A critical introduction to the exploration of the parameters of the labels Bimbo and Bombshell, and how these are used to categorise and demean women based upon male sexual preferences and assumptions on women’s intelligence and capacity for rational thought.
Bimbo is a colloquial label assigned, primarily by men, to a woman who is sexually appealing
but and supposedly unintelligent or frivolous. Frivolous meaning not having any purpose or value – one of the most dangerous ways we can view a human is lacking in value, this leads us down a rocky road to the mistreatment and subjugation of women as less than.
The term originated in the early 20th Century as a derogatory term for a vulgar or foolish man. It fell out of common use for many decades, but the label regained popularity in the 1980s and has widely been used to categorise women, primarily those with an aesthetic that leans towards glamourous and blonde. 1987 was termed the Year of the Bimbo due to multiple high profile scandals involving typically attractive women, e.g. Gary Hart’s affair with Donna Rice.
A bombshell is an informal term for an extremely attractive woman, not much of the rest of her character is taken into account aside from appearance. A bombshell is a sex icon, catering to the male gaze and causes us to question how much women in the media are being sexual out of true choice and how much is determined by coercion in order to progress their careers. Kimberly Foster speaks about this issue in relation to black women’s hyper-sexualisation in music (2020).
The Blonde Bombshell is usually the image that comes to mind – Marilyn Monroe, Pamela Anderson, Jean Harlow. She is sexy, exciting, dynamic but not too intelligent or funny as not to crush the fragile male ego that desires her. The 1933 Jean Harlow film, Bombshell popularised the term which had originated in the 1860s to describe visually striking and beautiful women.
Alicia Amira, adult star and self-proclaimed Bimbo, started The Bimbo Movement in 2017. Amira embraces hyper-femininity in order to destigmatise the negative associations with ‘being like the other girls’ or being a ‘dumb blonde.’ Amira reclaimed the word Bimbo with power and courage in order to convey how she as a woman can use a typically derogatory assumption to show off her self-worth and confidence. Amira works against misogynistic narratives through encouraging women to take their sexual liberation into their own hands.
Bimboification is a term that has been circling social media, particularly Tik Tok in the last year. The term, as described by Jordan Thersa, has been used from a range of visual transformation videos to kink content. Bimbofication, as a kink involves a naïve woman who is very attractive, and is supposed to have no thoughts other than pleasing her sexual partner. The problem is when these ideas become embedded in the mind and trickle out into the treatment of women in the home, the workplace or everyday life. More often than not, the labelling of women as bimbos, is independent of the kink sub-group.
The current phenomenon of reclaimed bimbofication prioritises Eurocentric beauty standards, therefore it is not intersectional. The term choice feminism, coined by Linda Hershman, defines the misunderstanding of feminist activism, in assuming that any action carried out by a woman is inherently feminist, purely because a woman did it. It’s important to highlight that our choices are determined by our privilege and some women have more choices available to them.
The term bimbo exists because it is assumed that a woman can not possibly be multifaceted. If a woman is attractive then she can not also be intelligent can she!? Dolly Parton is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actress, author, businesswoman, and humanitarian. Paris Hilton is a DJ, model, socialite and business mogul. Anna Nicole-Smith was a model, mother, and made a name for herself from nothing. Multifaceted.
Every descriptor of the bombshell concentrates on aesthetics; beautiful, sexy, blonde, glamorous etc. The value of her character is irrelevant, she is a sex symbol, a screen siren, existing for the benefit of the male gaze and beyond this gaze she does not exist.
The definitions of Bimbo and Bombshell do not vary hugely, yet one comes with much more negative connotations. The Bombshell’s intellectual nor emotional character is taken into account. The male gaze drills into us the belief that our outward appearance is the most important part of us, our thoughts are either irrelevant or supposedly non-existent.