A soft life.
I became aware of the term on TikTok. Ever so often a Black woman talking about her desire to live a soft life would pop up on my “for you page.” They were camera ready, with great lighting. Sometimes they’d mention feminine and masculine energy, or they’d show us the luxury items they’d purchased, sometimes they’d practice evening hygiene routines—i.e., took a bath or shower, did their evening skincare routine—or made themselves a snack. It all depended on who was making the post, but all of them claimed that this was a part of living a soft life.
But then one video left me so incredulous I found myself making my first TikTok.
Content creator, Elicia Goguen, tells viewers, “If you’re trying to live a soft life, I don’t think you’re lazy. I think you’ve been living in your masculine energy for so long and you’ve been sold a lie about how a woman can and should do what men do and it’s making you unhappy, depressed, and literally sick.”
I stitched that video noting that the fatigue and exasperation expressed in her comment section wasn’t about feminine or masculine energy, but symptoms of being ground down by capitalism and surviving under oppressive systems.
Over the following months I kept thinking about that term, soft life. What did it mean? The videos being served to me by the algorithm were all over the place. Not one woman extolling the virtues of a soft life had a firm definition of what the term meant or why it was so necessary for them, and us, to pursue it.
The term popped up in the social media zeitgeist around 2013. According to “Andscape,” “‘soft life’ originated in the Nigerian influencer community as slang for living a life of comfort and low stress.” In the years since, the term has found additions and refinement in the media, “Mashable” added context noting that “the movement is about seeking peace first in all life aspects—which can include quitting your job, or giving less of yourself professionally.”
These insights are a far cry from ambiguous claims of operating in masculine or feminine energy.
In her “Los Angeles Times” opinion piece on the topic, Rachel Cargle noted the distance in the soft life universe writing that the “concept of today operates on a spectrum. On one end, it’s portrayed as a life that leans into luxury, glorifying things like expensive body oils, lavish vacations and high-end bags. On the other end […] is an approach to a delicate work-life balance and saying “no” to things that don’t bring us joy or fulfillment. More than the material opportunities to find ease, the soft life era relates to our efforts to set healthy boundaries, our ability to be introspective, our openness to ask for help and the prioritizing of our physical and mental well-being.”
I would add to Cargle’s assertations that in center of the spectrum we find women in the business of monetizing the term. These creators mold the soft life to fit their brands and design products to sell to women desperate for answers to why—why their lives look the way they do, why they can’t find love, why they don’t have money, why they can’t live an Instagram worthy existence, why they can’t remove mental blocks, etc.
Doni Brown, who has gone from Pivot Cosmetics CEO in 2020 to Wealthy Woman CEO, sells the idea that you too can become a “wealthy woman” and live a life of “ease and abundance” if you let go of limiting beliefs.
Brown has refined her image since 2020 and the Pivot Cosmetics launch. Gone is the curly-haired curated business persona, now she often looks ready to hit a red-carpet, designer fit and all. On her TikTok, she shares her tips on this transformation through various topics, leaning into your spoiled girl era, maintaining your liposuction results, becoming a billionaire, shifting your mindset, manifesting, buying the luxury items she enjoys, dating, and more. If you like your soft life flavored with girl bossing, luxury, and a side of hot girl esthetics, Brown makes it easy to invest into her brand by listening to her “Wealthy Woman” podcast, purchasing her favorite products through her Amazon storefront, buying one of her glue-less wigs, or letting you in on her business acumen.
Would you like to make 100k a month? Brown can offer you a “blueprint for scaling your business!”—whatever that means—for the low price of $127.
Then there are soft life practitioners, like Amoya Shante, a certified master Neuro-linguistic programmer (NLP)—a “NLP Practitioner is someone skilled in the application and understanding of neuro-linguistic programming tools”—and hypnotherapist. Shante calls herself a “manifestation and mindset mentor.”
On her TikTok you’ll see endless videos about her life and family in Mexico, and she’s quick to tell you how hard her life used to be until she changed her mindset. Her curated videos depict a simple life of joy, peace, and happiness to entice viewers to become what she calls “soft life queens.” You’ll see her sitting in courtyards and wandering beaches dressed like a light brown mother nature. Sometimes she’ll stare into the camera repeating mantras as delicate music plays. Sometimes her younger husband and their new baby will make an appearance as they lovingly cuddle each other.
Occasionally, she’ll interrupt the “woo woo” love fest with gentle encouragement to join her by signing up for a free three-day masterclass so you can embrace your soft life era. She’s vague on the specifics of what being a soft life queen means, what takes place in these classes, or what it means to live the rich queen life, but the constant scroll of peaceful TikTok’s and mantras might influence you to check out her website or YouTube, which is where I learned more about her brand of soft life.
Those ready to live as soft queens “get to reclaim your power, make your own rules, and live life on your own terms,” Shante proclaims. “This is[sic] ERA is where YOU embrace your sovereignty, step into your power, and create a life that aligns with your deepest desires and values.”
Sounds good right? It can all be yours for $222.
Or maybe you want to be a Rich Queen. Shante explains the programing as “Step[ping] into the world of Rich Queens Academy, where you'll reprogram your subconscious mind so that you can manifest the life of your DREAMS.” You can join the Rich Queens Academy for just $1,777. From what I gathered by her website and YouTube page, she focuses on helping you remove mental blocks through hypnosis, workshops, guided meditations, a book club, meet ups around the world, and various other products so you too can manifest a five-figure business launch or your way out of single motherhood.
When I look at the social media content of soft life practitioners, I’m often struck at how much work goes into making their content look effortless. The lighting, locations, scripts, and the sheer amount of money it takes to be coiffed in a way that markets to their brand of soft life. The vast consumption and work necessary to make regular unboxing videos, grocery shopping hauls, mall visits, nail salon appointments, designer product procurement, or the grind of creating videos to keep the content flowing and your audience interested in you. Is it really a soft life if you have to work so doggedly to document and turn life’s most mundane moments into aesthetically pleasing content as the republic crumbles around us?
None of this feels soft.
In all the seasons of hustle culture, Girl Bossing, and other assorted rebranded versions of capitalism, stir in a global pandemic, the rollback of women’s reproductive rights, and it’s easy to understand the appeal of a soft life and the promises made by women that have monetized the term in big and small ways.
In the last decade we’ve seen Black women forced into the role of political saviors for a country set on destroying and devouring itself. We’ve gone round and round intra communally about the frustration of Black women supporting Black men despite a lack of reciprocity. We’re encouraged to lower our standards romantically and participate in struggle love just to have a romantic partner. We even joke amongst ourselves about the dangers of Black girl boredom and how likely we are to pursue entrepreneurship, another advanced degree, or some other time intensive hustle just to cure the personal discomfort or perception of being lazy.
Black Girl in Main writer, Shay Stewart-Bouley wrote in a recent blog post that “When we aren’t expecting Black women to save us, we often expect them to be magical beings who do extraordinary things. Things that other women of other races are never expected to do or achieve while operating under various burdens of life and weights of society. Women who face adversity and turn it into a magical tale and perhaps help others long away. While the Black Girl Magic tagline was a statement of empowerment for Black women—created by a Black woman—it also begs the question: “What if you don’t have any Black girl magic?”
Magic and the appearance of a soft life takes work and boundless effort.
We’re all desperate for some sense of control over our lives, especially financially. It’s why despite decades of warnings, and numerous documentaries and podcasts explaining the danger of getting involved in them, people still join Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) businesses like Herbalife, LulaRoe, Scentsy, Avon, and others.
For Black women the racialized appeal of the soft life can be especially tantalizing. Who doesn’t want a pretty and aesthetically successful looking Black woman telling you that you too can build a life of peace and abundance? All you must do is pay them to tell you how to clear mental blocks and manifest the right way? Who doesn’t want to be the pretty, rich, Black woman claiming to have overcome?
Many of us are dealing with very intense levels of physical, mental, and psychological burnout. For Black women there’s always more to be done. More Black excellence to pursue, more Black Girl Magic to spin, and when you are tired of working twice as hard to get half as much, pursuing softness and pleasure can be a saving grace.
Developing boundaries, working through trauma, extending grace to yourself, forgiving yourself for mistakes, ensuring you are eating, drinking your water, minding your business, and taking care of you is important and necessary. Spending time with people who pour into you rather than those who expect you to constantly pour into them. Reading things that bring you joy or expand your mind, listening to music that moves you, doing hobbies just because they’re fun. That’s tangible softness we can all access without having to open our purses.
I don’t have a problem with the concepts of a soft life, Black Girl Magic, or Black Excellence, I do understand the original intentions and foundational definitions—which do not call for or encourage stripping rest, grace, or joy from our lives. However, I also recognize how these terms have been co-opted by capitalism and subsequently hustle culture. It’s in those spaces that we see these ideological ideas manipulated to ensure more people opt-in to hyper consumerism or embrace rugged individualism.
Our country loves an inspirational story about overcoming the odds. You’ve seen it. The news segment about septuagenarians delivering pizzas to ensure they have enough money to pay their rising rent or afford their medications. The article about a Black teenager who’s accumulated an astronomical number of scholarships or university offers to ensure they can pay for college. The feature about a single mother who started a multi-million-dollar business with her last $50 dollars. These stories are designed to, mostly, do two things; make the reader marvel at the subject’s ability to “overcome” their personal challenges and think to themselves, if they can do it, what’s stopping me?
However, these feel-good stories don’t feel good at all when you consider what’s happening.
Being forced to work into your 70s is a sign of a country that has failed to provide stable and affordable healthcare and housing for its elderly population. Quality university education is so expensive that some teens must apply for every scholarship they can just to have a shot at coming out the other side without tremendous debt. A single mother shouldn’t have to choose between feeding herself and her kids to get a shot at running her own business.
Nothing about being forced to overcome systems designed to keep you struggling is a feel-good story. The idea that you only earn the right to rest and feel good after overcoming astounding odds is one that needs to be banished to the darkest pit of hell.
There’s a lot of pressure on Black women—from ourselves, communities, workplaces, other Black people, and strangers. We are never allowed to simply be, we must always be in service, on the move, and available to help tackle whatever issues arise.
The superwoman/strong Black woman stereotypes are hard to vanquish. For centuries we’ve been treated as if we were designed to overcome all the systemic barriers, abuse, misogynoir, and neglect we experience. If living under systems of oppression have forced us to adopt the superwoman/strong Black woman stereotype, despite the long-term mental and physical harm, embracing the soft life, and it’s more capitalistic iterations, makes sense on the surface. Both options are a means for survival and could be a way for someone to make sense of the fiscal and racial hardships that face them.
It’s not that you can’t subscribe or like the idea of a “soft life,” you should just be careful about who’s selling it to you. The problem with this sticky middle of the soft life universe is that women like Shante, Brown, and many more, often fail to mention how the systems in place are designed to ensure you have the hardest time possible trying to change your life. It’s easier for them to tell you that it’s your thinking, or that you just need to take their workshop, or to stop entertaining broke men—true enough we should all stop doing that last thing. It is easier to say those things than to tell you the truth, that you cannot manifest your way out of systemic oppression. You can do everything right—go to school, work hard, cultivate connections, educate yourself on how these systems work, hope for the best—and it still might not be enough.
Selling just-add-water soft life solutions can pay some people’s bills. Buying them is unlikely to pay yours.