Chloe Akins

During the height of COVID-19 pandemic-induced isolation, the internet aesthetic of cottagecore grew immensely in popularity (see Figure 1). Cottagecore had already been established before the pandemic, but the environment created by the virus brought it to the forefront. Built around a rural or pastoral escapist fantasy, the aesthetic is brought to life through various cute visuals. The aesthetic’s use of cuteness manifests through its focus on DIY handicrafts, romantic idealization of the pastoral, and the use of animals for emotional comfort. The need for comfort, or even coping, that the aesthetic provides through its use of cuteness was driven by continuing stress from a neoliberal, capitalist world combined with exacerbating circumstances created by the isolating effects of the pandemic.

Figure 1. The cottage depicted in the aesthetic is often meant to be picturesque, having a whimsical charm to it because of its simplistic, rustic elements and its placement in nature. It is typically “small” or “tiny” compared to modern houses, adding to its cuteness as well as serving the sustainability effort by taking up less space.

Leah Brand explains that cottagecore, which has several subgenres, “can be understood as the projection of a core fantasy of escape to a cottage in the woods to live as if it were a ‘simpler time’” (see Figure 2).[1] The aesthetic thus imagines a world that is pre-industrial, self-sustainable, and idyllic. The desire for a “'simpler time'” has emerged as a form of resistance against a neoliberal and capitalist mindset that emphasizes productivity, in which, as Allison Page writes, “clear distinctions between work and ‘play’ have eroded, and leisure activity is (or should be) productive.”[2] Cute things often embody the simplistic and innocent version of things, stripping the world of its complexities. Cottagecore does this by stripping one’s lifestyle of the complexities created by modern industrialization, technology, and capitalism and promising a retreat into nature with only animals as companions. Sianne Ngai theorizes that cuteness “as a style that speaks to our desire for a simpler relation to commodities, is arguably a kind of pastoral.”[3] During the height of the pandemic, cottagecore made full use of this relation to advocate for the lifestyle at a time when people were already isolated and precarity had deflated consumerism.

Figure 2. Taking TikTok by storm, the famous Lirika Matoshi Strawberry Dress’ design was favored by the cottagecore community for invoking the idea of pre-industrial “'simpler times.'” The exorbitant price of the dress shows how capitalism utilizes cuteness. The high price of the dress resulted in a multitude of DIY versions that adhered to the handicraft and sustainable elements of the cottagecore aesthetic.

It is unsurprising that pandemic isolation would give rise to cottagecore’s “fantasy of self-care,”[4] as cottagecore provided an alternative, happier form of isolationism that favors fantasy over realism. Unfortunately, since it is primarily about a fantasy, cottagecore’s escape from reality often “obscures the fact that the countryside is also scarred by inequality, poverty, and exploitation,” as Jill Kay and Helen Wood explain.[5] This disconnect between fantasy and reality has unfortunate consequences, as the types of people who can act on their cottagecore escapist fantasies are frequently “disconnected enough from the reality of rural life that it can be made into a romantic game,” contributing to rural gentrification.[6] In addition, the aesthetic draws specifically from British and English rural settings, creating a sort of British imperial nostalgia; thus, its appeal caters predominately to a white demographic. 

It would be wrong, however, to call cottagecore an aesthetic of whiteness, as the game Animal Crossing: New Horizons also utilizes characteristics of cottagecore while reflecting Japanese kawaii aesthetics (see Figure 3).[7] Animal Crossing became popular for being a digital escape and, much like the fantasy created by cottagecore, transporting users to a safe place where they could recover from the ills of the pandemic through interaction with anthropomorphic villagers. The game allowed users to engage in “wholesome” activities typically also associated with cottagecore, such as crafting, home decoration, and even sustainable activities like gardening and growing fruit.

The villager interaction in Animal Crossing is unique in that the game positions users as the only humans on an island full of animals, demonstrating the developers’ understanding of the high effectiveness of animal interaction for a game to be cuter and more comforting. In Japan, the actual use of animal comfort is exemplified by the various animal cafés associated with the popularity of iyashi, or “goods and experiences that offer emotional and physical healing.” Amanda S. Robinson describes how animal cafés give people opportunities for “removing themselves from the outside world and letting go of their worries for an hour or two,” using a setting full of animals “as a place of therapy.”[8] Animals and pets are considered cute because they are small, soft, and many people love to receive their affection. As human relationships with animals can seem rather uncomplicated from a human perspective, especially since humans are supposedly dominant, escapist fantasies often include animals as humans' only source of companionship. This again shows the stripping of complexities that exists in cuteness.

Figure 3. Released during the COVID-19 pandemic, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was met with immense popularity, as it provided a way for users to virtually enjoy being on their islands and proved an effective distraction and comfort. The game allowed many to virtually create and “live” their cottagecore fantasies in a new way.

The aforementioned “wholesome” activities such as handicrafts reflect the sustainability aspect of cottagecore. As Waller writes, “The Cottagecore movement has a strong emphasis on being environmentally friendly, encouraging participants to thrift, make, and find pieces to fill out their aesthetic.”[9] Such practices and hobbies can show how, for many, cottagecore can be connected to ecological ethics. Erica Kanesaka explains the ecological aspects of cuteness through reference to Beatrix Potter’s illustrations, where the “amplification of small details produces sparkling vitality” that captures the “significance of diminutiveness and whimsy to a politics that cares for nonhuman life.”[10] Cottages are usually depicted as tiny or small, and much attention is paid to the coziness of the home that hinges on the handicraft decorations present in the cottagecore aesthetic (see Figure 4). Tininess or smallness are themselves correlated with cuteness, and handicrafts allow for the creation of a multitude of cute, little things that have a “sparkling vitality” and are environmentally sustainable. Thus, a person is ideally not wasteful in their handicraft practice and gains more emotional satisfaction from their cute creations than if they would have purchased them. 

It is important to note that handicrafts and other domestic activities associated with the cottagecore lifestyle are highly feminized, and the cottagecore aesthetic is typically associated with young girls or women. The association with girls and women may contribute to the cuteness of the movement. However, this poses possible issues since some may find cottagecore childish due to its involving highly feminine hobbies. However, one can compare the way that proponents of cottagecore value their handicrafts to that of young girls and women in the Decora fashion movement, in which “agency, energy, and vibrancy is central” and “[r]ather than intending to be immature, practitioners are looking for vibrant ways to exist as adults.”[11] Cottagecore embraces its hyper-feminine characteristics and “looks to recapture an idea of femininity and innocence found in Pastoral imagery, but the aesthetic inspires participants to value this femininity and its hobbies.”[12] 

Figure 4. The inside of the cottage depicted emphasizes how nature is incorporated into the dweller’s life, displaying care for living with nature. The various animals residing in the house play on the way in which many visualize their only companions of a cottagecore lifestyle as furry friends. 

Actualizing the cottagecore fantasy takes time and capital, so taking pleasure in the aesthetic via digital means is a sensible alternative coping strategy. Through social media platforms like Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok, cottagecore as an aesthetic sparked an expansive movement of digital engagement. However, as Brand argues, “the internet is what makes cottagecore distinct, and ultimately what complicates it.”[13] The internet has allowed many people to live and embody cottagecore vicariously through countless images, shorts, videos, role plays, and more, providing endless content to indulge in and subsequently tap out of “real life.” The short-form, easily consumable content the movement thrives on offers a momentary and nostalgic comfort, much like cuteness itself. Unfortunately, as Page explains regarding the popularity of cute animal videos, “[M]omentary divergences are then folded back into the flow of information, thereby eradicating any possibility for rising above the rush of continuous circulation.”[14] The disposable content that makes and sustains the popularity of the movement is also a part of the very system it critiques. Crafting one’s cottagecore escapist fantasy does not resolve the issues that drive the desire for comfort, but only provides momentary breaks.[15]

Indulgence in and promotion of cottagecore may lead many to believe in the false promises of escapism as the cute characteristics within the aesthetic aid in hiding its darker implications and meanings. The immersive experience of an idealistic fantasy is sentimental; it can be what Leslie Jamison describes as “sweetness — emotion or taste — that feels shallow, exaggerated or undeserved, ultimately unreal.”[16] Ultimately, cottagecore presents an escapist fantasy while giving comfort to individuals and quietly challenging social structures. However, this leaves us with the question of the point at which, to quote Ngai, “reverence for the [cute] aesthetic as such, though still advocated by many, no longer seems self-evidently desirable.”[17] At what point do the counterproductive realities hidden within cottagecore outweigh its comforting benefits?

Published: 6/30/2023


[1] Leah Brand, “Crafting Cottagecore: Digital Pastoralism and the Production of Escapist Fantasy,” The Coalition of Master’s Scholars on Material Culture, June 25, 2021,

[2] Allison Page, “‘This Baby Sloth Will Inspire You to Keep Going’: Capital, Labor, and the Affective Power of Cute Animal Videos,” in The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness, ed. Joshua Paul Dale et al. (New York: Routledge, 2016), 81.

[3] Sianne Ngai, “Our Aesthetic Categories,” PMLA 125, no. 4 (2010): 952.

[4] Brand, “Crafting Cottagecore,” 9.

[5] Jill Kay and Helen Wood, “‘The race for space’: capitalism, the country and the city in Britain under COVID-19,” Continuum 36, no. 2 (2022): 278.

[6] Mason M. Waller, “The History, Drivers, and Social Issues of the Cottagecore Movement” (BA thesis, Western Washington University, 2022), 4.

[7] Erica Kanesaka, “The Healing Power of Virtual Cuteness,” Public Books, March 17, 2022,

[8] Amanda S. Robinson, “Finding healing through animal companionship in Japanese animal cafés,” Medical Humanities 45, no. 2 (June 2019): 190.

[9] Waller, “The History,” 35.

[10] Erica Kanesaka Kalnay, “Cute Ecologies: Beatrix Potter, Mushrooms and Miniature Worlds,” Edinburgh University Press Blog, December 12, 2019,

[11] Megan Catherine Rose, Haruka Kurebayashi, and Rei Saionji, “Kawaii Affective Assemblages,” M/C Journal 25, no. 4 (2022),

[12] Waller, “The History,” 27.

[13] Brand, “Crafting Cottagcore,” 16.

[14] Page, “This Baby Sloth,” 90.

[15] Robinson, “Finding healing,” 191.

[16] Leslie Jamison, “In Defense of Saccharin(e),” in The Empathy Exams (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2014), 114.

[17] Ngai, “Our Aesthetic Categories,” 951.