Magnificence Manufacturers Tread Evenly With ‘Tradwives’

Beauty’s latest crop of influencers are just likely to be adept with a pestle and mortar as they are with liquid eyeliner.

The likes of Nara Smith and Hannah Neeleman, known as Ballerina Farm, have soared to the height of TikTok fame, partly for their model-esque good looks, but also for their domestic prowess. Neeleman starts many of her videos in front of her stove with one of her eight children wandering around; Smith has been known to make cereal and Oreo cookies from scratch.

While these creators are unlikely to use the term themselves, they’ve both been labelled as “tradwives” online. A portmanteau of “traditional” and “wife,” the term refers to women who undertake traditionally gendered roles, such as cooking, cleaning and child-rearing, as their primary duties. Online, their lives have a lofty, idyllic veneer, as they often sport full makeup, coiffed hair and glamorous outfits for their daily grind.

Some beauty and lifestyle brands have been quick to move in. Smith has promoted the K-Beauty brand Laneige and filmed a beauty tutorial for Vogue. Neeleman, meanwhile, is a literal beauty queen – she was crowned 2023′s “Miss American”.

For many viewers, their bucolic content provides a welcome sense of escapism, said Rachel Lee, global insights strategist at trends agency The Digital Fairy.

“There’s this desire for simplicity that kind of makes the tradwife aesthetic and narrative seem quite attractive to people who feel really overwhelmed with the algorithm, the trend cycle or just the state of the world,” she said.

However, the tradwife trend has a dark underbelly. Creators such as Gwen The Milkmaid mix extreme right-wing views and conspiracy theories alongside otherwise innocuous videos of pasta making or tending to their gardens. “Vaccines are a scam” and “Modern feminism leads to misery” are stamped over one of Gwen’s videos.

Brands are still trying to figure out how to navigate these tricky waters. Though Gwen the Milkmaid’s roughly 65,000 TikTok following is dwarfed by Smith’s 7.6 million, in some viewers’ eyes, they’re all part of the same content stream, or they’re at least on a slippery slope to becoming more radicalised.

Many tradwife creators focus on homesteading, cooking or beauty content without any explicit mentions of politics, and rack up millions of views in the process. In some ways, they’re also a safer pair of hands than it-girl style influencers, said Casey Lewis, who writes the youth culture Substack newsletter After School.

“They’re not going to be going out and getting wasted…they’re very uncontroversial in terms of their content,” she said.

If brands want to tap into the movement, they need to carefully weigh up the sociopolitical risks against the potential to reach new audiences, and discern who’s simply a homemaker, and who’s an agitator.

The Tradwife Roots

For many, the popularity of tradwives is less about politics, and more about polish. Milkmaid-style dresses, light makeup, heatless curls and skincare routines that feature natural ingredients are popular.

“It’s just very editorialised and fashionable … there’s no flyaways on their hair, no ribbons out of place,” said Lee.

That’s especially true for Smith. In one recent clip, she makes condiments from scratch while wearing a strapless polka dot sundress, long polished nails, dangling earrings and a full face of makeup. Through her representatives, Smith declined to comment for this article.

Despite its projections of perfection, some viewers find this content comforting in a sea of “cool girl” influencers who cycle between buzzy nightclubs and exclusive parties.

“I feel like I’m escaping when I watch her content,” said Sophia Aziza, a 28-year old brow technician from London, saying that Smith’s videos have made her want to try her hand at baking and even DIY beauty products.

To that end, some creators are likely just playing dress-up – they’re enhancing and editorialising their everyday lives for their content. A spotless kitchen, and two hours spare to make a home-cooked meal and pristine bathroom filled with premium skincare products is just as much a fantasy to some as a fast-paced, cosmopolitan city life is to others.

Brands should be careful to parse trending content carefully, and examine the truly resonant parts of the creator’s output.

“On a macro level, why are these things appealing? What are the larger trends here?” said Lewis, adding that brands should consider how tradwife content is enmeshed or overlapping with other trends like cottagecore or clean girl, as it might simply be those aesthetic elements rather than the entire lifestyle that’s appealing to viewers.

The Personal is Political

That hasn’t stopped even the most apolitical tradwives from getting swept up in the discourse around the trend.

On dedicated Reddit forums, in articles in The New York Times and Rolling Stone, and in their own comment sections, viewers try to surmise creators’ political leanings, their message to the world, and even the authenticity of their content.

“If they were more transparent about the privilege behind the lifestyle, I’d say cool, live your life,” one Reddit commentator wrote of Neeleman, who is married to JetBlue scion Daniel Neeleman. “She’s not a homestead wife … they have nannies and tutors.”

Judah Abraham, whose firm Slate Brands regularly partners with influencers to co-create brands, the line in the sand comes down to the creators’ own output. As long as they aren’t harming others or doing something the firm determines to be inappropriate, they are safe for brands to partner with, he said.

“While people disagree on a lot of issues, at its core, [most people] are not that far apart…[the US] as a country stands behind different opinions,” he said, adding that most issues are not as much of a “blowout” as they feel online.

Cooking Up a Partnership

By Lewis’ estimations, the trend is nowhere near at its peak, and is still gaining steam – she points out that as the US moves closer to another hotly contested election, how some of these creators choose to respond to the political agenda will be indicative of their own beliefs.

Social media algorithms are powered by engagement, good or bad, said Lee. Creators who post homemaking content aren’t inherently risky – some would argue Smith’s content is far more luxury than domestic, given her unboxing videos of designer purses and large, spotless home – but finding the right match is key.

“It’s easy for brands to get swept up in that momentum, but keep your brand’s values [in mind],” she said.

What’s more, the work of great marketing is often closing the gap between what consumers find aspirational and the way they really live their lives.

“Yeti are selling the outdoor lifestyle with those big coolers, right?” said Abraham. “But they’re selling it to finance guys …they’re selling that lifestyle.”

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