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How Gen Z Bimbos are ‘queering’ femininity … or something like that
Who is the Gen Z bimbo?
A November 2020 Rolling Stone article declares that she’s “back, like for real!” The U.K.’s CHECK-OUT Mag explains “how TikTok and Gen Z redefined the core principles of being a bimbo” as though it’s a real political movement campaigning on the platform of bimboism. A Refinery29 headline announces the “rise of the new-age bimbo.” And recently, The New York Times ran an op-ed titled “Meet the Self-Described ‘Bimbos’ of TikTok.”
The story goes that “bimbofication”—which, it should be noted, is a word borrowed from a genre of “transformation” pornography and erotic fan art, where men and women metamorphize into what I can only politely describe as “surgically enhanced” sex dolls—is no longer a derisive label. No, Gen Z creators are reclaiming the bimbo to be “empowering.”
The most cited among these Zoomer TikTokers is a Chicago woman named Chrissy Chlapecka, whose now iconic TikTok proclaims that the bimbo “isn’t dumb. […] She’s actually a radical leftist, who’s pro-sex work, pro-Black Lives Matter, pro-LGBTQ+, pro-choice,” and “will always be there for her girls, gays, and theys.” Other articles are less prescriptive and leave out the explicitly progressive political agenda, postulating that it’s a reaction to our information-dense culture. It’s about vibes. It’s about confidence. It’s about, as Chrissy Chlapecka suggests, empowerment.
But what's going on, exactly? Is it a fashion trend, a self-help movement, a nascent digital community, a subculture? If you surf TikTok (or really, any social media platform), you’ll quickly discover that while the hashtags #bimbotok, #bimbo, #bimbofication, #bimbology, et al. are composed of millions of posts, there are only a small number of creators who consistently embrace the label. Many of them are the same few creators mentioned in every Gen Z bimboism explainer: @fauxrich, @gsgetlonelytoo, @ChrissyChlapecka, and @griffinmaxwellbrooks. There are a handful more, but they don’t seem to share enough to make them a cohesive subculture, per se. It’s more like they’re all taking inspiration from the same Pinterest or Tumblr mood board.
I’m not suggesting that it’s nothing, though. Taken together, @fauxrich, @gsgetlonelytoo, @ChrissyChlapecka, and @griffinmaxwellbrooks have follower counts tallying in the millions, with Chrissy alone clocking in at 4.8 million TikTok followers. TikTok is notorious for its inflated numbers—that is, something like 100,000 followers on TikTok isn’t as “valuable” as 100,000 followers on a platform like Twitter—but even for TikTok’s standards, close to 5 million is a hell of a lot. She’s earned her explosion of trend pieces.
To the extent that the bimbo subculture divorced from Chrissy & company’s fame is a genuine phenomenon, it seems like it can be distilled into four distinct categories (excluding the preexisting genre of pornography).
First, it’s an aesthetic. Online, “aesthetics” are labels for images often posted together that evoke similar moods. The “bimbo aesthetic,” also sometimes called bimbocore, which shares its name with a musical microgenre, evokes the early 2000s, hot pinks, screencaps from movies and shows like Mean Girls, Legally Blonde, and The Simple Life, and plenty of photos of thin, tan, blond women. It’s present on TikTok, but it’s more the domain of websites like Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter. Like most digital aesthetics, you know it when you see it. As they say, it’s more of a “vibe.”
Second, it’s a meme, and it’s not necessarily borrowed from the familiar bimbos of the ’50s, like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, or even the ’90s and early ’00s, like Pamela Anderson or Elle Woods from Legally Blonde. That’s not to say that they don’t take inspiration from the bimbos of yesteryear but that’s not its origin point. According to KnowYourMeme, it’s more likely that it’s a case of a pornographic trope bleeding into nonpornographic culture. Way back in 2020, TikTokers made videos of their “bimbo walks,” showing off their transformation—in jest or not—from normal she, he, or they to fully fledged bimbohood. (The Stacy to Becky “de-bimbofication” image macro, a piece of erotic fan art that went viral in 2017 and stayed viral, is also well-known among the internet-addled.) Something I think is interesting, and has remained underappreciated in the flurry of think pieces about Gen Z bimbos, is that this isn’t the first meme or even “vibe” to be highly influenced by porn.
To return to TikTok, I’ve noticed three different usages of the word “bimbo.”
The first and rarest is videos from conventionally attractive blond women between the ages of 19 and 32. These women share scenes from their “bimbo lifestyles,” their shoe collections, them at the pool, I’m sure you could imagine what else. You would be hard pressed to call this a new trend, or at least one that’s meaningfully different from the expected notions of what a bimbo is.
The third and fourth categories are best understood together.
Those two groups are primarily Black women exploring their femininity (and how they can use that femininity as a protection mechanism) and overwhelmingly, though not exclusively, white people of a multitude of gender expressions, like Chrissy Chlapecka. The latter group are performing a campy expression of hyperfemininity, whereas the former are more ordinarily feminine, even if some characteristics are exaggerated or played up for views.
In an interview with Fiona Bairn, who goes by @gsgetlonelytoo on TikTok, podcaster Arianna Faust pointed out that Bairn’s style of “bimbofication” didn’t look like everyone else’s—but was instead “more of a science.”
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Faust would be right to make this distinction: Bairn’s channel is primarily practical tips about “bimboism.” While there’s an air of humor to her account, you will mostly find actionable advice about how to live the bimbo lifestyle–which to Bairn, emphasizes a combination of femininity and what other users on the app have christened “weaponized incompetence, but yassified.” That is, ways in which pretending like you know less than you do can actually be a protective measure in hostile social situations.
TikTokers like Bairn are allowing women who may have been denied more conventional expressions of femininity a space to explore within its traditional confines. Another creator of this type is @bunnythebimbo, who identifies herself as a fat woman. As Bunny says, “fatness is seen as a failure of femininity” and bimboism is an attempt to reclaim that. To be a bimbo means something different to Bairn and Bunny than it does for creators like Chrissy Chlapecka. For these women, it does feel plausible to call what they’re doing “empowerment.”
But both Bairn and Bunny are significantly less popular than the likes of Chlapecka, whose version of “bimbofication” is the one that’s garnered the most attention.
Most of the criticism lobbed at her (and her ilk) boils down to some permutation of “you’re catering to the male gaze.” I agreed with this criticism … until I started paying closer attention. Watch her videos closely, and you’ll find that Chlapecka isn’t catering to the male gaze, at least, not really. Her waist-length pink or blond hair (depending on when you catch her), her heavy makeup, her garish outfits—she’s hyperfeminine, yes. But she’s hyperfeminine in the way Cher or Tammy Faye Messner are hyperfeminine. Or better yet, the way a drag queen is feminine.
Indeed, if you zoom out, you’ll see that Chlapecka’s bimbo is not the bimbo of the straight male fantasy or of pornography, but a “low camp drag” bimbo. The drag of low camp, wrote Andres Mario Zervigon in Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators, “stresses the masquerade itself. In this type of drag, the performer often reclaims fashions and songs that were once serious but that now, many years after their introduction, seem a hysterical failure. The drag queen of low camp evokes this hysteria by emphasizing exactly those features that make the work’s failure all the more obvious and entertaining.” (Look at her; she is giving drag more than Girls Gone Wild or The Girls Next Door.)
With gay icons, the camp is sometimes unintentional, as with Tammy Faye. Other times, camp is embraced once the icon learns of their new role, like with Cher. Drag queens, on the other hand, go into the performance fully conscious of how they’re playing with femininity. That’s Chlapecka.
But what should we make of her? What does it mean for a young, conventionally attractive woman to reject femininity through what, on its surface, looks like an embrace of it?
To my mind, Chlapecka’s bimbo character is the natural convergence of the early 2010s choice feminism that traveled through the annals of Tumblr with slogans like “eyeliner so sharp it could kill a man,” and the theater kidification of quotidian life.
Not only is everything a choice now, but everything is learned through media representations, as opposed to embodied life. To complicate matters, many of us, including Chlapecka, move through the world under the assumption that we’re performing for an audience—our TikTok or Instagram followers, our Snapchat friends, whomever. What emerges in this climate is a new type of gender theater.
For the bimbo, she leans into broadly acceptable expressions of contemporary womahood, while distancing herself from the responsibilities (and cultural baggage) endemic to them. As I noted above, Chlapecka isn’t just hyperfeminine. And if we take her at her word that this is who she really is, then perhaps she is a female-to-female transsexual.
What she offers is more than a drag costume that comes on and off. For her, the transition is from biological female to an archetype of femininity. Or maybe we should call it “female to bimbo.” As for all of us in the audience?
I’d say that we’re looking at what life once was from the rearview mirror: The hyperfeminine woman as we once knew it is now gone. All that remains is a masquerade, a performance, a parody. A potential TikTok. For now, we’re entertained.