What If We... Left Society And Moved To A Cottage In The Woods?

By Janice Faith Heinrich
Art by Clarke Sanders and Britt Gaiser

For this piece, Janice Faith replaced her pen and paper with a laptop keyboard to muse about beauty, belonging and the desire for a simpler life. 

Stuck in my room, like everyone else in the last year, I started to occupy myself with everything that somehow offered a way of escape from my few overpaid square metres and the blanket of loneliness that had tucked itself around me tightly. I let myself be swept away by the currents of the Internet until my For You page was drowning in pastel, lace and crocheted mushrooms. 

Quite like Alice, I had fallen down the rabbit hole head over heels and came out a cottagecore queer. I was ready to leave the city with my love interest to spend our days reading Sappho and picking strawberries. 

Cottagecore is an aesthetic that is inspired by a romanticised version of Western agricultural life. It centres ideas of simple living, harmony with nature and includes activities such as weaving flower crowns, gardening, writing handwritten letters or making fruit preserves. If you looked it up on the Internet, you would find pictures of pretty, long-haired women in flowy dresses frolicking across meadows or baking bread in beautiful wooden kitchens with deer peacefully grazing in front of the window.  

I was immediately sold.  

And I mean that quite literally. Next thing I knew, I found myself in front of my laptop ordering a French vintage corset, a long white cotton skirt and a picnic basket – I was ready to stop walking and start strolling from now on. 

One thing was a little off about the whole thing, though, namely the fact that almost every person I saw embodying the Cottagecore aesthetic was as white as the dresses hugging their petite figures. I didn’t even notice it in the first place. Growing up as the only Black kid in my family, my school, and most other places I went to, I am used to being surrounded by white faces. When writing stories as a teenager, I pictured my characters as wavy-haired, freckled, and light- skinned. It didn’t even occur to me that they could look like I did. In my dreams I was a whitewashed version of myself. 

It took moving away from home, finding new friends and family, and countless “It’s a match!” notifications on my phone to gather enough validation to believe that there were people who considered me “beautiful”, whatever that means. With this newfound knowledge came new privileges, and new insecurities. Am I still desirable when my skin gets darker during the summer? Am I more attractive when I wear my hair in braids instead of in its natural curly state? Will anyone still love me when I am no longer young and beautiful? More and more, I feel the urge to pack my little embroidered satchel and run away from all the self-doubts, responsibilities and expectations that are circling above my head like vultures. 

I have always been an avid dreamer. During the day, I imagine myself away. I try to blur the sharp edges of reality even though simply taking off my glasses would’ve probably achieved the same effect. And during the night I have vivid dreams which I sleepily record on my phone in the morning for “inspiration”. Except I never listen to them again because I can’t stand the sound of my own voice.  

Now that I’m finally getting used to dreaming of myself in colour, I’m starting to see that there are quite a few BiPoCs who are living the Cottagecore fantasy online and offline. Take for example the Seven Chinese Girlfriends' who made the headlines this summer by buying their dream house for them to retire and die in together. What started out as a joke in their friend group has now become a beautiful home set in the hills, surrounded by forests and away from the city. It’s a literal dream come true and the many positive responses to this story show that it’s a dream shared by many. 

The seven girlfriends are also setting a beautiful example of communal living. In their viral video, one of them said: “We joke that each of us should practise one skill so that we won’t be lonely and fight with each other ten years later...Some can cook beautiful food, some know traditional Chinese medicine, some play instruments and some grow vegetables.” Learning together, sharing skills and celebrating each other’s achievements...for me, happiness lies in community. 

One of these communities is Cottagecore Black Folks. It was founded by digital creator and “Original Cottagecore New Yorker'' Noemie Sérieux and has gained an avid following on Instagram where it collects and connects Black creatives. The first thing you see on their website is a quote by Maya Angelou that says: “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” That, to me, is the core of it all. This dream of belonging; of belonging somewhere, to someone, to something.

 

 

Because there aren’t many places out there that are actually safe for Black, queer femmes, it is vital to have communities like this one. Too much of social media is flooded by depictions of Black death and pain. Sharing images of Black joy and celebrating each other's beauty is a way for us to start healing. Looking at the pictures on the Cottagecore Black Folks feed I am asking myself how I was ever made to believe that Black women aren’t beautiful, that I am not beautiful. 

There is, for instance, the stunning Paula Sutton or “Auntie Paula”. She is a digital creator, stylist and blogger who owns an estate in the English countryside. Sutton chronicles her rural life through charming photographs that are brimming with detail and joy. In the summer of 2020 she went viral because pictures of her enjoying a picnic in her garden made some people unreasonably upset. Well beloved inside and outside the Cottagecore community she found a lot of support during the racist online attacks, especially by Black Twitter. 

In a 2020 interview with the New York Times, Sutton said: “I also believe that people should live their dreams and be unafraid of what other people think.” She knows that this isn’t as easy as it sounds, but growing up with the support of her Grenadian parents, Sutton has managed to create the life of her dreams. It’s a life that wouldn't be the same without the trials and challenges she has faced throughout it. Having someone like her to look up to allows me to dream big. Thanks to my choice of an English major I will most likely never make enough money to afford an estate in the countryside but seeing another Black woman thriving and being unapologetically herself is enough for me right now. 

One year later, I’m not confined to my room anymore. I still feel lonely sometimes but I know that I’m not alone. I’m blessed with amazing friends that indulge my Cottagecore fantasies as we have pretty picnics, go foraging for mushrooms, wear flower crowns or whisper to cows. They even make me want to stay in the city – for now.

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