The Reclamation of Bimbohood

Photo: MGM

The New York Post called it a “bimbo summit”: Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan, flanked by paparazzi cameras, smiling from the front seat of a car. (This was, apparently, deserving of a cover back in 2006.) The following year was labeled the “year of the bimbo” by the tabloid, lumping together Hilton’s jail sentence, Spears’s shaved head, and Anna Nicole Smith’s death as emblematic of being “young, ditzy, and out of control.” To be a bimbo, in the early aughts, was a bad thing.

That photo has resurfaced almost 15 years later to celebrate: Within one holy day, Hilton got married, Spears was finally freed from her conservatorship, and Lohan debuted her highly anticipated acting comeback with Netflix. The internet took the news as a sign that the earth is healing.

That it’s this photo is fitting. (Sure, yes, it’s iconic, but it’s not like there aren’t other photos of them together, you know?) All three women were being torn apart by the media during the time the picture was taken. Spears was scrutinized for wearing no underwear and voted 2006’s worst celebrity dog owner (??); Lohan was told her party-girl reputation off-screen would ruin her onscreen career; and people were convinced the ditzy character Hilton played in The Simple Life was reality and were furious about it.

Hilton herself reflected on the “Holy Trinity” photo recently, saying that “most of these problems,” i.e., pitting women against each other and inventing drama, “were just caused by the media” in her podcast episode covering the 15th anniversary of the “bimbo summit.” The history of the word “bimbo” and its use as a tool of the patriarchy stretch back far, far longer than 2006, but the intent has remained the same — to equate expressing feminine sexuality, or caring “too much” about one’s appearance by, say, wearing makeup, with being unintelligent, all in an effort to keep women in check. Cambridge’s dictionary defines it as “a young woman considered to be attractive but not intelligent.” Women can’t have it all, I guess.

The false idea that women aren’t as smart as men isn’t new, but it is relevant (like in studies that show women get passed over for their male counterparts when employers want “brainy” workers), and categorizing attractive women as bimbos has put the onus on all women to prove they’re “not one of those girls” — to prove that they deserve, and more importantly, want, to be taken seriously. Brains over beauty! Except for that whole “society’s standards of acceptable attractiveness” thing, but I digress. Bizarrely, the word originated from an Italian word for a baby boy, with the slang changing around 1920 when a song written for a Broadway revue entitled My Little Bimbo Down on the Bamboo Isle used the term to describe a woman. Needless to say, calling a grown woman a term previously used for children is … not great.

Anyway, today’s bimbos have reclaimed the label to have nothing to do with any of that. To be a self-proclaimed bimbo in 2021 is to be a socially aware, politically engaged person who is capital-C Confident. A bimbo finds (versus forfeits) power in expressing femininity. And across social-media platforms, self-confessed bimbos are discussing the flaws of late-stage capitalism while wearing fake eyelashes and winged eyeliner and posting captions that educate followers about gender and racial inequality with long acrylic nails.

Much of this philosophy lives on #BimboTok. On TikTok, the hashtag #Bimbo alone already has over one billion views. Chrissy Chlapecka, a 21-year-old Chicago-based barista, is one of the most prominent New Age bimbos on the app, with nearly 4 million followers. Chlapecka posts maximalist outfit videos (most of which are pink, black, and fluffy) and encouraging satirical messages like: “shoutout to everyone who disappoints their parents by the way they dress.” In each video, Chlapecka takes on the comedic character of mentor to her “bimbabies,” making jokes about her struggle with anxiety and telling followers the secret to being hot is to “step on homophobes and Republicans.” She’s the theatrical embodiment of the type of women’s-empowerment discourse you scroll past on Twitter: avoiding straight men and being yourself because the world’s ending.

To Chlapecka, being a bimbo means “being confident, loving your own version of femininity, and sexuality.” “It’s being the full and honest version of who you are aside from societal judgments that look down upon the beauty and power of femininity interpreted in one’s own way,” she continues. While like anyone viral on TikTok, she gets her fair share of hateful comments — which she then replies to by shaking her ass — her following of loyal “bimbabies” often ask her for advice or encouragement. “Chrissy, tell me he’s not worth it please,” writes one. “When I say she’s my new religion …” writes another. For these followers, Chlapecka’s open embrace of bimbodom translates to unequivocal acceptance.

Princess (also known as FauxRich on TikTok), a 22-year-old based in Los Angeles who posts TikToks showcasing her long acrylic nails and references Dolly Parton in her personal style, says “a lot of people’s true self lies within being a bimbo.” She defines being a bimbo as being “hot, caring, bubbly, pro–plastic surgery, pro–sex work, and living an authentic lifestyle,” all of which goes against the long-held notion that women have to masculinize themselves to hold power.

While bimboism is the performance of hyperfemininity, Chlapecka says that identifying as a bimbo is a tool to protest against gender norms by dismantling historical expectations of femininity. “Bimbo culture today gives feminine people the opportunity to enjoy their femininity and interpret it in their own way without judgment,” she says. Sure, maybe you’re not comfortable wearing Hello Kitty acrylic nails to the office, but maybe seeing Chlapecka in platform boots, pigtails, and a miniskirt while talking about her “big knockers” and capitalism might encourage you to wear colorful eye shadow to your work meeting without worrying that you’ll be taken less seriously or laughed at. “Bimbo has always been a word that a man has given us,” Chlapecka continues. “Now, I will give myself the label as a way of acknowledging my own power within choice to call myself it and make it into something accepting and positive.”

Today’s reclamation of bimbohood is also a tool for queer liberation. For Griffin Maxwell Brooks, a 20-year-old Princeton University undergrad who’s another popular self-confessed bimbo on TikTok, being a bimbo is a way to reclaim their body and gender expression. “I am queer and genderfluid and I love to express myself through fashion, and the idea of ‘bimbofication’ was always a hilarious and beautiful way of embracing the parts of me which were a bit shocking to society,” they say. Brooks’s take on bimboism is less pink and more latex. They share videos of the “bimbofication” of everyday life — from navigating Princeton (where they study mechanical engineering) to being on the diving team.

Brooks says that for many people, especially marginalized people, “self-expression is resistance” and bimbohood is one form of self-expression. “I think the idea of being a bimbo really resonated with a lot of feminine and queer people because it encouraged them to dig their heels into their identities rather than supressing themselves to appease society,” they explain. The response from their 800,000-plus followers, Brooks says, has fostered an online community with an “unrelenting dedication to themselves.”

That’s the crux of New Age bimbohood: It isn’t just about liking the color pink and posting makeup tutorials. It’s as expansive as femininity itself, and even better, it’s saying that you don’t need to shy away from expressing it (and definitely shouldn’t judge others who do, no matter what society has taught you). Self-professed bimbo or not, all femme people can benefit from the reclamation of bimboism as it avoids pitting different women or expressions of womanhood against each other and actively rejects the notion that being feminine is somehow being less than male counterparts (a lie to keep us in a cycle of self-doubt and self-hate). As Princess puts it, “being a bimbo is being a true girl’s girl. I was always Karen from Mean Girls, not Regina.” If the Y2K “bimbo” narrative was a way to divide women and femme people, today’s bimbo is here to unite us again.

The Reclamation of Bimbohood