Isn't it funny how there is a word for every type of derogation for women? Someone who is sexually independent - slut. An older woman who men are attracted to - MILF. And a woman who looks "pretty," but talks "dumb" - bimbo. Pretty dumb, right? But alas, given society's penchant for labels, these terms are notoriously used in common lingo without restraint. Especially the last one.
"Bimbo" has become a sweeping slang to denote a woman who is conventionally attractive on the outside, but seemingly doesn't have a high IQ. She is someone who may say something factually incorrect or doesn't have as much knowledge as the other person. But even if you are a confident woman, regardless of whether you have a PhD or are highly-informed, you are automatically at the risk of falling under the "bimbo" category. Why? Because people can't digest the fact that a "beautiful" woman can also be intelligent.
The Derogatory Definitions of Bimbo
Urban Dictionary, known for its crisp round-ups of what slangs mean in pop culture, defines bimbo as "a physically attractive but unintelligent woman," with the American model and socialite Paris Hilton as a stated example. We'll discuss her further ahead.
But if you found that definition offensive, wait till you hear this one. In another definition of a bimbo, UD goes on to read, "A girl who is stupid, wears lots of make up and is obsessed with boys and clothes. Generally blonde... You can spot them because they will be the big group of girls that all look the same and are giggling hysterically."
An easy recall from Bollywood would be Pooh's gang in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, for whom short clothes and perfect bodies are shown as essentials for survival.
NEWSFLASH: Bimbo was Originally Used to Refer to Males
In short, a bimbo is only a pretty face that people want to sleep with. That's all that is said to form her personality. She is someone who can't think for herself, is a vessel of vanity, and doesn't have solid personal opinions about anything.
Interestingly, notwithstanding all the ways bimbo forms prejudices about women, the word was initially commonly used for the opposite gender. Males, yes. It has its roots in the Italian word "bambino" - used to mean a "male child or baby."
The etymological history of the term "bimbo" tells us that it is a fairly new English word, emerging only as late as the 1920s. Originally, it was used for either sex, according to the Oxford Reference. This word finds mention in a lot of PG Wodehouse books, known for their humour and frivolity. Gradually, as the term gained prominence, it began being used exclusively for women who were "easy," narcissistic, silly, and yet, gorgeous-looking.
Labels Like "Bimbo" or "Blonde" Reduces Women to Objects
Though the term isn't as popular as it was back in the 1980s, it isn't uncommon to hear it being flung about in casual conversations even today. And it should pique all women. Bimbo is an offensive that reduces women to only their sexual capacity and sees them as objects of desire. Nothing else. It is a complete deprecation of a woman's agency of her own thoughts and life.
A study by the American Psychological Association notes that the "model female" on television is "beautiful, dependent, helpless" and "valued for her appearance more than for her capabilities and competencies."
The stereotype of the dumb blonde, or a perennially-giggling bimbo, puts women at a greater disadvantage as they are already. It projects us as the unthinking gender that lives and breathes towards one and only one achievement - that of pleasing men. Our financial independence, social awareness, and moral compasses be damned. We did not sign up for this, did we?
Paris Hilton and the Stereotype of the "Barbie Airhead"
Hilton, who I mentioned earlier, has been hailed as the archetype of the "dumb blonde" for decades now. She first amassed soaring popularity in the 2000s courtesy a leaked sex tape and was often likened to a Barbie doll for her blonde hair, smooth skin, and dismissible opinions.
Taking on that thread, in 2020 she confessed to having contributed to this stereotype of a "Barbie airhead", saying, "I created this brand and I've been stuck with her ever since." She even confessed to having fed into this stereotype of her personality. However, she realises the shortcomings of it now. "But it's not who I am or how I want to be remembered. I'm kind-hearted and smart." Good on you, Paris.
Although we're now increasingly finding the right words to voice our concerns against these subtle misogynies, it's disheartening to see that some people are still subscribing to dated terms like bimbo and throwing them around like badges of aspiration for women. Seriously, stop. Instead, let's all just go back to the word's Italian roots and use them for the people they are meant to be used - babies.
Views expressed are the author's own.