Hannah Neeleman, known online as “Ballerina Farm,” is someone so exceptional she’s bound to accumulate a posse of detractors. The beauty pageant winner, former professional ballet dancer, mother of eight children, homesteader, and business owner, recently made the internet very angry for representing the United States at the Mrs. World beauty pageant merely 10 days postpartum. The recent controversy focused on her supposedly setting up impossible standards for normal women to follow, but this isn’t the first time Neeleman’s life has angered hordes of commenters.
For some years, Neeleman posted to a sizeable yet niche audience of homemakers and homesteaders, but shot into more internet-wide fame after winning the title of Mrs. America, a beauty pageant for married women, last year. Since then, everyone has had an opinion. And as the gold standard “trad wife” of the internet, the opponents of the online trend towards simple living, domesticity, and overt femininity found a big reason why Neeleman was bad, harmful, and probably malicious. Her husband is the heir to Jet Blue and has a net worth of $400 million, a fact one YouTube commentator notes is “left out of all their videos, I would argue, quite conspicuously.”
“They are co-opting poverty as an aesthetic,” the commentator goes on to say.
Neeleman’s “simple” life spent making sourdough bread and homemade soups, milking cows in the frigid morning, processing her own beef, and homeschooling her children is a cosplay, her detractors claim. Why else would someone so wealthy choose to perform these “poor person” tasks? Someone married into the upper class should be living in a mansion, probably in California, with a personal chef and private tutors. Certainly, no one that wealthy should see where their filet mignon comes from.
These sorts of people are following a tired trope concerning so-called “rural America.” The sense is that these sorts of folks are dirt poor, backwards, and only living this sort of life because no one has whisked them away to suburbia or a studio apartment in the city yet.
Anyone with the slightest knowledge of what it takes to run a profitable and successful farming operation knows that a guy with a $400 million net worth isn’t running out of places to spend his money on a 328-acre farm. Farming takes hard work, discipline, and resources. The Neelemans are the undoubted outliers in farming, but to assume that a farmhouse lifestyle is evidence of poverty is ignorant at best. The median household income for farm households is $20,000 more than the median income of all American households, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The simple life, as the Neelemans and anyone else running farms of various sizes could tell you, is hardly the easy life. Ma Ingalls worked far harder than your average New York City 28-year-old with a laptop job. And although rural lifestyles are much easier now than in the 1800s, it is obvious that hiring a full-time private chef would be a much easier way to score a from-scratch meatball sub than raising the meat, baking the bread, and cooking the sauce yourself.
Wealthy people exist, whether the internet enjoys that fact or not. Often, the rich benefit from the money that they themselves did not earn. We have no idea if Neeleman’s father-in-law bought her and her husband their idyllic and sprawling ranch in Utah, but even if he did, I only wish that all trust-fund kids worked as hard with the resources they were born into as this family.
What’s more, it is both false and woefully snobby to assume a rural lifestyle is evidence of poverty. The fact is, neither Neeleman nor her husband have ever claimed that they struggle financially or that they have chosen this life merely because the bright lights of city living haven’t snatched them up yet. For those who assumed poverty when they saw a woman milk a cow and were shocked to find out how wrong they were, they have only their own ignorance to blame.
Some farmers are poor, some rich. Some have massive amounts of commercial land, and some produce just enough for their own families to live on. Some homestead as a personal hobby, while others do it out of necessity. But to those so removed from rural lifestyles, all farmers or homesteaders are dirty country folk, more to be pitied than emulated.