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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Van Badham

Why the bimbocore aesthetic is the path to weaponising the social performance of the ageing woman

Paris Hilton in a grey velour tracksuit
Bimbocore ‘exists to satirise the impossibility of meeting contemporary standards of femininity by aggressively performing them’. Paris Hilton in a velour tracksuit. Photograph: RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

It was a search for the perfect velour tracksuit that put me on the path to #bimbocore. Work obliges me to catch many planes and I am old enough to appreciate that if you can travel with an elasticised waist, loose cuffs and a hood – as well as a mask – then you should.

Internet searches for the soft costume once beloved of early 00s femme celebrity brought me news of a retro revival that apparently started last year. Far further down in the fluffiest of fashion rabbit holes than I had ever intended to travel, I stumbled on to the aesthetic trend of bimbocore.

Adherents describe it as “less thoughts, more vibes” and if you’d rather be hot than think, the candy-pink, velveteen look that Britney and Paris made famous two decades ago is an unambiguous signifier of chosen modern levity. Ever the instinctive entrepreneur, Paris is – right now – retailing plush, 93%-polyester luxury on her website, so, yeah, a real thing is happening.

The trend-savvy do not have to tell me I have come to bimbocore very late. This is because I am 48 and these days 18 months passes like 10 minutes. At my age, life is hard and TikTok is irritating, so I mostly leave that platform alone. But I have also come to bimbocore with no small amount of jealousy and resentment, because learning the aesthetic exists to satirise the impossibility of meeting contemporary standards of femininity by aggressively performing them makes me desperate to embrace its slutty, pink resistance – and I can’t. Yes, I have the big hair, a requisite collection of shiny hoop earrings and enough shades of lipstick to credibly copy a Rothko painting.

Alas, I am more than uncomfortable in microskirts and a midriff top and the mere idea of platform shoes reminds me to call my physio. Wide-eyed pouting by the young registers as ironically Lolitaesque – but on a face like mine, it can only ever read as mockery.

Yet my jealousy persists, because how wonderful it is that activist young women and their friends have found a way to channel such a flagrant, public up-yours to the culture of gender policing that grows more exclusive and dangerous by the day. I mean this literally. There is a terrifying Venn overlap growing between capitalist criteria for feminised perfection and radical-right political demands to restrict the franchise of “womanhood” to ever-narrowing groups.

This last has anti-transgender protesters and actual Nazis on the streets of Melbourne and anti-trans laws in the US already kicking lesbians out of public bathrooms, given their visible unwillingness to perform gender the way extremists insist they should.

Meanwhile, the “tradwife” model homemakers of social media perform a highly merchandised ideal of womanliness without bimbocore’s snideness or irony. If you haven’t worked out tradwives are a soft power comms assault from the far right yet, the memes they post on Musk Twitter really – really – should give it away.

Older women paying attention have realised that the ambitious Nazi/anti-trans crossover events agitated for in US legislation come from wanting to rebrand women as mere vessels for patriarchal reproduction. If you think ageing female bodies maintain any social value in that calculus, you are wrong. Note the recent laws passed in Kansas restrict the definition of “female” to those still producing “ova”. If you are an infertile, childfree or menopausal woman, a cultural tradition of being made to feel unwomaned by these experiences is now no longer just a nasty social habit. It’s reality under Kansas law.

So what’s the appropriate aesthetic for the non-crop-top-compliant to express their resistance and refusal?

There have been attempts to define a #cronecore and #hagcore but last time I let my greys grow out and wore a flanno to the shops, the messaging conveyed was hardly subversive.

So now I have put in my order for a new tracksuit. My preference is black and hooded, and while I’m not out to culturally appropriate the aesthetic of the Ikkō-ikki I can certainly see the value of culture-jamming, gender-troublemakers learning how to vanish in a crowd. So let me now herald the arrival of the #NinjaCrone aesthetic.

In the public theatre of gender activism, imagine an army of assassin-attired older women haunting the dreams of every Nazi, tradwife, anti-trans-bathroom authoritarian and anti-abortionist and making them as afraid of us as the loud sluttiness of our bimbo sisters makes them uncomfortable. We’re invisible to patriarchy anyway, so let’s weaponise the social performance of the ageing woman as anonymous, omnipresent … and capable of anything.

The bimbos get it: the far right have already declared their gender war. If you want to fight it, grab a mask and suit up. They will never see us coming.

  • Van Badham is a Guardian Australia columnist

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