“Welcome to Glitter Island—home of the girls, gays, theys, and non-binary babies,” narrates TikTok user @chrissychlapecka as she lounges on an inflatable flamingo in a hot pink bikini, satin platform sandals, and long platinum-blonde pigtails. With over three million followers on the app, Chlapecka is one of the most visible members of BimboTok, the online community embracing hyperfemininity, glam makeup, and provocative clothing—and proudly referring to themselves as bimbos.
Bimbofication videos first began showing up on TikTok last year and have since exploded in popularity. Videos using #bimbo have been viewed over 570 million times as young people across the internet take a once misogynistic stereotype and reclaim it in what some are calling an act of radical feminism.
A bimbo is commonly understood to be “an attractive but stupid young woman,” perfectly exemplified by Paris asking Nicole, “What is Walmart? Do they sell, like, wall stuff?” in The Simple Life. However, this has not always been the case. The term can be traced back to the 1800s, when it was used to refer to a foolish or inconsequential man, before shifting in meaning during the early 20th century to its current definition.
The term went in and out for several decades before a resurgence in the late 1980s, with 1987 being dubbed “The Year of the Bimbo.” It was a year dominated by beautiful, young women using their looks and positions at the center of high-profile scandals to their advantage. A prominent example was Donna Rice, who was rumored to have had an affair with Senator Gary Hart, the leader in the race for the Democratic nomination for President. When questioned about the alleged affair by Barbara Walters, Rice refused to confirm whether they’d slept together “because it’s a question of dignity.” Yet, she used the fame she’d gained from being associated with Hart to further her career—appearing in advertisements for No Excuses jeans—and quickly became known as the quintessential bimbo.
To this day, the word conjures up images of bleach-blonde hair, big boobs, heavy makeup, and revealing clothing. And, from Marilyn Monroe to Pamela Anderson to Paris Hilton, it has long been used to degrade women who exude sex appeal, implying that sexual promiscuity denotes a lack of intelligence and morals. This misogynistic stereotype strips young, beautiful women of their humanity and reduces them to mere objects.
Gen Z, however, is redefining what it means to be a bimbo, with TikTok’s community of self-described “new-age bimbos” differing quite significantly from traditional stereotypes. They may play into the idea of being an airhead in some of the content they post, but this is purely satirical. The new-age bimbo is politically active, valuing leftist views and, as described by Chlapecka to Refinery29, “The bimbo is pro-choice, pro-sex work, pro-BLM, and she, he, or they likes to look pretty. We like to look pretty while we’re doing it.” They are self-aware, maintaining the visual aesthetic of bimboism, while actively subverting the expectation that this hyperfemininity means they cannot be intelligent.
This resurgence follows a period of time during the 2010s characterized by a cultural pivot from hyperfemininity to a new feminine ideal; one that focused on brains over beauty. From the manic pixie dream girl to the girlboss, it’s been all about intelligence and having depth, the exact opposite of the bimbo stereotype. However, what was originally billed as empowering proved to be just as oppressive when misogyny spun it into the “not like other girls” phenomenon. “Not like other girls” was initially used by men as a backhanded compliment to women who didn’t conform to traditionally feminine traits, perpetuating the idea that women aren’t multifaceted beings in the eyes of men unless they reject their femininity. Women listened, distancing themselves from things (and other women) they deemed “basic” and, instead, directly conforming to male standards.
New-age bimbos don’t cater to such misogynistic expectations. In fact, they actively reject them. They may have a hyperfeminine appearance but they’re also intelligent, sexually empowered, and politically conscious. This subversion of the very expectations that have long been used to oppress women creates a jarring cognitive dissonance for the straight male viewer. Bimbos are taking back their femininity and sticking up their perfectly manicured middle fingers to misogynistic male standards.
But while reclaiming something traditionally used to oppress women appears to be the ultimate feminist statement, the reality is not so simple. A fair share of criticisms can be made. Firstly, we must ask, is bimboism aestheticizing and trivializing serious issues? YouTuber Jordan Theresa calls it “eerily similar” to the Hello Kitty ACAB trend, wherein memes of Hello Kitty saying “All Cops Are Bastards!” took over social media, becoming Twitter profile pics and TikTok audios. ACAB was reduced to a trend and the serious issue of police brutality became commodified and watered down. On top of this, some may argue that bimboism is regressive. Turning yourself into a male fantasy, regardless of your intentions, may still just be pandering to men and the male gaze.
These criticisms, however, are sort of missing the point. For the new-age bimbo, it isn’t about catering to men’s desires. It’s about wearing what they want to wear and looking how they want to look. If that aesthetic initially catered to the male gaze, bimbos are taking that back. They may be everything men want in a visual sense, but they’re also actively subverting the stereotypes that come with the aesthetic—and using their platform to raise awareness for issues that matter to them. The girls, gays, and theys of BimboTok are finding empowerment where they’ve been taught to feel ashamed, reclaiming the power of their femininity. It just so happens that by doing so, they’re also saying a massive fuck-you to misogyny. And honestly, that’s really hot.
By Bec Oakes