Let's be real, who doesn't love a himbo?

A sweet, uncomplicated heartthrob? We simply have to stan.

by Nathan Ma
07 July 2020, 9:30am

There’s a man who all my friends agree is the one that we want to come home to. He’s not known for his brains, nor his aptitude in any academic discipline. We praise his body nebulously, agreeing that we dream of his shoulders though never quite specifying what it is about them that we hope to lay claim to as our own -- we just like shoulders. Some offer adjectives: fit, toned, pretty, strong. But we agree that the shared apple of our eye can’t be defined by what he has or what he does. We care, instead, for what he is and isn’t, and what he is just as simple as he is: a himbo.

Himbos are neither new nor novel: The portmanteau of “him” and “bimbo” was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2006, 18 years after it was first coined by Rita Kempley in an article for the Washington Post that was emphatically titled, “THE HIMBO ALL POWERFUL AND ALL BEEF! IT’S THE REEL MEN!!!”.

In her article, Rita describes the growing allure of macho, macho men, drafting the blueprint for himbos past, present, and future: “Their chest measurements rival Dolly Parton's. Their brains would embarrass a squid. They ballyhoo Maidenform undies, do nude scenes and are wildly popular with both girls and boys. They come in two varieties -- greased and armed-to-the-teeth or moussed and undressed-to-die-for… Bimbo begone! Hollywood has blessed us with the Himbo.”

The himbo was a new frame for an old archetype: “[himbo’s] use can be traced from the June issue of Entertainment Weekly to Vogue and The Village Voice,” offers a feature in The New York Times from 1994. “In fashionable circles, it has displaced antiquated terms like ‘hunk’ and ‘stud’”. More recently, however, the himbo has taken on a softer, simpler form. You might see them in a made-for-Netflix film as the two-dimensional heartthrob, or in more or less any film featuring Paul Rudd or Keanu Reeves (both confirmed himbos). They’re dissected on Tumblr and Twitter and TikTok. They live rent-free in our heads, but the rubric has changed: Who is the modern himbo?

Simon in Salisbury first realised he was a himbo while watching Love Island. Specifically, it was Tommy Fury’s enduring devotion to Molly-Mae’s stuffed elephant during the couple’s brief separation: There was a soft, sensitive heart beneath the boxer's brawn. “It’s more of a mindset,” Simon tells me, explaining that amongst friends, himbos embody a “form of harmless masculinity… with a certain innocence or placidness you’d associate with a lack of intelligence.”

That’s not to say that the modern himbo isn’t smart: If he is, he simply doesn’t need you to know that he is. In her treatise of early modern himbo theory titled: “I would love to date a man who can’t read” for The Outline, Niloufar Haidari suggests that there is growing interest in pretty people with naught to say, as well as a growing disillusionment with traditional intelligence. “There’s something safe in knowing that you’ll comfortably win every argument,” she writes, “and that your partner will bow down to your assumed superior knowledge without question.”

“As gender roles have changed and women don’t need to marry a ‘good man’ who can provide for them anymore, there’s less pressure to marry a ‘smart man’,” she tells me. “There’s definitely room for objectification in the dynamic, but in my opinion, women are overdue some objectifying!”

Undoubtedly, the rise of the female gaze in the early 20-teens laid the groundwork for the modern himbo. Back in 2012, Lauren Bans called them a “new breed of buffed up hollow men” in GQ. She presented a brief survey of on-screen boy toys like James Marsden in 30 Rock, the whole cast of Magic Mike, and Jon Hamm in essentially every role other than Mad Men, surmising that the rise of the on-screen himbo was wedded to the growing number of films and series starring grown women expressing their sexuality: “Hollywood has signed on to the idea of ladies as the crass sexual aggressors, and our pretty, vulgar leading ladies need subjects to crassly sexually aggress. Which means there’s no need for the male co-star to be anything more than a handsome, unselfaware dolt.”

This is also where the modern himbo departs from early himbo theory: While the latter favoured Hollywood hunks and bodybuilding beefcakes, today’s himbos are often less sculpted. They reject the pageantry of developing and maintaining an Adonis build -- to care about his body would be to care about himself, and for many, the modern himbo is defined by their refusal to navel-gaze. It’s why some refute the idea that Love Island has or ever will host a himbo in the villa.

“To be self-aware about it means that the himbo is too aware of the rest of the world and his place in it,” agrees Matthew. He tells me, “Himbos should be free from the panopticon of self-awareness -- to know themselves is to cease being himbos, I think.”

Hannah in Oxford agrees, refuting the idea that Love Island has or will ever host a himbo in the villa. “Tommy deffo knows he’s fit,” they tell me, before adding, “but at the same time he was consistently in awe of Molly-Mae.”

Loyalty, it seems, is key to the modern himbo’s appeal. He is devoted to his partners and their pursuits while never asking too many questions or sharing too many opinions. A kept man? Maybe, but that’s why we love him: We can be who we are in our many messy selves without worrying he’ll leave. As Zoé, a PhD candidate, tells me, “A man who’s sweet and funny, and supportive, and hot. Not necessarily unintelligent, but isn’t demanding of my need to be.”

“The himbo is someone who is nice as a way of life,” Simon says. It’s a common thread amongst the people I speak to about the recent rise in himboozlings. The himbo is a paradox: We celebrate his masculinity, while neutering its value and rendering it harmless. If the Age of the Twink was an undoing of toxic masculinity’s legacy, the himbo is building a new, nicer take on traditional masculinity on the scorched earth that was left behind.

Some suggest that our admiration of the himbo is problematic, but I disagree. Problematising the modern himbo is counterintuitive: he is both good and simple because he is simple and good -- consequently, he cannot be bad or complicated. He is a himbo, nothing more and nothing less. And we love that for him.

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