Decolonizing Cottagecore: Confronting the Dark Reality of the Dreamy Aesthetic

Photo by Annie Spratt

Cottagecore is a term used to describe an aesthetic or lifestyle. It’s full of flowers, homemade bread, gardening, and floral/hippie/vintage goodness. I have always been on the girlier end of the spectrum when it came to my gender presentation and after falling deep, deep into tiktok, I came across this “look” and I fell in love with it. It’s basically all I ever wanted but had no idea there was a community behind it.

A few months later and I am a fully fledged cottagecore lesbian who makes her own jam, bakes copious amounts of bread, has a growing crystal collection, and tends to her little herb garden. Cottagecore, from my understanding and experience, is a practice of returning to homey comfort, nature, and mindfulness. The aesthetic tends to be full of golden hues, florals, dresses, and fun earrings. Over the last few months it has grown from an aesthetic to a dreamy idea of a pastoral life where one can return to a simpler time without the dogma past decades held. It’s a beautiful dream.

However, that it’s that dream that glosses over the reality that we live in and face. While I understand that for many this is a way to escape daily life, I also know that many want to try and make it a reality for themselves, or simply wish to play into this aesthetic without knowing the problems it holds. It’s easy to sit back and romanticize this life when you take away issues of race, class, gender, appropriation, and of course, living on stolen land.

The idea of living off the land, remotely, and doing my own thing, sounds beautiful. Thus, I dove straight into thus subculture, gaining inspiration for my own outfits and hobbies. I started baking and knitting again. I started doing little picnics in the park, enjoying my time in pockets of nature I could find. And seeing as a lot of clothes no longer fit me, I bought floral dresses, bandanas, skirts, and shorts that seemed to fit with this new aesthetic. I loved all of it, so much so that I ignored all the dark corners this romantic aesthetic held. But, I think it’s time to confront all those hard to talk about things so that this subculture can truly thrive and offer a place for even more people.

We need to decolonize and center a narrative that’s not dependant on western ideals, but rather one that is seperate from it. We can only do this by tackling the issues that exist and changing the conversations around them. Things like race, class, gender, and ownership, are all important, especially within western ideals. By unlearning and opening up to new ways of thinking, we can decolonize cottagecore, and create a truly dreamy, safe subculture.

Let's Talk About Gender and Race

The fashion that dominates in this sphere tends to circle around this vintage/fantasy/pastoral fashion. While nowhere does this fashion say that masculinity or more androgynous looks can’t be a part of the aesthetic, the whole community seems to be saturated with white femininity. Wherever I looked, I could only find white women donning the style I wished to adopt.

Being a lesbian latina, I’m used to not being represented, but it doesn’t change the fact that this lack is a problem. Once again, white womanhood dominated a subculture that has the potential to create space for so many more people. By centering both femininity and whiteness, the aesthetic seems to erase the queer, trans, and non-binary, individuals that feel called to this community as well. It becomes yet another space that is not for us, another space that where we are excluded. By opening up the aesthetic and centering not femininity but softness or comfort or vintage vibes, it allows for more people to join and partake in this aesthetic.

Moreover, cottagecore, while seems to want to go back in time to past decades, there is a very progressive political agenda that is at the core of the aesthetic. It’s a rejection of capitalism and a call for justice, equality, and earth conservation. But, the sub-culture gets caught up in the the vintage white femininity that continues the work of patriarchal and heteronormative ideals, instead of undoing them.

Creating space for creators of color, queer cottagecore icons, and adding androgynous and masculine looks, is one way to start changing this. By changing the conversations around gender presentation, the aesthetic has the potential to destabilize gender norms and allow people to play with their own gender presentation. Offering style alternatives, or tagging other creators in videos/posts/ etc, or even just having the difficult conversations around gender and class, can be huge healing step for the community and for those who don’t feel welcome currently.

Let’s Talk About the Land and Class

I’ve been dreaming of running off to Virginia, or Oregon, or Washington, and owning a little cabin with enough space for a garden and some chickens. I’ve never been much of a city girl so the idea of living this quiet life somewhere I could be on my own, sounds absolutely perfect. However, I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about this cottagecore dream life where could be as witchy as I wanted, and they asked how I felt about living on stolen land.

The question was jarring but it was a wake up call. I had spent much of this year fantasizing about this cottage life near the woods somewhere, that I had forgotten to think about who’s land I would be living on. It’s easy to romanticize this, I think. Living in a “post racial world” where the government and media ignore the plights and suffering of the indigenous folk, it’s easy to forget where you are standing on. I know I have.

It’s so vital to acknowledge the bloody history of the land that you live on or will live on. Yet, simple acknowledgement is not enough. It’s important for you to know the history, as bloody and as terrifying as it is, of the land you live on or will live on. Familiarize with the indigenous groups and the suffering they’ve faced. Perhaps the most important thing, is to remember that just because you occupy that space, or in my case a cottage with a garden, it doesn’t mean that land is mine. I can my part to a good ally to the native groups across the states. I can give back what I can. But, most importantly, the land is not mine, I am simply taking care of it, for the moment. Living in that truth is something a lot of this aesthetic is missing.

There is a sense of entitlement that has to be undone. The community cannot just jump headfirst into buying land and romtazing a life without confronting the dark history of the land. The aesthetic and subculture shouldn’t erase the voices and histories of those whose land it belongs to. That’s a violence that needs to be undone and rejected. Decolonizing cottagecore stops this kind of violence and replaces it with knowledge and understanding. It’s a movement that cottagecore needs to adopt in order to be the inclusive space it claims to be.

Moreover, I also think it’s important to remember where economic and political privileges help some gain capital. To be able to have the security and ability to buy the land needed to grow food and be self sustaining is a huge investment. Not everyone can afford that. It’s important to remember where accessibility and class privilege come in. At the end of the day, most of the aesthetic and subculture is not accessible to most people.

Yes, I know that for most this might simply be an escapist fantasy, but it’s still an important part fact to consider. Creating subcultures that erase the realities that many people face, is a further violence. Instead let's talk about the privileges of owning land and perhaps how to make it possible for more people to make those dreams realities. But it all starts with talking and confronting the lack of accessibility and the privileges that allow people to dream of a life of picnics and vintage dresses.

What I love about Cottagecore

I love cottagecore. I really truly do. I hate that we don’t talk about the darker bits of the subculture. I hate that there is so much erasure and violence within the silence that, whether we want to or not, we are a part of. However, each of these things can be changed. There are steps we can take as individuals and as a community to make the subculture better and more inclusive.

As a femme lesbian who has struggled a lot with being femme, this has allowed me to explore my femininity. I wear dresses now. Before I was afraid of never looking gay enough, but there’s this new cottagecore lesbian space and I feel seen. It’s a really great feeling. While we can do more for exploring femininity/ masculinity on cis and non-cis bodies, I am so grateful to have found a space where I could explore being femme and queer.

Another thing I really love about this pocket of subculture is the centering of mindful behavior. This community encourages quiet time alone, moments away from electronics, and grounding oneself with acts of self care. There is something powerful in practicing these moments mindfulness. It’s something that has taken me a long time to be able to learn to do, but having a new community practicing that same slow, intentional living is a huge inspiration for me and for many people.

While cottagecore can do more and should be doing more, there is a core of radical beliefs I do admire. Despite the vintage vibes there are no vintage ideals to be found within this subculture. There is a movement towards anti-capitalism and a greater concern for the collective, not just the individual. There is a good part of the community that is queer and refuses to fall into heteronormativity. I love how queer the space is!

Cottagecore has the potential to do more. To offer a subculture that is aware of its ties to the reality we all live in, is something powerful. While it has made great strides and made many feel at ease, there is so much more this subculture can do to destabilize gender and class, to center the land and mindfulness, and to create a mindset surrounding healing.

I’m a Brown student pursing a BA in literary arts and on my way to an MFA in creative writing. I write and read about love, identity, and womanhood.

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