American farm style

Source: The China Project (11/17/22)
Posing like American farmers is the latest trend among Chinese influencers
After “U.S. high schoolers” and “shopping in Los Angeles,” pretending to be on an autumnal American farm is the latest “Americore” aesthetic to take over Chinese social media.
By Zhao Yuanyuan

All images from Xiaohongshu

A woman wearing denim overalls sits on a straw bale against the backdrop of a wall of hay; two girls lean against a wood fence on a seemingly boundless grassland; a man in a full-out cowboy outfit poses with a horse standing behind him.

At first glance, one might think these photos posted on Xiaohongshu, a lifestyle and ecommerce app often referred to as China’s Instagram, are taken in the American Wild West. But these images are actually from various locations across China, where pretending to be on an American farm or ranch has become the latest aesthetic that has taken Chinese influencers by storm.

What is “American farm style”?

In the past few months, an aesthetic known as “American farm style” has been embraced by scores of good-looking, impeccably dressed Chinese men and women. On Xiaohongshu, there thousands of posts bearing the hashtag “American farm style” (#美国农场风# měiguó nóngchǎng fēng), in which props depicting a typical American farmer’s life in the fall — such as piles of hay, farm animals, and seasonal crops like pumpkins — are frequently seen.

“There’s a new stunning Instagrammable spot in the city that gives American farm vibes. It has a classic retro color palette and you can make photos taken here look like fashion editorials,” reads the recommendation of a community garden in Chengdu.

In another post about a boutique hotel on the outskirts of Beijing, a Xiaohongshu user gives it a positive review for providing “the picture-perfect backdrop” for visitors who want to participate in the trend. “It really has a chestnut plantation and some fruit trees!” reads the post, which includes a photo of the creator standing next to a billboard that says “Organic family farm.”

Perhaps the most popular destination is a coffee shop named Day Off Dreamer in urban Beijing, which is famous for routinely changing its décor depending on the season. In September, the business settled on the “American farm style” theme and staged its space like the interior of a rustic barn with farm wagons and hay beds.

On Xiaohongshu, most influencers embodying the aesthetic are upfront about the fact that they are not actually in the U.S. and that the objects seen in their photos are mostly staged setups. “Pretending to be an American country girl is a ton of fun. I feel like I’m in a Western movie,” one person wrote in a post.

A flattering version of “Americore”

Romanticizing various aspects of quintessential American life and presenting them in an aesthetically pleasing way appears to be a common theme in content created by Chinese influencers since the coronavirus pandemic started. Due to China’s stringent and unrelenting COVID-19 border restrictions, which have only started to show signs of relaxation recently, many Chinese people have been unable to travel abroad. For influencers, recreating foreign scenes appears to be their way to cash in on the longing for international tourism while it’s restricted.

Last year, a Shanghai location of American wholesale retailer Costco became a trendy spot as influencers flocked to the store, posting shots from its sprawling parking lot, making props out of its oversized merchandise, and embellishing their photos with pizza boxes and blue soda cups. Some of these snaps taken in front of the supermarket are captioned “pretending to be in Los Angeles,” or “back to the west coast.”

In May, influencers wearing ensembles that look straight out of American teen drama series like Gossip Girl flooded IKEA stores across the country. However, they were not there to shop for minimalist furniture. Instead, they used blue lockers in storage sections as the background for photos cosplaying “American high school style,” known as měigāofēng 美高风 in Chinese.

The practice of utilizing everyday objects representing American culture and making them look “cute” is not a new concept on social media, nor was it invented by Chinese influencers. On Tiktok, such videos — often posted with the hahstag #Americore —  have been around for several years and have racked up millions of views. While the aesthetic is mostly used on TikTok to “subvert the way white influencers fetishize snack items in Asian grocery stores,” according to Nylon, it’s less critical and more flattering when used by Chinese influencers.

Their glamorization of the American lifestyle, however, is not immune from criticism. On the Chinese internet, some people have accused the trend of blindly worshiping Western culture, a subject that’s especially touchy in China. “The goat house attached to my grandma’s home in the countryside looks just like this. What’s special about it?” a Xiaohongshu user commented on a post about the themed coffee shop in Beijing.

The “American farm style” photos by Chinese influencers seem to be well received on TikTok though. “They do Western aesthetic better than actual Western influencers, We gotta love it,” one person wrote in response to a TikTok video explaining the trend. “I actually think it’s cute. I’ve been seeing a steady increase in other countries actually vibing with the American aesthetic and it’s fun to see us be romanticized a bit,” another commenter wrote.

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