I’ve recently been thinking about the ‘discourse’ that inevitably surfaces when a TikTok trend goes viral. It’s a blessing and a curse which has come to be synonymous with the territory, yet it’s definitely something that Vine, despite being the de facto blueprint of the social media channel, didn’t have to put up with. And there are certainly benefits to this scrutiny, whether it’s discovering and removing videos of right wingers inciting white supremacist violence, or indeed celebrating the TikTok teens and K-Pop stans buying up tickets to a Trump rally in order to leave the stadium empty. However, a downside is the tide of opinions you often need to wade through before even hearing from a trend’s pioneer – hot takes which may never have been intended for in the first place. This is how I felt before meeting Chrissy Chlapecka, one of the leaders of ‘Bimbo TikTok’. As a brief glance at Chrissy’s profile @chrissychlapecka suggests, this particular trend is about reclaiming the word bimbo, a term traditionally used disparagingly against women, and looking hot while you’re at it. Even before I’d arranged my Zoom call with Chrissy’s agents, I had questions for the Bimbo TikTok star. Is Bimboism a performance, as per Judith Butler’s gender theory, and if so, who is the performance for? Does it serve the male gaze or subvert it? Is it the ‘radical left wing’ that some suggest, or just an excuse to dress up and play dumb?
To understand Bimbo TikTok, it’s useful to look at one of its undisputed icons, Paris Hilton. It’s no secret that Paris was both renowned and hounded as the ultimate blonde airhead, clad in Juicy Couture with a catchphrase of “That’s Hot”. Despite repeatedly saying it was a trope that she played up to, ‘the bimbo’ became synonymous with Paris’ main attributes: hyper-femininity, platinum hair extensions and empty-headedness. It’s also the reason that The Simple Life star was such a tabloid target. “Look at the way they treated Paris, like a carnival ride rather than an actual person,” Chrissy tells me from their home in Chicago, “all because of her ‘stupid, pretty girl’ persona.” Although Chrissy’s hair is currently pink rather than blonde, there’s no denying their resemblance to Paris: breathy voice, hot pink clothes, they’ve even just bought a miniature dog named Sugar Sparkles. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – and revenge. Chrissy and other Gen Zs on TikTok are avenging Paris and the other OG bimbos by taking on their aesthetics and creating a new identity. They have reclaimed autonomy over the label, celebrating the characteristics which once served their time as misogynistic ammunition. There are more personal aspects to Chrissy’s reclamation of Bimboism, too. They tell me that “bimbo is a word that was used against me throughout high school, because I love to dress in little skirts and big heels,” which resulted in “countless years of men mistreating me because they felt this power over me.” Because this maltreatment stemmed from Chrissy’s perceived femininity, they decided to redress the dynamic by embracing and exaggerating their feminine characteristics. In doing so, they weaponised it against the people and the societal standards which have for too long reinforced the power imbalance between men and women. As @bunnythebimbo says, this particular hyperfeminine aesthetic of Bimboism is about “making fun of the femininity that the patriarchy has put in place for us, and putting it to such extremes that it’s making fun of the way that men want to view women.” And because bimbos are taking pleasure in their performance, replacing shame with empowerment, the term now belongs to them.
However, it would be wrong to say that the pink feather-boa-d hyperfemininity is a trope for all bimbos. It’s actually a common misconception which would suggest that Bimbo TikTok was a reincarnation of first wave (read: white) feminism dressed up in a Y2K aesthetic. Ellen Uhlmann and Emily Baker, hosts of the podcast History Slurp Slurp, released an episode in February this year titled ‘What Would Sojourner Truth Think About Bimboism?’ which argued this exact point. Importantly, the podcast was recorded during Black History Month in the US, and the hosts investigated Bimbo TikTok against a horrifying real-time context of Black trans women being murdered at a disproportionately high rate in the country. Discovering Chrissy and other white women being celebrated as new feminist icons through cosplaying vapid hyperfemininity therefore made them question the TikTok trend – and rightly so. Just as Sojourner Truth’s famous ‘Ain’t I A Woman’ speech in 1851 challenged the social definition of ‘womanhood’, which excluded African-American women, Ellen and Emily believe Bimbo TikTok lacks intersectionality and is for white women only. TikToker and writer Lena Potts agrees, asserting that Bimboism isn’t accessible to folks of colour who are coded as aggressive. Lena argues that the exaggerated femininity and particular softness perpetuated by bimbos is a territory which can only be explored by white women and femmes.
However, it would appear that today’s bimbo is more intersectional than its critics believe, and has, since Paris’ heyday, evolved from the idea of a white, high-femme, soft woman. In fact, while Chrissy admits that they fit into this stereotype, they say, “How I look might not be the best representation of the reclaiming of the word bimbo, because it’s not just a blonde girl with big tits and a smile.” Bimboism has no true definition precisely because it is not defined by how you are perceived. This sentiment is echoed by Griffin Maxwell Brooks, a bimbo who Chrissy is often seen TikToking with, who says, “The bimbo has no gender, no race, no class or ability. The only requirement for bimbofication is that you embrace and reclaim your body in the name of independence… all that matters is that you’re hot and sexy on your own terms.” Bimboism is a domain for self-expression, Chrissy adds, which is “open for anyone’s interpretation.” In fact, softness doesn’t need to come into it, and they assure me that “you can still call yourself a bimbo just for funsies, even if you’re not a feminine person at all.”
Another myth around Bimboism that Chrissy aims to debunk is the idea that bimbos are inherently stupid. While the unofficial motto of Bimbo TikTok is ‘No thoughts. Heads empty. Just vibes’, this feigned dumbness, like much of the trend itself, is a parody of the misogyny historically faced by women. It’s all part of the performance of the bimbo, which subverts the expectations associated with people who look or act a certain way. TikTok Bimbo fauxrich explains that Bimboism is “not a protest against intelligence, it’s kind of a protest against academia and how elitist and classist it is.” Or as Chrissy puts it, “Bimboism doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a dumbass.”
As someone who dropped out of high school twice, I ask Chrissy for their thoughts on whether academia has become a gatekeeper for activism. They wholeheartedly believe that it has, reciting times where they have been belittled by “jean skirt feminists”, bookish caricatures who question the credibility of bimbos as activists. These are the same women, Chrissy says, who most vociferously claim that Bimboism works to serve the male gaze. “The hypocrisy!” they exclaim, waving their arms in emphasis, “that these feminists claim to fight for women’s rights and say it doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing… but in the same breath tell me that I’m choosing to embrace my femininity for male attention?” In the same way Chrissy believes these views to be archaic, they also think activism has evolved and exists outside traditional academic philosophies. Bimboism encourages the idea that learning from lived experience and sharing knowledge from your communities is “just as credible as reading something from a fucking book. Go ahead, be a smart person and use that to be an activist – but don’t tell me my opinion doesn’t count because I don’t talk a certain way, or know certain things. That’s about access to education, and it’s classist.” Chrissy’s words remind me of a Tweet I saw from @AmarilliFran, which read; “I see people from the hood embody community theory, marxism-leninism, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism… they might not be able to cite theory or name things using big words, but it’s there. Language is colonial and reproduces inaccessibility but y’all gatekeep too.” And the two aren’t mutually exclusive; Arielle, the ‘hood bimbo’, is evidence of this. What Chrissy and Fran are both arguing is that people whose ethics and politics are grounded in community and empathy are already anchored in the activism that others rely on books to reveal.
For Bimbos, the notion of traditional intelligence has been redefined and, as Chrissy says, “it’s about emotional intelligence at the end of the day”. Sure, the politics isn’t necessarily the radical left wing that some people claim it to be – but importantly, it’s not really bimbos who call themselves radical. It’s more of a discourse that has been shoved upon them. What I do think is relevant is that bimbos are taking an insult associated with the misogyny of right-wingers (famously, AOC got called a bimbo by Scott Dunn, a Texas city council member, in 2019) and reclaiming it as their own. Bimbo TikTok might not be revolutionary per se, but it’s a non-judgemental community which places acceptance at its core. Perhaps radical kindness is the ultimate achievement of the bimbo.