I was that kid who collected rocks and sticks on the playground and made magical potions out of leaves in my backyard. Even now as a full-grown adult, it’s still on my bucket list to stumble upon a fairy circle.
Recently, I discovered that there are aesthetics that embrace this love for nature and desire for simplicity. However, I also discovered that there are a myriad of problems with these aesthetics and their communities.
“Cottagecore” is an aesthetic — a type of style that encompasses clothing, interior design and hobbies — that was born and raised on the internet, but is centered around an idyllic, isolated country life. For some, it’s simply about fashion and visual art.
However, as it has gained traction, others have expanded this aesthetic to include a guiding set of principles. In essence, to be cottagecore is to live as though you reside in a quaint cottage in the forest or on a farm. The lifestyle aspect of the aesthetic encourages crafting, sewing, growing plants (both for food and enjoyment) and living simply.
Cottagecore has been used for positivity and activism in a number of ways. Many cottagecore fans are insistent that the aesthetic’s reliance on nature implies that all who embrace it should be active environmentalists. The trend has also been embraced by the LGBTQ+ community due to what some say is an imagined escapism from heteronormative society. For some, cottagecore is a response to the exhausting, anxiety-inducing culture of constant productivity that comes with capitalism; therefore, many fans consider themselves anti-capitalists.
Though the trend bills itself as idyllic and, to some extent, utopic, it isn’t free from criticism. Those who disapprove of cottagecore doubt that fans of the aesthetic realize the true hardships of rural life. Visuals tend to be very polished and beautiful, failing to acknowledge how messy life in nature can truly be. And, whether or not it does so purposefully, the trend romanticizes a lifestyle that comes with unique hardships, unimaginable to cottagecore fans born and raised in urban and suburban areas. Cottagecore chooses not to acknowledge rural poverty and lack of resources, along with the heavy labor involved in the upkeep of a farm.
A quick search of cottagecore shows mostly similar images: white women in impractical dresses standing in fields. There is a lack of visible people of color, along with a lack of discussion around the implications of land ownership. The few POC creators that embrace the trend are buried under the Eurocentric images that social media tends to favor due to biased censorship. The line between reclaiming countryside life and a history of racism, sexism and colonialism is at times uncomfortably thin.
It’s also perplexing that, although these aesthetics advocate for sewing and thrifting clothing, they can get expensive. Cottagecore has a large presence on Etsy, where skirts, dresses and blouses typically sell for anywhere from $30 to over $100. Due to the high cost of homemade clothing, many people have turned to fast fashion, which is known to horribly exploit workers (especially those who are POC) and the environment. Knowingly supporting this seems to be in direct opposition to the inviting, eco-friendly stances of cottagecore fans.
What is most intriguing and confusing about these aesthetics is that they advocate for a simpler life — living off the land in isolation — and yet there exists the prerequisite of being visible online and up to date with trends. Although the term cottagecore originated in 2018 on Tumblr, today it has an enormous presence on platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
In order to be aware that one’s aesthetic could be described as “cottagecore” in the first place, they must discover the term either online or through friends who’ve discovered it online. In fact, this reliance on social media is causing the trend to be inaccessible to those who inspired it. Pew Research Center’s “Social Media Fact Sheet” states that, as of 2019, only 66% of adults in the rural United States use social media.
The root of this problem lies in internet access. Currently, only 65% of Americans in rural areas have high-speed, consistent internet access, and this number drops to 60% on Tribal land. The digital divide is isolating rural people from an aesthetic designed to romanticize them.
The fantasy of rural life and owning large plots of land is unrealistic for many working-class young people. The percentage of millennials who are homeowners is significantly less than previous generations, and there is a steep decrease expected for Gen Z.
In the fourth quarter of 2020, the United States Census Bureau reported that only 38.5% of people under 35 were homeowners. Considering the majority of cottagecore enthusiasts are in their 20s, it’s highly unlikely that they would even have the means to own a cottage. This barrier for entry means that even for the most dedicated, cottagecore and its related aesthetics will only ever be a fantasy.
For a trend that outwardly appears to be wholesome, there are clear issues that need to be addressed. Why aren’t more POC creators the faces of cottagecore? Why is there such a huge emphasis on “reclaiming land”? Perhaps the biggest question is why aesthetics centered around acceptance and simplicity exclude the people they are inspired by.
Although aesthetics like cottagecore aren’t inherently bad, their intent and practice don’t always align. Of course, it would be nice to escape to a magical cottage and do nothing but cross-stitch all day, but this is a fantasy that chooses to ignore key problems with its origins and current representation. It appears to pick and choose desired qualities of rural life without facing its difficulties. If the cottagecore aesthetic is here to stay, then it needs to consider how accessible it truly is.
Daily Arts Writer Harper Klotz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.