Women, Money and The Soft Life

In the age of TikTok, especially after the Great Pandemic Lockdown, buzzwords and catch phrases are a-plenty. One such catch phrase making the rounds is "the soft life".

Living a soft life.

Increasingly, YouTubers and TikTokers are encouraging their followers to get on the soft life train. The soft life is now a #lifegoal. Meaning, really, living a life of comfort and very low stress. Which implies, to many people, having all the money you need to live the life you want. Of course, this is appealing. Who wouldn't to swap out pressure and stress for a life that promotes contentment and well-being? But is this even attainable? And, more importantly, is it all it's cracked up to be?

The origin story

As far as I can tell, the term soft life originated within the Nigerian influencer community and was a way to promote soft content for black women in order for them to visualise their lives in a way that was different from their economic and social realities. It is in essence, a rejection of the hard life, the struggle life — whatever this means to a woman of colour: whether living hand to mouth, wearing cheap, ill-fitting clothes and shoes, or not being able to send the children to extracurricular activities so they can become well-rounded global citizens. And this is not, mind you, only the purview of uneducated women. In fact, per the Harvard Business Review, a harrowing 2006 survey of employees from five large US companies revealed that women of colour are often held to a "much higher standard than their white and male peers and presumed to be less qualified despite their credentials, work product or business results".

I daresay not that much has changed in the intervening years. In fact, the Black Lives Matter was birthed in 2020 as a response to the need for reckoning with racial inequalities and systemic injustices toward black people and other people of colour which were entrenched in American society. The cross-border demonstrations the movement spawned forced people to also confront gender inequities, as well. Leading global investment banking, securities and investment management firm Goldman Sachs was an entity that confronted this issue head-on, focusing their attention on black women in particular. What they found was this: even today, black women are more likely than their white counterparts to work in low-paying jobs, experience higher levels of poverty, and remain disproportionately disadvantaged across a broad range of economic measures, including wealth.

And there it is: wealth. Black women have always been at a disadvantage when it comes to wealth. And not just in the United States either.

By advocating for a soft life for black women and other women of colour, a life that was more in keeping with that of their educated white peers experienced, Nigerian influencers were attempting to get these women to see that they, too, could eat well, embark on luxury vacations, and fill their closets with all the clothes — high-end and high-street — their hearts desire.

Among other things, of course.

The real soft life

And this, to my mind, has largely been the failing of the soft life movement. The "among other things" part has not been adequately stressed. Other things being: health, mental and emotional well-being by renouncing toxic productivity workplace culture, connectedness to a divine source, kindness — all of which are key to living well. To be fair, the soft life trend has largely been democratised; even white female content creators of varying socio-economic backgrounds are also embracing the ideology, with its emphasis on destressing and decluttering everyday life. But there are far too many social media followers, women of all races who, watching their favourite influencers announce their latest "unboxing", equate soft living with material things and, well, wealth.

Here's a PSA: You can be wealthy and not possess a single pair of red-sole shoes in your room-sized closet. Similarly, you can wear the most expensive clothes and be living in fear that for your next purchase your credit card will be declined. Real wealth is not simply about the ability to buy luxury things and sipping Mai Tais by a pool at a resort at some exotic locale. These things are offshoots of wealth but they don't equal wealth per se. Wealth is the accumulation of valuable economic resources measured in monetary terms. More specifically and to the point, your net worth is the commonest measure of wealth; meaning, the total market value of all your physical and even intangible assets subtracted by the value of all your debt. If your debt is more than the value of your assets you are not wealthy.

The bottom line

There's nothing wrong with desiring a soft life. But in order to do so, you must understand that this entails first working to pay down all your debt rather than building on it, simply to keep up appearances and flaunt an image that projects to the public that you're well off. It also involves saving, rather than blowing money on every whim and fancy, and making wise financial investments that allow your money to work for you so that you don't have to up until the day you die. And finally, the soft life entails giving back, understanding that to whom much is given, much is required. The point of having the financial wherewithal is to help not just yourself but also someone else not as fortunate; help in even some small way to make their life as soft as yours.

Lamar Harris, vice-president, wealth management, NCB Capital Markets

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