Self-help books are the Instagram quotes of the book world. We flock to them when we’re feeling down, in need of assistance. At the best times they encourage us to love ourselves, reassure us that we can achieve our dreams if we put in the hard work. At its worst, it can leave us with a sense of inadequacy. Many of these self-help books, both with positive and negative attributes, are aimed at women.
I was at dinner with my best friend Lorely when she pointed this out to me. We were on the subject of self-help books and I brought up how Steve Harvey wrote a relationship book to help women get inside the minds of men. Lorely blurted “where are the books about men trying to get women?”
There are a lot of self-help books that are for everyone. How to make more money, how to find inspiration, how to overcome grief. The list could go on. The ones aimed at women are, for the most part, all about how to land a guy or how to deal with aging.
Women can read whatever they want. There’s a whole slew of self-help books aimed at helping anyone who reads them find contentment in life, or offers up financial advice. However, the books that seem to garner more attention on social media or are selected to be sold at book retailers like Target, all seem to tell women there’s something wrong with them.
If you’re not someone who frequents the self-help shelf you may be blissfully unaware of what women are being peddled. I was for a while, only venturing into the section to scope out Big Magic or a journaling book I could stick with. But then one of my other friends started to tell me about some of the self-help books she was reading, and it all centered around how to find love and land a man.
A majority of the media we consume depicts a damsel in distress who is just so lost until she is saved by a man and ultimately rewarded with his love. Women are implicitly and explicitly told that unless they’re in a committed relationship, they aren’t reaching their full potential. Quite frankly, it’s bullshit.
Everyone is enough on their own as they are, right this moment.
Relationships are a huge part of our lives and it would be unrealistic for me to expect that sub-genre of self-help to go away. But what I’d like to see, and hopefully I’m not alone on this, are books about what a healthy relationship is like. When to move on when a relationship is no longer making you happy. What a toxic relationship is and how to get yourself or loved ones out of that spiral.
This isn’t meant to minimize the women who read self-help books about relationships. I just hope that if you’re choosing to read that book, you’re doing it for you and not because society pressured you into it.
Women and men alike are more than just their relationship status or career progression. We are enough as we are already. No self-help book can make you ‘better’. What will make you better is your effort, outlook on life, how you treat people, and how you treat yourself.
Self-help books are supposed to be just a guide, not the definitive answer to all life’s questions. Let’s keep it that way.
Cover image courtesy of Salt House
Also published on Medium.