June 13, 2024

In the era of the girlboss — where we were sold that false notion that we could “hustle” and “grind” our way into finding a purpose in life — living a fast life became the ultimate flex. Friends would try to one-up each other on how busy they were and day-to-night office outfits captured the “dream” schedule (where you don’t even have a moment in your day to go home and change). Then Gen Z stormed onto the scene and declared all those girlboss antics millennial behavior. With the girlboss declared dead, despite most people still being overworked, the internet trend pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. Living fast is out and “slow living” is in. But has it become just another unachievable standard for us to aspire towards?
The slow-living lifestyle has roots in anti-capitalist and sustainable movements. It’s also tied to the Slow Food movement, started by Carlo Petrini in the 80s in Italy. The idea is simple: everything a girlboss would do, you do the opposite. To live slowly means not packing out your calendar with work and social functions and instead ensuring you have time for leisure. In one viral “how to practice slow living” video on TikTok, one creator told those interested in the movement to “spend more time in nature,” “unplug” and “read more books.” 
Many elements of what people consider to be “living slowly” are connected back to pre-technology life, reflecting a collective yearning for offline simplicity. However — like other escapist trends (like cottagecore and coastal grandmother-core) that it has risen in conjunction with — it’s gone from being a helpful lifestyle change to an extremely online aesthetic. Slow-living homes that prioritize “flexibility and wellbeing” are trending in the interior space and video compilations of aspirational slow lifestyles look like scenes from Little House on the Prairie.
Similarly, the slow-living aesthetic online presents a life very few people have access to; it’s one where rich white people can rebrand the privilege of working less into something that’s somehow morally superior (similar to the elitism associated with the minimalist movement). Leah Thomas, the founder of Intersectional Environmentalist collective, says this is just a part of a long line of movements rooted in cultural appropriation. “A lot of concepts from minimalism were just appropriated from Japanese culture and other cultures and repackaged,” she says. “I feel like we keep getting new words for the same iteration of a pricey and inaccessible way to live more simply.”
Leah says she does know of many people who practice slow living, but they’re not part of curated slow living TikTok moodboards. “So many BIPOC folks are living slowly either out of necessity or just as a part of their culture and they’re not really purchasing a lot,” she says. “My grandma will sit on her porch for hours at a time.” 
Additionally, one aesthetic can’t really capture what slow living looks like, with Indigenous cultures across the world living “slowly” or in harmony with the land. Instead of focusing on curating a slow aesthetic, Leah says that we should look to initiatives like Tricia Hersey’s Nap Ministries, an organization that examines the liberating power of naps, for meaningful discussions around rest as resistance. These conversations are often watered down and white-washed, with the self-care movement itself being co-opted from Black women as a way for white people to justify individualistic indulgences. 
“The Black Panthers back in the day had some really radical frameworks around self-care and how to refuel ourselves, so we can dismantle systems that are oppressing us,” she says. “I think it would be really cool if there were more takes on slow living online that leaned into that and reframed it as active resistance because our current systems are not set up for people to rest and take time for themselves.” 
With Gen Z steadily becoming known as the generation that “does not dream of labor,” it makes sense that alternative lifestyles are trending. Unfortunately, however, the current mainstream messaging around slow living is still caught in an individualistic mindset. Many of us can relate to wanting to run away from modern life and live in a small cottage, but that option is currently only accessible for people at a certain level of wealth (until capitalistic systems are dismantled). We saw the unfortunate side effects of this way of thinking during the pandemic, when remote US workers fled to Mexico for a “better quality of life,” driving up housing costs for locals. 
Jazmine Rogers, the founder of the platform Sustainable Baddie, says that the rising interest in slow living is a direct result of people being tired within our current workforce. “We cannot keep this pace going because we were never meant to go at the pace we’re going,” she says. “I think so much of the reason unsustainable systems are justified is that we’re trying to keep up with an unnatural place of constant growth under capitalism. I believe intention helps battle against this by forcing us to slow down, take account of the present setting that we’re in, and create space for more sustaining activities.” This, of course, includes investing more in our relationships, with hyper-individualism making our social circles are smaller than ever.
Jazmine’s own relationship with living slowly has been a “journey.” “I do my best under the structure we live in, but I also have the privilege to go to the farmers market and get local food and drop off compost,” she says. “I believe that we can all slow down in some shape or form, but when it comes to ‘slow living’ consumption or working less, it’s only afforded to those who are in a place to pay for it.” This includes not only monetary currency, but time and able-bodied currency, she says.
The reality is that most of us could all benefit from living a slower life, but in our aesthetically-driven world, this manifests as “paying attention” to the taste of your coffee in an expensive, minimalist-designed living room or curated home crafts videos by “slow living entrepreneurs” who’ve abandoned corporate life and “hustle mentality” to make body balms. For the majority of people, “slow living” and other mindfulness trends become a dystopian 30-second mantra break in the Amazon warehouse. With this in mind, the aesthetic is about as helpful for dismantling capitalistic systems as the girlboss aesthetic was for addressing actual systemic issues against women. After all, we haven’t achieved a slower pace of life until everyone has access to it. 
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