Do you often feel as though you’re drowning in stress? Work requires all of your mental energy? Can’t find the time for hobbies that bring you joy? Everyone in your life depends on you for their own happiness? Maybe you should start living a soft life.
The idea of living a soft life, a life that liberates women from the stresses of hustle culture, has taken social media by storm. The hashtag #softlife has 726.3 million views on TikTok, and most videos under the tag feature women offering advice on how to achieve a life with healthier boundaries.
Cultivating mental health has been such an important topic over the past few years, as people have lived and navigated through a global pandemic, divisive legislature changes, an uncertain economic environment, and more. So, it comes as no surprise that many women want to prioritize a life of rest over toxic productivity.
A soft life doesn’t mean the same thing to every woman. For some, a soft life means aspiring to live in luxury, experiencing things like fine dining and frequent vacations. For others, it simply means focusing on self-care—setting more boundaries, allowing time for rest in your day, and prioritizing activities that bring you joy.
“To me, living a soft life means giving yourself permission to approach life and work with ease, and not allowing the glorification of hustle culture to rob you of your physical and mental health. It’s about releasing yourself from the toxic narrative that in order to attain financial and career success, you have to sacrifice your physical and mental wellbeing,” says career strategist Brianne Latthitham. “Soft life is about making a conscious effort to tend to your own needs and what brings you moments of rest and pleasure.”
Read more: 20 Restorative Ways to Spend a Mental Health Day, According to Experts
The history of soft life and its evolution
The term ‘soft life’ emerged within the Nigerian influencer community as a way for Black women to reject the ideals that society projects onto them—Black women are often held to a different standard than other demographics—and reclaim autonomy over how they live their lives.
“Originally, soft life was a rejection of the glorified ‘strong Black woman’ trope, which stems back to slavery, and says that Black women must always be strong, self-sacrificing, and hardworking,” says Latthitham.
“This narrative is deeply harmful to Black women—particularly those who have experienced trauma—because it teaches them that it isn’t safe to prioritize their own emotional wellbeing, and that the only choice is to suck it up when they are faced with racial and gendered discrimination or trauma.”
A 2011 National Library of Medicine study examined the “Superwoman Schema,” a stereotype that many Black women feel pigeonholed into. The study found many Black women feel pressure to “do it all”—embody strength, take care of their community, reject vulnerability, resist dependency, and project unwavering determination—abandoning their own emotional needs in the process. Women reported that playing this superwoman role resulted in strained interpersonal relationships and more stress-related health issues, like migraines, poor eating habits, and inconsistent sleep schedules.
Despite being a decade old, the research still rings true today.
“The intense societal pressure Black women face to present an image of strength and suppress their emotions is proven to be detrimental to health and is directly linked to higher levels of chronic stress and chronic illness,” says Latthitham. “When Black women go out into the world, they have to do so wearing armor. While also protective, wearing armor every day is exhausting. We need to normalize Black women having spaces—and creating spaces of their own—where they feel safe to allow pleasure, ease, and rest into their lives.”
The idea of creating a soft life has existed in the Black community for years, but now, predominantly white creators and influencers on social media are turning it into an aesthetic tied to materialism.
“Social media now largely portrays soft life as a particular aesthetic driven largely by white, heterosexual, privileged women who are able to live a worry-free life filled with luxury items and experiences—often made possible by a male partner,” says Latthitham. “At its most extreme, a social media soft life means only doing the things you want to do and being completely free of responsibility, which is not realistic for most people.”
At its core, living a soft life is about being more self-aware and intentional with your time and energy, focusing more on joy and less on conforming to societal and cultural expectations. While a soft life should be accessible for all women who want it, it’s important to understand why the term came about and its roots in the Black community.
How to achieve a soft life while still working
Achieving a soft life requires creating boundaries, and it’s possible to live a soft life without quitting your job. Latthitham says women can begin a soft life by cultivating and creating space for soft moments and soft periods that are sustainable.
“As working women, especially those that are career-driven, it’s easy—and often encouraged—to sacrifice our physical and mental health in the name of achievement,” she says. “We are taught to believe that our performance and compensation determine our worth, and that we aren’t inherently deserving of rest and ease.”
If you’re feeling burnt out by your workload, it’s important to be reflective and ask yourself, “If I’m saying ‘yes’ to taking on this project, meeting this deadline, working longer hours, or accepting this position or promotion, then what am I saying ‘no’ to in terms of my wellbeing? If I say yes, is it going to be worth it?”
“We have to learn to be our best advocates, not just to our employers, but to our own selves,” says Latthitham. “We have to stop normalizing chronic stress and instead create meaningful rituals and routines that allow us to nurture, nourish, and care for ourselves. It’s a win-win for employers in that when we feel rested and healthy, that’s when we’re able to do our best work.”
Self-care is a big part of living a soft life, and there are small but meaningful ways to build soft moments into your day before, during, and after work. Latthitham says to take a bath, put on your favorite essential oil, block off time on your calendar for exercise, meditation, a massage, or whatever else makes you feel good. Create, communicate, and enforce strong work-life boundaries, like setting a time to stop checking emails after the work day is over.
“I live and die by my calendar, and I also live with chronic illness, so for me, it means putting daily blocks on my calendar for exercise and meditation, and guarding it against unnecessary, redundant invitations,” says Latthitham. “If I have a day that I know is going to be particularly demanding, I make sure to build in times to rest and recover the following day.”
Read more: Is Your Work Mentally Draining? Learn How to Protect Your Inner Peace
Combating negative stereotypes when living a soft life
Some women who choose to live a soft life have also joined the “quiet quitting” movement—a trend that came about for workers whose demands at work started to take over their entire lives.
Quiet quitters are choosing to reclaim work-life balance in the truest sense of the word. They might clock in at 9 a.m. and log off at 5 p.m., for example. They fulfill their responsibilities at work but don’t put in more hours than what’s necessary. Above all, they reject perfectionism, don’t feel guilty for taking time off, and emphasize healthy balance in their lives.
Both soft life and quiet quitting movements seek to maximize peace and wellbeing, but both attract similar criticism: laziness. Women who try to live a softer life often field accusations of wanting to take the easy way out of life or expecting to be paid for not working hard.
This criticism is to be expected in a work culture that places work above all else. But mental health is vital for physical health and productivity, and redefining what work means can help women live more fulfilling lives. As a society, we should value health over productivity.
“Ultimately, there is no right way to live a soft life other than to be tuned in to the things that bring us ease and pleasure, and then be intentional about choosing them,” says Latthitham.
Read more: Want to Feel Rejuvenated? Take Time Off Work