Featured Image Credits, in order of appearance, @sehammohamed, @chazlyn.yvonne, @chaneensaliee on Instagram

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer,” according to author Zora Neale Hurston.

Last year, I asked the question, “Why is everyone baking bread?” This year, I finally got the answer recently while scrolling on Instagram one morning.

A radiant Black woman stood in a field, the color of late autumn harvest. Wearing a tan fedora, a brown textured coat, and beige pants, she cradled a child in her arms. Her head tipped back toward the sky in delight.

I sighed. I become instantly sentimental whenever I see images of women and children since my emergency hysterectomy five months ago. But it wasn’t just the “Late Harvest Madonna and Child” photo that got me. There were others.

One photo featured a Black woman in a white dress and herringbone blazer framed by a gorgeous grove of cherry blossoms. In another photo, a Black woman crowned in a cascade of braids glanced coyly into the camera. She perched on a pink gingham picnic blanket while dressed in a delicate, pink maxi dress and surrounded by a basket of roses and pastel-colored pastries.

This was the Instagram account, “Cottagecore Black Folks” and it was giving me life.

The lure of Cottage Core Black Folks and similar sites was simple – an explosion of Black joy. For once, we weren’t defined by “the struggle.” A white cop kneeling on a Black man’s neck was no longer shorthand for our existence in the United States. We didn’t have to say that our lives mattered to stay alive. These images demonstrated that Black people could and did live in harmony with nature without a white person demanding to know why we were in a public space.

Then, a thought seized me: I. want. this. life.

I wasn’t alone.


Image Credit: @lifewithbugo on Instagram

Cottagecore developed in the late 2010s as an aesthetic response to an increasing stranglehold technology has on our lives. Harkening back to the 18th and 19th century English countryside, cottagecore recalls an imagined “simpler,” agrarian time. Cottagecore envisions a sustainable lifestyle in which we are in harmony with the natural world. Gardening, foraging, sewing, walking in nature, and baking are among its central activities.

The aesthetic blossomed as a lifestyle and entered the mainstream during the height of the 2020 pandemic quarantine. Suddenly, people who, pre-pandemic, filled the empty crevices of their lives with Netflix, video games, and social media grew tiresome of living their lives behind a screen.

However, cottagecore is riddled with contradictions. While it embraces a “simple”, “agrarian” life, it uses social media as a means to communicate its aesthetic and foster community.

The aesthetic also superficially mimics a time when most Blacks in the Americas were enslaved, and queer people hid their true identity to avoid death or imprisonment. Yet, Black women and queer communities have enthusiastically adopted cottagecore and created thriving subcultures.

Such contradictions are endearing because they tether the aesthetic to the modern world. Those steeped in cottagecore aren’t creating a false utopia, nor are they “escaping the real world.” They are, however, bending technology for their own aims while diverse communities adopt what’s useful to them and discard what isn’t without asking for permission from mainstream culture.

I gave cottagecore a try. I bought a few puffed-sleeved, floral dresses and retired my simple, black dresses to the back of the closet. The puffed sleeves made me sit and stand up a little taller as I went about my daily tasks. I no longer wanted the illusion of simplicity sewn into the sameness of my minimal black dresses. I wanted the freedom that the looser silhouette offered.

I smiled more. I glided through daily tasks instead of strutting to command attention and respect. I listened to the dozens of cottagecore lists found on Spotify and YouTube to ease the boredom of chores.

I also worry that I’ve invested too much money into something that is likely to be gone by next spring. I can’t imagine wanting to twirl around the house like a Disney Princess in five years when I’m 53.

I will worry about that tomorrow. Today is for listening to the extraordinary music of Yasmin Williams and Silvia Estrada while drinking Gingerbread tea. Besides, this is the year of answers.

 

Kerra Bolton is a writer and filmmaker based in the Mexican Caribbean. In a former life, she was a political columnist; Director of Communications, Outreach, and Oppositional Research for the North Carolina Democratic Party; and founder of a boutique strategic communications firm.

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