I Don’t Want To Be A “Trad Wife” — So Why Am I Obsessed With Nara Smith?

Photo: Gonzalo Marroquin/Getty Images/REVOLVE.
I have never baked bread from scratch before. I have never, ever wanted to. I long accepted that there are people who bake and people, like me, who warm shop-bought cookies in the microwave and call it dessert. And yet, when I added three stainless steel loaf pans to a recent Amazon order — giddy on an unexpected desire for perfectly risen sourdough bread —  I questioned whether maybe, just maybe, I had been influenced by my recent TikTok feed.
Social media trends have a clever way of burrowing into your consciousness and currently, my TikTok algorithm is an onslaught of aesthetic homemaking content with chic “stay-at-home girlfriends” (#SAHG), young “trad wives” in vintage tea dresses waxing lyrical about embracing traditional gender roles — where the man is the head of the household and they are happily submissive — and homemade sourdough bread. These performed acts of perfect domesticity are also giving rise to dangerous anti-feminist rhetoric that goes against everything I believe as a proud Black feminist woman. So why can’t I look away? 
I know exactly how I got here. It started with a fixation with South African and German model Nara Smith. Based in Los Angeles, Smith is a 22-year-old mum of three under three, a content creator, model and housewife who has become known for her elaborate and dreamy recipe videos. Soft piano scores play as the model, dressed in chic outfits, says in an airy hushed voice that she’s going to make a grilled cheese sandwich or cereal for her toddlers and model husband, Lucky Blue Smith. She then proceeds to make it entirely from scratch (as in, she makes the cheese from literal curds and whey — who has the time?!). Nara Smith's social media presence is a masterclass in aesthetic allure and paints a picture of a life that is both serene and purposeful — that prioritises slow homemaking over the capitalist grind (though she’s surely making an income from social media). She’s a beautiful, young, mixed-raced Black woman loving and being loved. Smith’s 6.9 million TikTok followers are captivated by it and so am I. I wondered if the Black women around me felt the same way.
“If I’m being honest, Nara Smith gives me the motivation to do more and try new things,” says Sandy Pierre, R29 Unbothered’s branded execution manager. “Not for a man but for my own personal skills,” she clarifies. “You can’t help but be amazed by the time and effort she puts into each meal. Do your thing sis!” Jessika Hardy, Unbothered’s social video producer says, “I love Nara Smith, honestly. I’m not too caught up in the ‘her life is fake’ mentality. I think she’s been pretty open on social media where her life doesn’t feel ‘perfect’. Nonetheless, I find her content to be soothing and full of fun recipes. Love how down-bad her man is [for her] too!”

There are videos from creators claiming “modern-day feminism is a scam”, and that young women shouldn’t aspire to go to college and extoll the virtues of the perfect heteronormative utopia. It’s also very white.

Not everyone is convinced, though. “Nara Smith’s content isn’t my ministry — I’m the girl who burns toast, spends most days working from bed in my bonnet, and understands that the only thing Beyoncé and I have in common is the fact we can’t cook. Nara’s specific brand of stay-at-home-mom who makes bread (and the basket to serve it in) from scratch is not for me, but I understand why it’s so popular,” Kathleen Newman-Bremang, Unbothered’s deputy director, global, weighs in. “She’s stunningly beautiful (I’m sure some of her popularity is also due, in part, to light-skinned privilege), she’s got a soothing voice, and she’s tapping into a brand of trad wife content that seems to be on the rise. It’s the latter that has incited backlash against the model and I get it,” she adds. 
As a young mother and housewife, Nara Smith’s content falls (somewhat clumsily) within the ever-growing and controversial “trad wife” movement seen across social media — even though she’s never explicitly claimed to be one. “I’ve always wanted to be a young mom because growing up, my dad would always tell us that he regrets having kids later in life,” she said in a clarification video on TikTok. “So I took that advice and it’s one of the best decisions I could have made, and I know it’s not for everyone.”
I have nothing against Smith or her content. Though I’d be naive to believe the life she represents is attainable or wouldn’t come with its setbacks. Being a “trad wife” content creator, with millions of followers, and access to an income outside of your partner, is not the same as being a traditional wife at home with no income, or financial protection outside of a husband. Staying home to work and clean and raise children is labour. We do housewives a disservice when we position their contributions to their households as anything but. And the biggest myth of all is that it can’t be hard.
From Smith’s content, it’s easy to fall down a black hole of anti-feminist rhetoric and fundamentalist Christian values (Smith has been accused of subtly promoting the controversial Mormon church. “I am still deciding what my faith is,” she says on TikTok) that may not have anything to do with her, but once you start down the hole, it’s hard to get out of. There are videos from creators claiming “modern-day feminism is a scam”, and that young women shouldn’t aspire to go to college and extoll the virtues of the perfect heteronormative utopia. It’s also very white. But this is changing and there are a significant number of Black women claiming to be trad wives.
As Nylah Burton wrote for Unbothered last year, “Black “trad wives” aim to offer an escape from burnout through marriage and a growing number of Black women are seeking traditional relationships as they feel it is “the key to Black women’s liberation from being overworked, economic insecurity, and the stress of trying to survive in a world hostile to our survival and existence”. More so, as Bridget Todd, co-host of “There Are No Girls On The Internet”  told Burton, “White feminism has not always meaningfully addressed, centred, or valued Black women. So there’s this idea that white feminists all lied to Black women when they said the key to liberation was getting a job and working outside of the home.” 

It should go without saying that a traditional relationship with a man doesn’t guarantee safety or “softness”.

White trad wives on social media tend to glorify returning to a simpler time to escape the pressures of capitalistic pursuits — meaning they defer to their husbands as the sole providers and take on the household chores and childrearing alone. However, the notion of returning to a "simpler time" ignores the racial dynamics that made such simplicity inaccessible to many Black women in the past — in short, due to Jim Crow laws, African-American women weren’t allowed to be homemakers unless they were catering to white families. The legacy of this can’t be understated. According to American data from the Pew Research Centre collected in 2014 and 2016, traditional married stay-at-home mothers, (with a working husband) are the most common type among Asians, whites and Hispanics. The report stated only 7 percent of stay-at-home mothers were Black women, as opposed to the 49 percent who were white. 
The rise in modern-day Black trad wives (see also: #hardwigsoftlife and the #blackwifeeffect) feels somewhat understandable; it’s the desire to be protected from a system that doesn’t always protect us, especially when it comes to motherhood. Black motherhood is often depicted as hard and lonely — we know this isn’t the reality for all Black mothers but the stigma is entrenched in pop culture and a lived experience for many. When I wrote about being scared of pregnancy two years ago, I solely blamed the horrific birth outcomes for Black women in the UK and US. Over time, I realised that there was more to my reluctance to become a mother. I question what my life will be like after the baby comes. How hard will the hardships be? Will I be left holding the baby with no one to hold me? It should go without saying that a traditional relationship with a man doesn’t guarantee safety or “softness”. As more young women contemplate a traditional relationship dynamic, former traditional wives are asking women to be careful after experiencing financial abuse, neglect and abandonment when their relationships broke down. 
What does this all mean to Black career women who don’t want to be traditional wives? “I prefer to be out on the field and leave it up to me, my kids will be in the kitchen at a young age learning how to make these meals with me. But I also don’t judge those who choose to walk that path. Do whatever works for your home. I think if fewer people looked at social media as a map to their lives, a lot more people would be better off,” says Pierre. Fair. It’s also true that many people may be projecting their insecurities on Nara Smith. Even though she’s become the poster mum for it, she doesn’t claim the “trad wife” life. Is it unfair that she gets so much criticism for her content? 
Still, the glamorisation of traditional roles on social media can feel like an erasure of the struggles and strides made by Black women, especially Black feminists, to carve out spaces for our autonomy and self-determination. “I do think young women yearning for the 1950s housewife aesthetic and glorifying the pre-feminist movement years is hella problematic,” says Newman-Bremang. “I, for one, don’t want to go back to the time when women were forced to be caregivers, housekeepers, and personal chefs all while their men kicked their feet up and watched TV after a ‘hard day’s work.’ It’s all about choice but I don’t want us to regress to a time when women were expected to be in the kitchen, all while looking glamorous and beautiful.”
Agreed. I am not a wife nor a mother. I don’t know whether I’ll ever experience these so-called traditional markers of womanhood. I hope I do. But they are not all that I could be. It’s because of intersectional feminism that has allowed the full expression of my identity as a Black woman, as L’Oréal Blackett. We have choice. But some voices in the trad movement suggest that my life will be unfulfilled if I don’t pursue their particular path. They say women like me, and many of you reading, have been duped into being trapped in the corporate machine! But I’m reminded that I don’t regret leaving relationships that didn’t work before they ruined me. I don’t regret not having a child I wasn’t yet ready for. I don’t regret rushing to tick a box because it’s what you’re supposed to do at my age. I don’t regret pursuing the life and career that feels right for me, and no one else should either. And, it’s OK that I may never bake that bread. 
Want more? Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here!

More from Living