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IWD Special 8 Mar 2022 - 5 min read

Challenging societal norms with hotness: The bimbos and flappers are roaring through the twenties, exploding on TikTok, blowing up fempowerment

By Nicky Bryson - Principal: Sayers Brand Momentum | Scholar, The Marketing Academy

Nicky Bryson: If Bimboism is in part a response to a pandemic, a period of chaos and social and economic upheaval then when have we seen this before?

The Girl Boss/Fempowerment movement pushed that success was ours …if only we acted a bit more like men. But people are sick of that, and are pushing back hard by… becoming bimbos, himbos and thembos. But appearing hot and dumb is a tactic of subversion, says Sayers Principal, Nicky Bryson. New age bimboism of the 2020s is channelling the flappers of the 1920s. Only this time with TikTok to move faster – and drive the next wave of revolution in a totally different direction.

The Girl Boss/Fempowerment movement pushed that success was ours to grab if we wanted it. That it was up to the individual (not the system). If we leaned in, were resilient, showed grit and determination that rights and recognition could be hustled for if only we just acted a bit more like men.

If I referred to someone as a bimbo most likely you would picture a hot, airheaded blonde. It would probably take you back in time, bringing up images of Paris Hilton, Anna Nicole Smith or Pamela Anderson. You would also probably find it a little odd and jarring, an insulting label from a bygone era that feels canceled like many around it.

If you live on TikTok however you may imagine something quite different. The last 12 months has seen ‘Bimboism’ explode on TikTok with Gen Z redefining and reclaiming the construct for themselves. iD Magazine declared 2021 “The year of the bimbo” and #bimbo videos currently have over 1.5bn views and climbing. What may have been simmering for a while is no longer a fringe identity.

Challenging societal norms with hotness

In short, bimboification is about applying a mindset to your way of life and finding empowerment where you have been taught to feel ashamed. It’s about thinking less, being true and one with yourself and ultimately being hot and sexy, on your terms. It is about no longer minimising yourself for others or appealing to the misogynistic and patriarchal expectations that have held women back for decades. And, while like their predecessors the new-age bimbo may appear to be hot and dumb this is really a tactic of subversion. 24-year-old @maeultra, a self-confessed TikTok bimbo explains “It feels powerful and liberating to know that I’m constantly challenging gender and societal norms with hotness. Nothing makes misogynists angrier than women choosing to be hot, appearing dumb and yet being incredibly self-aware.”

It is this self awareness that drives their intelligence. They are radically left, politically active and emotionally intelligent. 23 year old @fauxrich, explains that being a bimbo is “not a protest against intelligence, it’s kind of a protest against academia and how elitist and classist it is. Do you not care about society’s elitist view on academic intelligence? Do you support all women, regardless of their job title, or if they’ve had plastic surgery or body modifications? I’m no doctor, but I think you may be a new-age bimbo!” 

‘Like a girl’ reinforced male standards

Partly ‘Bimbofication’ is a response to the chaos and burnout of the past few years. Young people feeling overwhelmed with a simple desire to empty their heads and relieve themselves of any pressure to try or think. However more pointedly it is a revolt against the previous feminist era ideal of the “girl boss”. The Girl Boss/Fempowerment movement pushed that success was ours to grab if we wanted it. That it was up to the individual (not the system). If we leaned in, were resilient, showed grit and determination that rights and recognition could be hustled for if only we just acted a bit more like men.

We saw brands and culture tap into and exacerbate this. Ads such as ‘like a girl’ or Barbie’s ‘dream big’ applauded at the time for their role in pushing women forward, in reflection simply reinforcing male standards. Brands were advocates for and supporters of women but ultimately were still telling women how they should be. Where once you had to be thin now you have to be strong, it’s no longer about being beautiful but you must be brave. Be brave, be strong, be confident. What was billed as empowering was oppressive and further perpetuating the patriarchy. Bimboism is the antithesis of this, As Vice recently notes “The girlies are sick and tired of proving themselves – there’s plenty of other shit to worry about.”

Bimbos, himbos and thembos

Bimboism has two distinct qualities critically relevant today. It is both accessible and achievable. No longer blonde and white and not exclusively female, bimbo culture encourages everyone — bimbos, himbos, thembos — to be their best selves. Bimbo’s occupy all races, genders, sexual orientations and body types. And achieving new found bimboism isn’t hard, its purely based on however you want to vibe it. As Vice stated ‘you just need to focus on thinking about things that actually matter, like community, setting an example and building others up, which can only be achieved by building yourself up to the point where you aren’t plagued by anxieties. Whether you are liked or loved, whether you said the wrong thing, whether you are enough. Bimbos say, “Who cares?”’ In a refreshing and liberating move this generation is challenging the millennial obsession with being externally validated. The obsession with filters, fitting the mould, being liked, being in. Our bimbos are loving themselves sick and giving zero f*cks who else does.

But ultimately this is a political statement that ‘we outtie’ from a generation that has learnt the rewards for climbing the hypothetical ladder and appealing to the status quo are both uncertain and unequal. While the pandemic put their lives on hold what happens when they continue to do so? While other generations have certainly rebelled, rioted and reformed they still participated in and continued to prop up the system. We know trust in the establishment is shot, traditional pathways through academia are questioned and the rate of students leaving school between year 10-12 has increased since 2017. Will this be a generation who actually creates system change by simply not partaking?

Flappers reincarnate?

History has a way of learning from and repeating itself, adversity defines and redefines us. If Bimboism is in part a response to a pandemic, a period of chaos and social and economic upheaval then when have we seen this before?

A pandemic, social and economic destabilisation resulting in a generation of young women rebelling against authority and social expectations? The flappers of the 1920s have much in common with our bimbos of 2020s.

Young girls with short hair, heavy makeup, and bold dresses. They drank, chain smoked, flirted rampantly and rejected traditional pathways on all fronts. Through both appearance and behaviour they challenged boundaries and rejected societies morals and expectations. As the Guardian noted “The fast, frivolous flapper of the 20s was partially a cultural stereotype, but she was also a focus of serious debate. With her short skirts and cigarettes, her cocktails, sexiness and sass, she was not only offensive to the men, but also a concern to older feminists, who saw in her pleasure-seeking, taboo-breaking ways a younger generation’s disregard of all for which the suffragettes had fought.

Men feared that their party culture, materialism and new gender roles would lead to family disintegration, societal depravity and the fall of the white race. Much like our bimbos the flappers took pride on this effect on the male order. The flapper generation also similarly dismissed the progress of their feminist priors through a shift toward self actualisation. “Ideas of duty, sacrifice and the greater good had been debunked by the recent war; for this generation, morality resided in being true to one’s self, not to a cause. Towards the end of the decade, some feminists would argue that women’s great achievement in the 20s was learning to value their individuality.

The flappers have been widely credited with seeding ground for and having a direct impact on the 1960s women’s liberation movement. And perhaps if they had TikTok they would have changed ground sooner. There is much discussion floating if our 2020s could become the second roaring 1920s. Our new-age bimbos share striking similarities in ambition with their friends the flappers. But will the advantages of the digital and cyber revolution give them the power to actually break the ways – and path – we have been following?

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