The ‘Soft Girl’ Is the Opposite of the ‘Girl Boss’—But Is It Really Aspirational?

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The idea of burnout is nothing new. When COVID-19 struck, women, particularly moms, were left to navigate the “triple burden” of paid labor at work, unpaid labor at home and the emotional labor of navigating all of that plus what was going on in the world at large. Good times.

But, in truth, this “doing it all” mentality had been brewing for some time, thanks to the rise and fall of the #girlboss, the Sheryl Sandberg ethos of leaning in and the overall culture of non-stop productivity and achievement. Heck, the former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously worked from her hospital bed the same day she gave birth to twins.

The message: As women, our ambition has no limits. You say jump, we say how high!

Enter the Soft Girl. This TikTok-born trend is a deep-rooted rejection of the desire and determination to achieve. Burning the candle at both ends—sacrificing ourselves and our personal aspirations—just to snag the corner office, which ultimately leads to even more burnout and perhaps even a fall from grace at the height of success, as experienced by so many female leaders in the 2010s? No thanks.

The Soft Girl—who is largely Gen Z—wants nothing of the sort.

Take this TikTok definition of the soft girl lifestyle: “I don’t want to be a girl boss. I don’t want to hustle. I simply want to live my life slowly.” Another TikTok’er explains that the “soft life is having time, space and protection to heal the feminine. Soft life is romanticizing every moment of your day. Soft life is releasing the compulsion to produce and accomplish.”

Countless videos illustrate what the soft girl lifestyle looks like: Long walks, cups of savored coffee, lengthy skincare routines, leisurely read books. Basically, it’s a lifestyle that prioritizes well-being over the hard, corporate ladder.

It’s not that we don’t applaud those efforts, but we also have to wonder who is funding the Soft Girl? Is it a man (hello, #tradwife)? Is it generational wealth? Is it all the savings she accrued from her previous high-paying high-stress career? The reality is that most women can’t afford to not work. Simultaneously, all those efforts to grind grind grind aren’t exactly leading to a financial windfall or a reprieve at the end of the tunnel. Something’s gotta give.

Still, the soft girl life hints at something we all want: better balance. “The instinct to slow down and re-examine our relationship to work is a good one,” says Ximena Vengoechea, author of Rest Easy: Discover Calm and Abundance Through the Radical Power of Rest. “But it requires deeper reflection than merely swinging the pendulum to the other extreme, as the Soft Girl aesthetic does.”

Instead, the Soft Girl movement should help us raise important questions about our values—in particular, how we can build healthy relationships with work, productivity, family and pleasure, Vengoechea says. “There’s a benefit to pausing to examine why we feel the way we do about work, ambition and rest. Where do these feelings stem from? What can we do about them, outside of opting out completely?” The answer for each of us will vary.

Bottom line: Soft Girl extremism isn’t the answer to the woes of the #GirlBoss. We can rest and still be ambitious, says Vengoechea. “The Soft Girl life suggests that embracing traditional gender roles, having kids and going back to a strictly domestic sphere is the solution, but life is a lot messier than that. Raising children is work. Maintaining a marriage is work. Managing a household is work. To romanticize those things as ‘not work’ and suggest that they are ‘feminine’ is to play into old cultural narratives about a woman’s place in the world.”

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Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...