2021 is the year of the bimbo
On TikTok, Gen Z are resurrecting and reclaiming a once misogynistic stereotype. And that’s hot, actually.
Cast your mind back to the year 2007. Motorola Razrs, Juicy Couture tracksuits and slogan tees were the height of aestheticism. Nuts was still on sale. Everyone still posted on Facebook. It was the year when reality TV found its footing as a cultural juggernaut, spearheaded by the supposedly ditsy Valley Girls of Laguna Beach and the dubious moralism of the Anna Nicole Smith Show. It was also the year, according to a 13-year-old New York Post headline, of the bimbo.
In a listicle that revels in its cruelty, the tabloid catalogued 2007’s most notorious bimbos, including Amy Winehouse (a 24-year-old “alterna-bimbo” who “they couldn’t make go to rehab”), Jamie-Lynn Spears (a “bimbo-in-training” because she became pregnant at 18 and subsequently monetised her pregnancy photos), Britney, Paris Hilton, Mischa Barton and the bimbo-prototype herself, Anna Nicole Smith. Looking back on the year, the New York Post wrote: “Whether dead, jailed, bald, knocked up, unemployable […] the year gone by was young, ditzy and out of control.”
This, for a long time, was how the world understood what the word bimbo meant. It was a term used to strip young women of their humanness and agency. It inferred sexual promiscuity as a sign of depravity, and a lack of intelligence. It even worked as a tactless stand-in for mental health problems (Britney Spears and Mischa Barton both experienced well-documented psychotic breaks in the mid-noughties, while Amy Winehouse and Lindsay Lohan publicly struggled with substance abuse). It was a concept used to disparage some of the most culturally powerful young women of the time. It conjured up images of big silicon boobs, big bleach blonde hair, tight clothes and heavy makeup, while communicating that all of those things were somehow inherently immoral. The term’s negative connotations are official, even (the dictionary definition of bimbo is: “a derogatory term for an attractive but frivolous woman”).
The mainstream backlash against bimbos in the Y2K-era and even the preceding 90s -- when it entered the political realm for the first time thanks to Monica Lewinsky -- was intense. Since then, massive cultural shifts, whether that’s the commodification of GirlBoss culture, or the #MeToo movement, have brought feminism further into mainstream discourse than ever before. Politics has shifted too; with the centrism of the late 90s and mid-00s giving way to a more fractious, violent political landscape which has birthed a generation of young people who are more politically engaged, and, generally speaking, more politically progressive, than any of their predecessors.
It’s perhaps inevitable then, that the past few years the lure of the bimbo, as a transgressive, feminist, radically left wing figure, has begun to creep back into our collective imagination. And, because it’s 2021, it’s obviously happening mostly on TikTok. Bimboification videos, which first began showing up on the app last year, have exploded in popularity during the pandemic, and bimboism, in the process, is being reclaimed not as a misogynistic stereotype, but instead as a mentality, an aesthetic, and a way of life.
“I have always been a self-identified bimbo, however I didn’t fully embrace it until the recent wave of new age bimbos debuted on TikTok,” says Hannah Foran, a self-confessed 23-year-old Bimbo from Bristol, Tennessee. BimboToks like “how to be a bimbo 101” (which lists tips like “worship the girls, the gays and theys” and “blackmail and manipulate old trumpee sugar daddies'' inspired Hannah to adopt the FYP niche into her everyday lifestyle. She now boasts over 56,000 followers of her own on TikTok, where she posts -- as user @parishiltonsleftitty, natch -- about everything from bimbo fashion to living as a bimbo with borderline personality disorder.
“Gen Z have redefined the meaning of bimbo,” Hannah explains. “It’s no longer a dirty word with negative connotations; it’s been restructured from its original meaning. A new age bimbo is thought of as someone who is politically active and values far left views, so in that respect the popularity of the new bimbo is definitely informed by the state of the world today. Everything happening in our world gave Gen Z the momentum to corrupt a derogatory term and resurface it with a polished new identity.” And she’s right: while bimboism is historically deeply entwined with white womanhood, in 2021’s era of bimboification, the parameters are wider.
Coming off the heels of the popularity of the himbo -- a sweet, uncomplicated heartthrob that emerged in 2020 as a balm to sadboi and incel modern masculinity -- 2021’s bimbo doesn’t have to be cis, white, blonde or even a woman to qualify as a member of the inclusive club. In fact, the 2021 bimbo (also known as the thembo or nimbo for non-binary bimbos) renders 2020’s himbo obsolete. 2021’s subversive bimbo defines themselves as a bimbo without adopting the original context, and as a result, they take away some of the misogynistic power with which the term was originally wielded by the patriarchy.
“The definition of a bimbo has expanded from the stereotypical Valley Girl blonde,” says 24-year-old New Yorker Meredith Suzuki (AKA @maeultra), another self-confessed TikTok bimbo. “Anyone of any race, gender, sexual orientation, body type or style aesthetic can become a bimbo. As a QPOC myself, rather than feeling excluded from the conversation, I wanted to set an example.” Meredith explains that bimbos of today are much more concerned with the ideology of being hot, confident and at one with yourself, rather than actually looking a certain way. “It feels powerful and liberating to know that I’m constantly challenging gender and societal norms with hotness,” she adds. “Nothing makes misogynists angrier than women choosing to be hot, appearing dumb and yet being incredibly self-aware. Bimbo is no longer a derogatory term now we’re reclaiming it for ourselves.”
While the bimboification community has exploded on TikTok, the renaissance of the bimbo has been simmering away in the background for the past few years. The podcast You’re Wrong About — which first launched in 2018 but exploded in popularity during lockdown — has spent hours righting the wrongs of history and reclaiming some of its most famous and maligned bimbos, from Nicole Brown and Anna Nicole Smith to Jessica Simpson and Monica Lewinsky.
Pre-2021, the idea of the bimbo was living in corners of the right wing internet too, where offensive memes (which have since been reclaimed by the modern TikTok bimbo) are dissected by incels. One particular viral image, of a woman turning from a mousy bookworm to a dumb, beautiful bimbo, was recently defended by its creator who claimed it was not intended as sexist propaganda, but as bimbo fetish fanart. The figure of the bimbo body in fetish and porn has also become more visible in mainstream adult media in the past few years. The Cock Destroyers’ aesthetic is heavily influenced by bimboism, and on sites like PornHub and XHamster, the bimbo hashtag rakes in hundreds of thousands of views accumulatively. A 2018 article from MEL proclaimed “the bimbo fetish is alive and well” after speaking to a number of self-confessed feminist bimbos. “The term has generally been a pejorative,” the article writes. “But in recent years some women have turned it into a fringe identity.”
Since the piece was published however, the bimboification of our world has spread further, and to think of it just as a fringe identity or view it through a purely sexual, fetishistic lens is to ignore the power of the modern day bimbo. In fact, although the bimbo is a reaction to the current unprecedented times we are living through, it’s not, as you might first expect, a smooth brained empty-headed rejection of those times, but instead a way of metabolising the daily horrors of the news and a way of radicalising our reactions to current events. In short, contrary to popular belief, modern bimbos are the absolute opposite of their smooth brain no thinky stereotype.
“A bimbo is a person using the radical power that comes with playing the performance of hyperfemininity as a form of anti-capitalist critique,” says Stephanie Deig, a PhD researcher specialising in feminist philosophy and gender studies at the University of Lucerne. “Bimbos are subverting the neoliberal expectation that hyperfeminine traits cannot be intellectually substantive. They embody hyperfemininity through gender performance to subvert the things which have been used historically to objectify and oppress women. A bimbo is someone who embodies the notion of hyperfemininity in a radical way. By subverting expectations they are reclaiming the power of that femininity.”
Stephanie’s research is particularly focused on TikTok as an intersectional leftist sphere for the Gen Z bimbos of today to radicalise each other while looking pink and fabulous. “There are so many radical political ideas circulating around in bimboification circles online,” she says, ascribing the collectivism and intersectionality of Gen Z bimboism as a reaction to the previous generation of millennial ‘girlboss’ feminism, which understands female power through a male, capitalist lens. “TikTok bimbos are anti-capitalist while at the same time recognising through this luxurious aesthetic that you can’t fully escape the bounds of capitalism as both a source of pleasure and oppression,” Stephanie explains. “They’re radical, they’re intersectional. They’ve made feminism so much more inclusive than before.”
Today’s radical, politically engaged bimbo makes sense when you realise that, even in the 90s and 00s, the figure of the bimbo was a transgressive one. We can look back in horror at the sexism of “The Year of the Bimbo'' article, while at the same time still see the women it talked about as the transgressive figures Gen Z are celebrating today. “In the 2000s the bimbo was a way women could reject a narrow, limiting view of what a woman should be, and to claim power from the objectification of women’s bodies,” says Stephanie. “That same logic applies now, except it’s become even more inclusive, radical and transgressive when it comes to gender performance. A lot of young queer people, for example, are using the figure of the bimbo to turn sexualisation on its head and use it as a source of power.”
It was easy to dismiss figures like Paris Hilton, Monica Lewinsky, and Britney Spears as vapid bimbos because to do so was to disregard the power they had to carve out reality TV empires, sell millions of records, or cause presidential crises. And while none of those spheres of influence can enact power to change the structural societal, capitalistic means of oppressing women, it doesn’t diminish the fact that they are still routes to power, however flawed. Even fictional bimbos of the past point us to TikTok’s current iteration of the radical leftist bimbo; the ultimate bimbo, Elle Woods, might have been hyperfeminine, but she was nonetheless a deeply feminist character (albeit one who upheld the problematic prison industrial complex through her work as a lawyer). And a quick look over the FYP, or your Depop, shows that it’s not just the politics of 00s bimbos that appeals to Gen Z, but the aesthetic too, whether that’s pink Juicy Couture tracksuits, slogan tees or bedazzled flip phones.
It’s this particular set of circumstances -- the resurgence of Y2K aesthetics, a video-led platform for bimbos in training to converse and grow, the information overload of a pandemic and election year, and the radicalisation of disenfranchised youth by late capitalism, like duh -- that makes 2021 the perfect time to usher in The Year of the Bimbo, 2.0. “During these times when we’re spending more time alone, we’re thinking more about our relationships with ourselves and our bodies,” Stephanie says of the perfect timing that’s led to the rise of the bimbos. “We’re thinking about how our bodies serve us. Gen Z are using TikTok to have frank conversations about how we can use our bodies, and its transmitting theory in a frank, concise way in such an open space. That feels revolutionary.”
Another of the TikTok bimbos puts it slightly differently. “Anyone can be a bimbo,” they say. “It’s about applying a mindset to your way of life. Women and queer people have been oppressed by the patriarchy, and being a bimbo is a rejection of all that. It’s a way of finding empowerment where you’ve been taught to feel ashamed.” And to quote one bimbo god, that’s hot.