Black Women Embracing ‘Cottagecore’ Is an Act of Defiance
An idyllic rural life appeals to many in lockdown, though the aesthetic has its critics
If you venture over to TikTok and search the phrase “cottagecore,” you’ll enter into a carefully-curated void filled with women frolicking in woodland forests, making homemade baked goods while dressed fashionably in a selection of frilly dresses and milkmaid blouses. With over 3.3 billion views, #cottagecore has reached an all-time high in popularity on the video-sharing platform and is gaining popularity across many other social media realms from Reddit to Twitter.
In the midst of a global pandemic and worldwide lockdown, many began to embrace the romanticized idea of rural life, as we remained cooped up in our homes and glued to technology. Living in a paradisal landscape far from civilization became more and more appealing as many delved deep into their cottagecore fantasies where quarantines and pandemics were the fragments of their imagination.
While there is an overwhelming lack of diversity on the surface of this aesthetic, Black women are gaining prominence for embracing cottagecore and prompting more discussions about representation and historical accuracy.
One of the biggest Black cottagecore influences is U.K.-based content curator Paula Sutton. Sutton, who resides in Norfolk, England, is known for her stunning visuals. She often showcases the exterior of her Georgian home while dressed beautifully in floral gowns, with a mixture of country-chic herringbone and tweed jackets, and sharing her love for baking, gardening, and roaming the English countryside.
In April 2020, Paula was brought to the attention of many after British journalist Liv Siddall claimed she left Instagram because of an image of Paula living her carefree best life. This photo, which showed Paula reading a book outside of her country estate, seemingly angered Liv and brought out her own frustrations, as she admitted the photo made her “anxious” from “wealth fatigue.”
To see Black women like Sutton living a life which seems carefree, happy, and in luxury, is to see us in spaces that many don’t expect us to be in and Siddall’s reaction to Sutton’s instagram is something Black women are often subjected to when enjoying the fruits of their labor and are penalized for it.
But beyond the perfectly-styled images, there’s more to it than meets the eye. It presents a space for Black women to defy what we are told Black womanhood looks like and explore a side of ourselves which is rarely portrayed in the media and is often associated with Whiteness.
“Others have taken to Twitter to have an open discussion about the White supremacist ideologies associated with cottagecore, calling it “slavery cosplay” or “plantationcore.””
“As a teen, I would watch mainstream media, which was still very anti-black and heavily pushed the concept of the angry Black woman,” says 21-year-old YouTuber and cottagecore-enthusiast Elo Margie. “I felt I had nowhere I could turn to in order to feel validated in an expression that I felt so drawn to and I love the peaceful feeling cottagecore visuals bring me. The idea of self-sustainability and living in a cottage is very appealing to me, and is something I hope to make a reality for myself someday.”
While there are Black women living out their cottagecore fantasies, there are critics of the movement and its collective nostalgia for pastoral living.
In a Tumblr post, Solarpunkcast wrote: “Cottagecore romanticizes the legacy of settler colonialism and frontier living that relies on the stolen land of indigenous people.” Others have taken to Twitter to have an open discussion about the White supremacist ideologies associated with cottagecore, calling it “slavery cosplay” or “plantationcore.”
Many aspects of cottagecore are reminiscent of the antebellum era of American history — from the idea of rural agriculture living to the clothing. This creates a difficult space for Black women who want to engage in the aesthetics associated with this subculture but can’t ignore the racial undertones beneath the pretty dresses and homemade baked goods.
For artist and designer Tiffany Le, she relates to the cottagecore movement but understands its complexities.
“Being from the South, it’s understandable to me that the nostalgia of cottagecore brings conflicting emotions. Instances like this are when it’d be nice to have our own Black subculture space to share ideas amongst each other and connect with those who look like us and understand our background,” says Tiffany.
Cottagecore enthusiast Lauren, has always loved the aesthetics but agrees with the conflicting emotions it can bring for Black women.
“Cottagecore is based around a romanticized idea of rural life, and while I understand that when romanticizing something you distance yourself away from the harsh realities, Black women don’t have that option. I love this simplified way of life and fashion and figured I might as well show the diversity of the aesthetic because we are out here.”
The debate between whether Black women should embrace cottagecore continues and sees no sign of stopping. But Black women continue to relate to aspects of the movement as they do in many hyper-aesthetic spaces, from dark academia to fairycore, and their presence within these spaces continues to be sidelined and criticized when they do decide to engage.
“There are always going to be Black women who are going to want to gravitate to these subcultures and they should be represented,” says Lauren. “We shouldn’t be ignored in these online spaces because we are there whether people agree or not — that is why representation within them is important.”
Whether you agree or disagree with cottagecore — from the visual aesthetics to the politics — Black women are carving a space to explore a side of themselves without fear and decide how best to — or to not — navigate these spaces on our own terms.
“It’s important to allow Black girls and women to explore different aesthetics and fashion concepts,” concludes Elo. “We should not confine Black girls’ and women’s ability to explore authenticity and self-expression.”