We’ve all seen the #SoftLife videos doing the rounds on social media: people stirring collagen creamer into their morning coffee in a considered clockwise motion; slathering on face masks with a tiny brush before turning to their journal to set their intentions for the day; heading out on a luxury shopping trip to buy a whole new outfit, just because.
A quick glance would have you believe this is just another TikTok trend. In reality, it’s so much more. To embrace the ‘soft life’, a term that originated in Nigeria, is to remove stress and negativity from your existence while embracing things that bring joy. It goes beyond tangible luxuries and excess, those are just examples of how some choose to embrace soft living. And for Black women in particular, the concept has kick-started a quiet revolution, helping to dismantle stereotypical perceptions of what, and who, we can be.
Think about it: how many times have you heard the phrase ‘strong, independent Black woman’ thrown around? How many times have you heard a Black woman be described as ‘loud’, ‘confident’, ‘aggressive’, even? Those preconceived notions are often inaccurate presumptions rooted in prejudice, which don’t allow room for us to be the one thing all human beings innately are: individuals. Black women are rarely given the privilege of showcasing a unique, nuanced identity because society has already made its mind up about who they are. Which is why many are leaning into being ‘soft’.
‘I feel as though the Black community, as well as general society, doesn’t allow Black women to be soft, and we aren’t awarded the same allowances as our white counterparts,’ says Magda, 36, a senior partnerships manager who is embracing the movement. ‘We’re often perceived as “strong”, and while strength can be a positive attribute to have, it doesn’t always allow for vulnerability. It means we’re often misunderstood and not allowed to let our guard down.’
The #SoftEra couldn’t have come at a better time. The pandemic changed society in ways we never could have expected. So many of us have felt isolated, experienced trauma, and even lost loved ones. For women, there’s also been evolving conversations about consent and control over our reproductive rights. And for Black communities, an increased awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement has brought pervading issues of racism, inequality and police brutality to the centre of the debate. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The news cycle is incessant, and it’s a lot to handle.
We’re a society that’s reaching breaking point: ‘burnout’ has become a common condition, so it’s easy to see how the seemingly simple act of taking a slower, gentler approach to life has become a phenomenon: there are more than 240 million views under #SoftLife and #SoftEra on TikTok alone. ‘We’re living in a really difficult time right now,’ says Jess, 27, a marketing manager. ‘The news is depressing and the UK’s cost of living crisis is bringing more stress. So, for me, living a #SoftLife is allowing myself to do things to distract me every once in a while. I’ve turned my home into my sanctuary – a place where I can escape from these issues. And sometimes, yes, it’s dressing up and embracing the physical #SoftBlackGirl aesthetic for a change, because that makes me feel good. A soft life is whatever works for you.’
These hashtags have created enough space to not only allow, but also encourage Black women to be soft, vulnerable and real. And when your whole identity is centred around a perception that you are a pillar of unbending strength, small acts such as carving out half an hour for a little pampering can feel like the most radical act of self-love.
‘For me, the soft life is about learning to tap into my divine feminine and not subscribing to the notion that I’m always “strong”,’ adds Magda. ‘It’s also asking for help when I need it (which isn’t something I do often) and allowing myself to be free to enjoy things that make me feel good. Most importantly, it’s all about being kinder to myself, showing myself grace and more love.’
Sometimes, like the viral videos we see online, soft life is a choice. And sometimes, the soft life finds you. For me, it came about as a subconscious reaction to an incredibly difficult time. Last year, deep in grief after my mum died, I tried to keep up my role as the ‘strong’ one, the problem-solver; wading my way through the thick fog of loss while also dealing with the pressures of work, friendships and a pandemic. Eventually, I realised that something had to give. I quit a job I loved, reduced my working hours, kept my inner circle small, and finally gave myself the time and space I needed to begin healing.
These weren’t considered decisions. I don’t even think #SoftLife was a thing at that point. But making my life, and myself, ‘softer’ – admitting that I wasn’t a superhuman and asking for help – was the natural path I had to take to get myself through. And then when I eventually found a community of others doing the same online, through whatever routines and behaviours they might be, I realised just how powerful, and how freeing, the soft life is.
It’s now become a conscious practice. I have joined the hordes of people who take time out in the morning to make a carefully considered cup of coffee. I block out evenings in my calendar for me-time. I try to stretch every night before bed. I’m not saying I no longer experience stress, or sadness, or difficulty – I do, of course. But those soft moments are there to provide relief.
That’s what I love about soft living: it’s the antidote to the stresses of modern life. So, surely, it has to be more than just a fleeting online sensation. What started as a hashtag now carries deep emotional weight, with the potential to encourage everything from a better wake-up routine to a new outlook on life. It has transformed into a genuine way of living, one that continues to evolve and grow, and help others in the process. And it’s genuinely changed my life. All hail the #SoftEra. Let’s hope it’s here to stay.