, that I'm not perfect, but I got it together, so you're not perfect, you'll get it together? Oh, it's still very much a thing.

So one of the things that I used to watch her on was she and Dave made an Instagram Live, and I guess it was also on Facebook, too, a morning show. And it was her, usually with no makeup, but, obviously, with fake eyelashes, which she would like talk about. So there's still this-- again, it's just curated.

No makeup, but a team of estheticians, amazing products. Exactly. Lash extensions, hair extensions, lighting filters-- I mean, the list goes on and on at that point when you're that rich.

Actually, I think we have a clip of their morning show to listen to. And I believe this is supposed to give us a taste of their interpersonal dynamic towards the end of their marriage. You could have-- On YouTube --literally picked anything in the world.

There are 1 billion different video possibilities on YouTube. And the place you went was how to care for tomatoes. I spent four hours learning how to be a better tomato mom.

OK. That's a-- I mean, here's the thing, I'm not going to-- I'm not going to judge your choices. Oh my god, we need shirts.

Where are my fellow gardeners at and should we have shirts made that say tomato mom? Because that is freaking hilarious. There has to already be a clan of people who-- #TomatoMom. --know themselves as a tomato mom.

Whoa, because you know people like fur mom, dog mom. I don't know this. OK, anyway-- OK.

OK, guys, so I'm watching four hours. I'm like, this is insane. There must be something better that you could do.

Can I just ask, after the first 20 minutes of learning how to be a better tomatoer, what was it that had decide-- It was fascinating. --you know what? I need another three hours and 40 minutes of this. Because YouTube just keeps pulling you in.

It's also why I don't go on YouTube. It just keeps sucking you into things. So first you're going to learn about the difference between tomatoes that have a set pattern in how high they can grow and then tomatoes that don't have a set pattern in how high they can grow and that you have to prune those in totally different ways.

Then I got to get into organic-- How do I keep my hands off her? How do I keep my hands off her? --organic pest control. She starts talking about different kinds of tomatoes.

How do I keep my hands off of her? Then I watched a video about how you can affect the taste of the tomato based on how you water it. I was fascinated.

No. Well, for you-- Fascinated. For you it was.

So then I'm like-- For you it was. --there must be something better. Those seem like two people who love each other a lot and have a lot to teach us. [LAUGHS] Exactly, right. So during the background of this second book coming out, she actually convinces her husband, Dave, to leave his job at Disney to become the CEO of their newly-fashioned Hollis Company.

And not only that, they come to my hometown, Austin, Texas to do this. So this is why she's on my plane, is that we're actually living in the same city. And they go on to start multiple podcasts.

Dave writes his own book. There's a branded journal. They start an app, a lifestyle workout app that apparently is just the most basic boiler, like-- Two sit-ups, lift things. --have a 10-minute meditation.

It's kind of this whole body thing called The RISE App. There's an Amazon documentary made and a Quibi show. Oh-ho-ho-ho, a star is born.

This woman is hitting all of these things. And it's pretty clear-- No matter who you are and what kind of content you, like she had something to sell you. It feels like an influencer bingo game.

It's just like, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. And as just a normal person who runs a business who has one child, which, by the way, she has four, I just am looking at this and I'm like-- at the time, I was like, if she can do it, if she wakes up with the same, quote unquote, 24 hours as me, why don't I have that? But then, [CHUCKLES],, the cracks start to show.

What was the first crack, not that fell into place for you, but that in the larger group, the larger fandom for her? Do you remember what the first big wave was where people were starting to question things? I think it was where I came in.

Oh really? Yes, yeah. So on June 8, 2020, which, by the way, was my 13-year wedding anniversary, Rachel and Dave announced that they're getting a divorce.

After he had left Disney and they had built an entire empire on how important their healthy relationships and viewpoints-- Bingo. Damn. Yes.

Damn. So and in both of their posts revealing this decision-- because, of course, on the same day, on both of their personal Instagram channels, and I'm assuming other ones as well, they hinted that they had been at odds for three years. So do the backtrack on that, right?

It's 2020. 2019, 2018 is when her book, Girl, Stop Apologizing comes out. So this has been a lie that they're openly admitting-- This is the thing. --since prebook. All of these years that they've been pumping out branded content about how happy and successful they are as a couple-- and, by the way, so another awesome YouTuber that I have to shout out, Camelia Cazan, she points out that they were selling this vision of their relationship.

And they are producing all of this relationship advice podcast. And they sold a marriage conference, yes, with tickets that sold for upwards of $1,700. If I paid $1,700 for marriage advice from someone that was currently at odds with their spouse, I'd feel a little duped.

Exactly. One more time, here's Savy Leiser on what the divorce meant to their audience. I don't think that anyone would have been upset at them for getting a divorce if they hadn't sold their marriage.

They literally sold a marriage conference. They literally put their marriage, they admitted in a video, we're not licensed marriage therapists, but we're going to do a marriage conference. And you guys, we'll teach you all about how to manage your finances better and how to communicate better.

And it's like, well, you're not qualified to do that. And then in her book that came out after, she even admitted that she didn't always know what advice to give people because she wasn't a professional. It's like, well, what were people paying you for?

So it just seemed more like a money scam. Whenever I see a business where the product is vague, I start to get a little suspicious of it, mainly because in the past I did a video on this, too. I've accidentally gone to an MLM recruitment thing in the past because I thought it was a real job interview.

And looking back, it's like, I should have noticed that the company I was looking at was very vague in its mission, didn't talk a lot about what exactly it was selling. I should have been more careful. In this case, it was someone really selling empowerment almost, which is a concept.

And it's not to say you can't sell a concept or that you can't do it ethically. It's just that it's very hard to know exactly what she was selling. I know she was selling books.

She was selling private events, public events. I'm wary of the self-help genre in general because the whole idea of selling motivation and selling empowerment gets very close to MLMs. And that's why almost all the self-help gurus speak at MLM conferences, because it's all about you want to sell someone, like you said, the lifestyle.

It's just like in the MLM, it's not about the product. It's about selling the lifestyle. So I definitely think that was part of it.

And as the business's mission-- because she started as party planning. That was a clear mission. As your business's mission gets more squishy and vague, I can see how people might become a little more-- a little more suspicious of it, just because you don't really know what they're selling at that point.

Are they just trying to get money from you? Are they just trying to sell you the lifestyle that they're living? That's kind of a thing to watch out for.

See, I find this so fascinating, because we do live in an age where every life event of an influencer who has monetized their life also becomes a landmark event and moneymaking opportunity that can their brand can be tentpoled on. So if you're uploading lifestyle content, including things about your personal life-- pregnancies, marriages, engagements, divorces, deaths in the family-- all of this, these are large events that there are new elements to your brand that you can monetize. So you've seen this, I'm sure you've seen the YouTube phenomena of the couple that has a YouTube channel together and then eventually decides to break up and they do that very uncomfortable video that they clearly rehearsed.

And they clearly have so much-- some of them do a better job of covering up than others. But some of them, they have such contempt for each other at this point. And they're sitting there like they're at gunpoint, just being like, we feel that the time has come to try to give you that pitch of this isn't a bad thing.

This is the hardest video we've ever made. If anything, we're strong for making it. If anything, you should take our advice because we're being so honest.

If anything, now there's two brands we can monetize. So please go follow my husband's new channel, where I'll-- You just wait. (LAUGHING) Oh no. Because on the heels of this announcement, guess what happens?

Oh god. She's got a book. And it's called, Didn't See That Coming.

Ooh. So she did, in fact, decide she would monetize the fact that she had lied for several years to the same audience. That takes a real bold-- I mean, that was the point where I was like, OK.

OK. Now I see what has been sold to me. And I'm done.

I wish it hadn't taken that long. And to me, that divorce announcement, which for a lot of her fan base, I think we should acknowledge, are self-proclaimed Christians. And so, obviously, this is going to be a thing for them, right, that she's touting Jesus and la, la, and oh my gosh, she's getting divorced.

But I think for me, because I followed her as a promise of what I could have and build while maintaining a really healthy relationship, it really hit me. And it was another reason why I actually got off social media, is because the temptation just for me personally myself to build a, quote unquote, personal brand and share these things of my life, because I'm a natural sharer. I just am.

I'm enthusiastic. I love to share parts of my life. And I hate to use the word "authentic." I don't like that.

But I just to be open with people and be vulnerable. And it's just too big a temptation for me to fall down that-- and now I am very specifically editing out big parts of my life that I don't want you to know about so that I can portray myself as this thing. And it really completely changed what I thought I wanted for myself as an influencer and brand.

And I'm like, I don't want any of that, actually. Thanks. No thanks.

So when this happened, did it all click for you at once and then you were able to dump her advice out of your head? Or did you feel like, all right, well, I'll take the parts of this that have been working for me without realizing that it's all baked into a whole concept? It was, unfortunately, a bit of a gradual thing, where I was like, OK, the messenger is broken, but there's some gold in here.

It didn't take me very long to start to realize the amount of red flags that I just missed or didn't want to see, right, in this whole thing. And so another thing that pushed me even further out from oh, OK, I don't like her, but I don't really feel antagonistic towards her, was girl just keeps digging herself a whole. OK, Girl, Dig a Hole should be your next book.

Like girl, don't dig yourself a hole, OK? She posts a video on TikTok where she is responding to a follower who has been calling her out for talking about having basically a house cleaner as not being relatable. And she looks in the camera and says, "Sis, what makes you think I want to be relatable?" After all of this?

After all this. And not only that, in the caption-- stop. Ready?

She posts Harriet Tubman, Oprah, Frida Kahlo, Malala Yousafzai, Wu Zetian, as evidence of other women who are unrelatable that she is wanting to be like. Interesting. Interesting.

So she is an activist on the front lines? I mean, yes. I mean, she is fighting the good fight out there.

And, of course, the blowback on this is immense. I remember this, because the reason I think that it got through to me was that it was an influencer who clearly had risen to some enormous status, even if I wasn't super familiar with the specifics, but who had said the thing that they-- the quiet part out loud, essentially, that influencers are keeping a secret, which is that they have disdain for their audience. I don't know that that's always true for every influencer.

I don't. But it is true for enough of a percentage that it would shock you. Well, I think that that's not something she started with.

I don't think that way. But it's very clear that is where-- I mean, it almost seems like something you can't avoid. When you build your brand like this meant to vault yourself as, again, this product, this thing, this ideal that you want everybody to strive for, you have to distance yourself over time and be like, if I'm selling myself, I have to be apart from everybody.

Ultimately it doesn't matter. But as an aside, do you think she believes her own bullshit across the board? Or do you think she fundamentally knows she's peddling lies?

Because there's a big cognitive dissonance between fighting with her husband, then going on stage in a marriage conference. But there's less of a cognitive dissonance if you're like I have all the answers because I have all this money, which proves I have all the answers, so now I know I have all the answers and I believe it. Ooh, that's a good question.

I think at the time, yes, I think for the most part she really truly believes this stuff. However, I feel like cracks are beginning to show. So most recently she just had another RISE conference that looks completely different than they used to.

It is very clear to me that the Dave influence on that what that product and experience was pretty intense. I mean-- I mean, a Disney executive is going to branding, is going to know media. Precisely.

And I think that's really what he brought to that. But there's a lot less Jesus, a lot more universe-- Ah, new age stuff. --that-- oh, yes. Harder to pin down.

Can't be fact checked. Exactly. There's a lot more new age stuff starting to creep in.

And the thing that really got me, because I watched a little bit of this footage, is that she basically blames Dave for that hustle culture mindset. And this is a pattern with her, is that after that big whole TikTok debacle and through many times that she has basically plagiarized the words of other people-- like she puts "Still I rise" on everything and didn't credit it. That's a Rachel Hollis quote, apparently. [LAUGHS] Maya Angelou.

And then she says, my team did this. I take responsibility, but my team, my team, Dave. They're flawed.

I'm not. Forgive me. There's a lot of deflection happening when it comes to critiquing her content and what she's essentially trying to sell people.

So to answer your question, I don't really know where she is now, but she certainly has things to sell. And she's divorced now. And so Hollis Co is the brand.

But it seems like the longer they're apart, the more digs come in. And yeah, it's just-- She's on negative messaging about him at this point? I would say so.

I mean, I've tried to distance myself-- Yeah, you don't want to get-- --from her content. We all have a few muted characters. Just for this I was like, OK, I'm ready to dive back in and see what more she's coming out with.

But yeah, the shift is pretty noticeable. Yeah, when we talk about the scammy nature of this, I mean, influencers are everywhere, right? The self-help culture is really intense, especially around building a small business, right?

I mean, people, I mean, the worse the state of the world gets, the more people need help and solutions. Exactly. And where there is a vacuum, something will fly in and fill the space.

Exactly. And there is something very tempting about the messaging that only you are in your own way because you have control over you. What you don't have control over are systems.

So they're selling you a sense of control. Oh, 100%. In my view, that is ultimately what self-help is about.

It is selling a line of control, that you are ultimately in control of your destiny. And it's oppressive when you really think about it. But it's also somewhat freeing.

Yeah, in the short term it's great. I mean, then you can be like-- Exactly. --anything uphill is just on me. All the answers are in here.

I just need to find them. But then-- But then there's something wrong with you and it's not working. --after the conference, after you leave and after the dopamine starts to wear off, who is there to blame but you? If you are ultimately in control, then you are the only one to blame.

And if at night you're worrying in anxiety and you're swirling nerves about the stress of this thing that isn't working out and what's wrong with you, you wake up in the morning, you can start a new fresh day with their morning show. Exactly. That is crazy.

Exactly. That is really insidious. Yes, so I think I've learned so much from this experience of me-- really, it is an experience, following someone and delving into their content wholeheartedly and being like, I'm going to commit to this vision.

I mean, it could have been way even worse than it was, which it sounds like it got pretty bad emotionally. Yeah, exactly. And I never spent any money except for buying one book.

I never went to anything. There are people who probably shelled out-- Oh yes, I've heard stories of people who've spent thousands and thousands of dollars trying to-- --emulate the life of a rich wife. Exactly.

I mean, you said it. But I was proud of myself for figuring out a few things that I want just to highlight for people that I took away that I now am much more aware of. Lay it on me.

I think when you're thinking about buying something from somebody, anything, what are they selling? And is it unique? Because ultimately, when you dive down into Rachel's content, none of it's unique.

It's all recycled. It's all recycled content. It's just in a new package.

I think encouraging people to give up sleep in order to, quote unquote, make time is a big thing I see on a lot of these self-help influencers. There's this weird fixation on being an early riser is being the key to success. I've heard messaging so far as to say if you wake up at 4:00, you can make a full extra day of work in a week.

My god, people who are already working five to seven days. Exactly right. So I think really watch out for that stuff.

I think you can be successful in your life without having to have your health take a beating. Yeah, and no advice should start with hurt yourself. Exactly.

This is something also I keyed into. And also, I have to say, shout out to Maintenance Phase, one of my really favorite podcasts. They also did a fantastic deep dive on Rachel Hollis.

And they brought this up of this idea of is what they're selling a syllabus of their own life, right? Be so careful. I was so tempted to do that.

And I'm like-- Well, every marriage, every person is different. Every marriage is different. Every relationship is different.

And so if someone's giving you a guide, a guide to their marriage, you're not them. You don't have their marriage or their circumstances or their experiences. It doesn't apply.

If people are just sharing their experiences and saying, this is what I learned from this experience that I went through and it stops there, fantastic. I think that is a way that we relate to people. But when they say, And now this is a lesson for you-- Do exactly and think exactly how I tell you.

Exactly. Watch out. Another one, oversharing.

That's a red flag I personally am carrying around. I know. I overshare.

I am also an oversharer. But I think when it comes to these kind of lifestyle influencers, especially those who have children, this is the deal, that her children, their children are all over social media. It's compulsive.

If I went to a target and saw her kids, I would recognize her kids. Not good. And they do not have consent.

Of course not. A kid under the age of 18 can't sign off on fame and infamy. Exactly.

There is a commodification and a displaying of children that I think is a major red flag. And there's lots of this out there. I mean, mommy influencers, it's like-- The child is just an-- It's a prop.

It's a prop. It's an aesthetic. And it's an extension of me.

Look, you should look at this kid because it's evidence of how great I am, not a person on their own. Precisely. And then are they consistently acknowledging their privilege and the luck, the dumb luck that has also factored in to aspects of their success?

And I think if people listening to this are thinking, well, what is her privilege? Is it just that she's able-bodied? Is it that she's white?

I think a good test for me privilege wise is if my life was exactly the same circumstances set up, factors, events, and I was x different, would it be harder? So if I was Black, if I was a trans woman, if I was in some way disabled, would that have been harder? And since it would have been harder, I have the privilege of not having that experience, right?

And so I think especially for someone who's like, as a woman, I haven't had any privilege, it's really easy to say, wow, she must have all the answers. But what works for a white woman may not work for a white woman of a different size-- Exactly. --let alone a woman of color, let alone a woman with a disability, et cetera, et cetera. And I think it can become sticky because it's such a politicized word, but privilege really, you have to create a value-neutral definition for yourself, I think.

And the final red flag that I want to reiterate is there room for pushback or critique on this person's channel? Do they acknowledge being critiqued as something other than hate? Let alone change their mind as normal human beings do.

Exactly. Exactly. I think it's very difficult when you put yourself up as this ideal to make room for the fact that you are going to make mistakes, that you're going to change your mind.

People change. That is the only guarantee in life, is change. And I personally respect people who can, more that can be like, hey, you know what?

I did this. This was an issue. I'm learning.

Here we go. Here's the newest iteration. And I haven't figured it out for all time.

This is the newest iteration. So is the person changing, acknowledging where they might be learning new things or listening to feedback? Or are they branding this as hate, essentially, and negative energy, right, positive vibes only?

That is a major red flag. Well, honestly, that was really moving. And thank you so much for your openness about the topic.

I'm sure it's tough to be vulnerable and say, I got this wrong. But unlike Rachel Hollis, you were able to do it. Thank you.

That is really, really lovely. And I think that that's a great note to leave on, that you were wrong. And that's totally fine.

We're all wrong sometimes. Well, that's the show for this week. You can find Too Good To Be True wherever podcasts are available.

And while you're there, we'd love for you to rate the show and leave us a review. I've been Ryan Houlihan. And you can find me on all social media @RyanHoulihan.

I've been Julia Lorenz-Olson. You can find me on YouTube at my PBS show, Two Cents. And every once in a while I'll look at Instagram.

My handle is @yayitsjulia. Well, to learn more about our guest, Savy Leiser, you can find their YouTube at Savy Writes Books or you can go to the website, savywritesbooks.com [MUSIC PLAYING]