The Soft Life Isn't Just About Enjoying Nice Things

"That whole 'strong Black woman' narrative, it doesn’t apply to me... I am a dainty princess."

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Imagine a life of luxury, amazing meals, fine wine, meditation, rest, and peace: It sounds too aspirational to be achieved consistently by most, but there’s a growing movement of Black women who seem to live a robust life of opulence and ease. The “soft life” hashtag has more than 600 million views on TikTok alone. The idea goes deeper than just an appreciation for material goods; it’s a direct rejection of the “strong Black woman” trope and a call to cultivate the life you deserve.

Brittany James, a New York City-based fashion, beauty, and lifestyle influencer, launched the soft life movement in a March 2022 video. In the now-viral clip she says, “I don’t know who needs to hear this but that whole ‘strong Black woman’ narrative, it doesn’t apply to me. I live a soft life. I am a dainty princess. I will fall out at the drop of a minor inconvenience.”

The post has been viewed more than 300,000 times. While her tone is comedic, this idea comes from a serious place. “I have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past. I went to therapy and learned that it is OK to need help. It is OK to be vulnerable. It’s OK not to do everything by yourself. I am now prioritizing myself,” James tells Bustle.

She notes that past generations of Black women have prioritized being mentally, physically, and emotionally strong — oftentimes as a means of survival. She feels that it’s time to break that narrative. “We’re seen as tough, unfazed, like nothing affects us because we’re taught to be strong Black women and I think that does more harm than it does good,” she says. “I shared this video for Black women. Black women deserve to be seen as angelic. We deserve to live a soft life and most importantly, we deserve to be seen as human.”

What The Soft Life Looks Like

Nana Agyemang, journalist and CEO of job board EveryStylishGirl, adopted this lifestyle before she had a term for it. “In 2020, I was encouraging more women to buy themselves flowers, cooking a lot more, walking 10,000 steps a day, and splurging on a few road trips. I was embracing self-care and wellness to its fullest while encouraging my community to do the same,” she says.

A quick search of the hashtag on TikTok will garner countless posts of Black women like @the.bare.minimal and @simply_sayo enjoying champagne, indulging in aromatherapy, and booking flights; @tishyvetteathome watering her plants on a perfectly rainy day; and @themayad romanticizing her nighttime skin care routine. It can be as simple as meditating like @sadiej40 or as complex as @glitznglamaris1 enjoying the most lavish vacation imaginable. There is also the occasional shopping spree, like this one by @skwxo that has been viewed more than 50,000 times.

Not everyone believes the movement reflects James’ original intention. @theembodiedgoddess says, “It’s about denouncing hustle culture, it’s not about luxury culture.”

Others believe the movement’s expensive sheen shouldn’t be taken so literally. “You have to visually explain some of these mental health concepts and it’s really hard,” says Anastasia Ricardo, a self-discovery coach. These videos can be seen as symbols, not instructional guides. “You have to be able to ... find the meaning for yourself.”

James defends the grandeur of it all. “Luxury for you may not be luxurious for someone else,” she says. “So for some, buying that Chanel bag is a luxurious soft life. For me, putting my bills on autopay and not having to worry about it is a luxurious soft life. If being luxurious for you is keeping all your plants alive, do that. It’s different for everyone.”

Tiffany Renee, a beauty influencer and mom embracing the soft life, agrees, noting, “It’s all about what’s important to you.”

Life Isn’t Always Soft

Psychotherapist Binta Cross, a licensed clinical social worker, “hated” the term when it first came to her attention because of its misleading nature. “There is no such thing as a soft life. Life is really hard and that’s just a fact. The way you work with difficulty and pain or suffering and trauma is much more important than trying to pretend that life can always be easy or soft,” she says.

According to Cross, this movement isn’t inclusive enough. “If I think about the soft life for people who are, let’s say, working class or even working poor, they may not have the luxury of boundary-setting and saying, ‘I’m choosing not to work overtime today.’ They might want that balance but can’t afford to set those boundaries so it feels like the soft life is inequitable in that way. It’s really talking about a certain set of people that have the privilege and power to set boundaries and not be penalized in life.”

If The Soft Life Sounds Familiar, Here’s Why

The concept of living a soft life — a practice for spiritual and mental self-care — is nothing new. Consider renowned scholar bell hooks’ 1999 bestseller All About Love: New Visions, in which she explores similar themes. She wrote, "Do not expect to receive the love from someone else you do not give yourself.”

When civil rights activist, writer, and feminist Audre Lorde wrote about self-care in her 1988 essay collection A Burst of Light, she didn’t mention buying candles or perfume — her version of a soft life was the nourishment that sustained her while simultaneously leading movements of resistance and battling cancer. Her now-famous quote echoes through the lives of many Black women today. “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

How To Lead A Soft Life

Embracing the soft life doesn’t have to be challenging, esoteric, or expensive. “Get back down to the basics. Whether you have one hour, 15 minutes, or 15 seconds, spend time monitoring your breath so you can avoid operating on autopilot. Start with taking three slow, deep breaths,” says Lalah Delia, a spiritual writer and wellness educator.

Delia also believes strongly in the Buddhist practice of equanimity. “[It] is exactly what a soft lifestyle entails,” she says. “It means that in the midst of whatever is going on — it could be challenge, chaos, turbulence, storms — you are unmoved. You can show up from a place of balance no matter what’s happening around you.”

Cross provides her clients with this same tool. “When a stressor comes up, it’s all about asking yourself, ‘Am I able to face this stressor with equanimity? Am I able to face difficulty in my life with a sense of balance instead of pretending that it’s not difficult? Can I cope so that I’m not debilitated by sadness?’”

Ricardo has a few other suggestions. “Be vulnerable. Be grateful. Stop trying to immediately find the answer to everything. Journal. Write out what you’re feeling. Speak your feelings out loud into a voice recorder. Get your emotions out of your body, put them out into your space and that is how you start the process of understanding what’s going on in your head and providing space for a softer life experience.”

Renee finds that it’s especially important for moms to give themselves grace along the way. “Set small goals so you can celebrate small wins,” she says. “Take it one day at a time.”

There are countless ways to live purposefully, intentionally, and luxuriously. The soft life is as varied and nuanced as Black women are themselves.

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