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What our culture gets wrong about ‘trad wives’
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What our culture gets wrong about ‘trad wives’

Social media blasts TikTok’s Nara Smith as a “trad-wife propagandist.” But she isn’t preaching or moralizing. She’s just cooking on camera while being a married mother.

TikTok and X users last week criticized IMG-signed model, influencer, and alleged “trad wife” Nara Smith. They have all sorts of problems with her. It’s not realistic that her videos are so stylized. It’s insane that she makes everything from scratch. Why is she wearing a full face of makeup in a highly produced video she’s broadcasting to millions of people? I thought she was supposed to be a mom!

And Smith isn’t the only one. While TikTok and X users alike think they’re criticizing “trad-wife content,” what they’re really doing is pushing back against stylized images of domestic labor of any kind.

The point of entertainment is that it’s a performance, and you know it’s a performance. You’re not blindsided by the fact that it’s a fantasy.

In Smith’s case, she’s just cooking. There is no meaningful difference between her and, say, the Barefoot Contessa, Martha Stewart, or Giada De Laurentiis — except, of course, for her age and the fact that TikTok is her primary medium, not the Food Network. She isn’t preaching or moralizing. She’s just cooking while being a married mother.

Who is a trad wife, anyway?

The criticism of “trad-wife content,” such as that of bizarro-world June Cleaver-wannabe Estée Williams, isn’t absurd. They’re not “aspirational lifestyle content,” because the message isn’t “you can look like me in an ideal world” or “with incremental changes, you can model my lifestyle.” They’re saying that your inability to raise a family on a single income is a moral failure. They’re moralizing, and they’re out of touch.

But what’s interesting is that Nara Smith, social media’s enemy du jour, is not a trad wife. In her own words, she has two jobs: She’s a professional model, and she makes TikTok videos of her cooking. That’s right, in Smith’s own words, her TikTok videos are “work.”

As for her cooking, which is characterized by how she makes everything from scratch, she knows it’s time-consuming, but it’s both her hobby and her “love language.” She knows that most people aren’t able to invest the same amount of time in it that she does. Though she hasn’t said it quite as plainly, regular viewers of Smith’s content understand that she views her ultra-homemade recipes as a passion, a privilege, and a job since she’s been able to monetize.

Smith’s critics claim her videos are propaganda. Extremely stealthy propaganda — the kind of propaganda that even the most skilled viewers won’t clock as propaganda.

I mean, by that logic, isn’t everything propaganda? Where do you draw the line between “entertainment” and “propaganda,” anyhow?

One argument you’ll often see is that Smith is Mormon, and that alone is enough to validate the claim that she has an agenda. But we know Smith is Mormon in the same way we know she’s black; it’s mentioned sometimes, in passing, and not in detail. It’s just who she is. Why is being Mormon “enough” to constitute its status as nefarious material?

Another criticism is that her videos are “just not realistic.” And to that, I say, “So?” It’s part of a recent trend in social-media-focused criticism that seems to be of mass media in general.

“It’s just not realistic” applies just as much to any film as to Smith’s TikToks. The “point” of entertainment is not to be a hyperrealistic depiction of daily life. The point of entertainment is that it’s a performance, and you know it’s a performance. You’re not blindsided by the fact that it’s a fantasy.

Others, like writer Caroline Burke, have more esoteric and admittedly somewhat more humanizing explanations for what this “trad wife” content is. In a TikTok, Burke says that Smith’s trad-wife content expresses Christian perfectionism. That is, Christian women — and Mormon women in particular — are conditioned to always be “on.” These are the types of women that Burke says will be upset if they can’t wear mascara to church. They want to present a perfect face at all times.

Another path to fame

And to that, I say baloney. It’s not that her diagnosis of some Christian communities isn’t true. I’m sure there are plenty of churches with high expectations for women. I just don’t think it explains Nara Smith, and it feels like she’s over-intellectualizing the whole thing.

Nara Smith and every other person pushing aspirational lifestyle content aren’t doing it because they’re aspiring to some specifically Christian vision of perfection.

The reason people want to be famous is usually much more straightforward than propaganda or labyrinthine reasoning about Christian indoctrination — it opens doors, you get free stuff, and you’re validated for being you.

Influencers like Nara Smith also know that being a professional model has a short window; hosting a cooking show (which is what her whole shtick is; let’s be serious here) can sustain you for as long as you’d like. She can have a career as long as she’s agile enough to move platforms.

If you want to dig into a deeper, more sweeping explanation for what’s happening, then look at why fame seems more fulfilling than other career paths. I’d be more curious about why “try my darndest to make my Substack/TikTok/Instagram/X account take off” seems more sustainable and more appealing to young people than almost any other career path. Why does turning your life into content feel more fulfilling and realistic for some people?

As for Smith in particular? There is no reason to be offended by her content or to believe it’s some game of 4D chess. If she’s not your bag, she’s not your bag. For me, as a mom-to-be who works at home and enjoys baking? She’s given me some recipe ideas, and if nothing else, she’s fun to watch. It’s certainly more enjoyable than nonstop political monologuing, another popular genre on TikTok.

As the kids say, “Let her cook.”

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Katherine Dee

Katherine Dee

Contributing Editor, Return

Katherine Dee is an internet culture reporter. You can find her other work at default.blog and on her podcast, The Computer Room, which she hosts with Gio Pennacchietti.
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