I have recently found myself in an interesting corner of the internet known as “#BimboTok.” Under this and similar hashtags one will find hundreds of videos from creators self-identifying as “bimbos,” a term traditionally used as an insult to describe unintelligent, frivolous young women. Many of these typically female creators have been reshaping what it means to be a bimbo in an attempt to reclaim the term. They emphasize the importance of sex and body positivity by promoting mindful existence. According to the viral sound created by Chrissy Chlapecka, one of the most influential bimbo creators who has recently capitalized on her bimbo success by releasing the song “I’m So Hot” on Spotify, the bimbo is “actually a radical leftist, who’s pro-sex work, pro Black Lives Matter, pro LGBT, pro-choice, and will always be there for her girls, gays and theys.” Many influencers on BimboTok are breaking stereotypes on what it means to look like a feminist, as well as tackling the elitism that often accompanies traditional pathways of education.
As I continued to investigate BimboTok I grew continually uncomfortable. For every online modern bimbo that promoted political education and engagement, there was another that seemed to encourage apathy and anti-intellectualism. While choosing conscious breaks from social media and the news cycle can be important in preserving one’s mental health, it seemed a step too far to encourage young women to stop educating themselves on social and political issues entirely. Additionally, it became apparent that many of these women were seeking to not just destigmatize plastic surgery, but were actively encouraging it and occasionally seeking funds from their audience. This brand of BimboTok seemed to promote exaggerated standards of traditional beauty. This prompted further thinking on other recent trends, such as “stay at home girlfriends,” in which users romanticize being provided for solely by their, typically male, partner. I couldn’t help but wonder: were we regressing? Why did it seem so many women were falling back on traditional gender roles?
Recent research has shown that women felt greater emotional and economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic than men. This is in part due to how the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing gender inequalities. Additionally, there is some research which indicates that women are more likely to adopt more traditional gender roles in post crisis eras. While these patterns are worth considering, I don’t think this is what we are seeing on BimboTok.
First off, the origins of BimboTok are pre-pandemic and trace back to 2017. Some may argue that it could be a response to growing concerns of anti-intellectualism in the wake of the 2016 election, but that seems unlikely. Additionally, it’s important to note that the idea that BimboTok stems from a place of social regression is rhetoric primarily pushed by trans-exclusionary radical feminists or TERFs. These “radical feminists” view gender not just as a social construct, but a system of oppression in and of itself. Since they choose to understand gender as a system of male domination – male as in the biological sex –they weaponize their “feminism” against transgender and nonbinary people. One of the primary issues that TERFs take with bimboism is that it is not just a space for cisgender women, but for people of all genders to embrace hyper-femininity. This destroys the credibility of their argument as it becomes a weapon of bigotry rather than a thoughtful exploration of the sociological impact of BimboTok.
This isn’t to say that the criticisms of bimbo culture are without merit. It walks a very precarious line between prioritizing mindfulness and promoting disengagement. The danger often comes in simplifying complex messages. It is important to put one’s health and mental wellbeing ahead of academic pursuits; when education itself is portrayed as the root cause of one’s unhappiness, the sentiment becomes problematic. While bimbos do important work in destigmatizing plastic surgery, many prominent creators encourage a traditional standard of beauty that has only been achieved through plastic surgery. This makes many of their messages surrounding body positivity feel somewhat hypocritical. I think that most bimbos can offer important lessons on how feminism can intersect with hyperfemininity. However, Many bimbo creators rely on TikTok and other social media sites as sources of income, which influences the nature of their content. So, as the viewer, we bear the responsibility of becoming more critical of the media we consume. Many bimbo creators make content that offers fun and creative new responses to respectability politics and the classism of many traditional academic and political spaces, but we should still be critical of the content’s subliminal messages regarding anti-intellectualism and traditional standards of western beauty.