American Bimbo

Edited by Emmeline Clein


Emmeline Clein

Lindsay Lohan’s Splashy, Sensationalized Journey To Sobriety

Rax King

Neither sexy, cool, nor smart

Elena Comay del Junco

On Twinning: The Parent Trap, The Hiltons, and the White Girls Who Raised Me

Rob Franklin

Have We Learned Anything?

Lynn Melnick

The American Bimbo as a Site of Spiritual Struggle

Elle Nash

On Lipstick Lesbians, Feminine Suffering, and Aspirational Idiocy

Nora Rose Tomas


In college, I purchased a set of heart-shaped friendship necklaces on Etsy. Entrapped in each pendant was a girl caught in flashbulb glare, all feral eyes and shiny hair. In the original image, they were squeezed thigh to thigh in a car, but by the time I was clicking to pay in 2014, they'd been ripped apart over and over again. Splashed on the cover of the New York Post, two blondes and a brunette had squinted against cameras and catcalls, their names careening out of male mouths, bouncing off the hood of their car. The image was called lurid, invasive, influential, simply slutty, stupid, and eventually: iconic. Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton in the front seat of Hilton's car after tumbling out of the club and into the McLaren.

The Post ran the multi-million dollar image under the headline BIMBO SUMMIT, and the girls looked like they were being blinded. But, in 2024, the question has become: were the stars blind, or were we? Or were our interlocutors, the pundits, journalists, television hosts, and critics blinded by the stars in their eyes, ventriloquizing misogynistic tropes? The BIMBO SUMMIT photo has since become a kitschy, ironized feminist commodity adorning not just pendants but windshield covers, stickers, posters, oil paintings, votive candles, and crop tops. All this is cast as a reclamation of misunderstood starlets by their now grown-up feminist fans, while young journalists publish mournful takes about their forebears’ misguided misogyny. But is this really reincarnation or is it just re-fetishization, further exploitation? We might not see headlines like BIMBO SUMMIT anymore, but with the feminist cybersphere rife with trends like BimboTok, one begins to wonder whether sexist stereotypes can ever truly be for the girls.

Despite all the media's attempts to apologize to put these girls back on the pedestals we ripped out from under them both the recent spate of elegiac documentaries about aughts-era bimbos and the reviews of many of their recent memoirs focus on the moment when these girls went wild, rather than the far lengthier periods during which they matured. Give the girls a voice, and you might not hear the baby talk you're expecting; in the meantime, they've become women. If we really listen to them, we might find out that they never wanted to be teetering on that pedestal in the first place, which is not to say that they didn't want a throne.

In many of these memoirs and documentaries Paris Hilton and Britney Spears' books and films, interviews with Lindsay Lohan, the melancholy documentary about Anna Nicole Smith the media is cast as the bad guy, giving the public a pass. Every good story needs a villain, and the media doesn't mind: after all, opprobrium doesn't stop it raking in cash. Meanwhile, the rest of us can finally sleep at night, freed from the guilt we felt after we watched these girls' lives fall apart the first time. This time around, we listen to the story like a lullaby, staring at the same exploitative images we remember so well, grateful to our idols for giving us a happy ending. They absolve us of our sins, in the process sending themselves straight to heaven. But like most religious texts, these moral lessons can easily be misread and misused.

Our starlet narrators position their fans against the media, with media imagined as vicious and venal, while fans are pure-hearted and devoted. What these characterizations elide in their attempts to appeal to their audiences is the fact that we're guilty too, always grasping at shards of these girls and in this process tearing them apart.

Like Eve, these are girls denied depth by the people in charge, understood as fallen women when they seek life experiences we didn't think they were ready for. Which brings me back to the bimbo summit, and the dumb blonde image all these girls inhabited far into adulthood. Hilton writes about creating her "dumb blonde" persona, the "perfect life barbie doll character" as a "trauma response" after abuse, as well as a golden ticket to fame and fortune; she wanted to become what "Marilyn never got the chance to: It Girl gone influencer."1

"I'm not being seen in the light I want to be seen in,"2 Britney says early in a 2008 documentary about her life. "I have no feelings at all," she once told an interviewer. Later in the film, Britney pines for a future free from "the restraints I'm under," from her father, yes, but maybe she also meant the ones we put on her, the paparazzi and fans who wait outside her door every day. She says she wants to walk down a street at night, licking an ice cream cone arm in arm with a friend, "feeling the crispy air" without being followed, asked for autographs, screamed for and grabbed at. She tears up, her voice cracks, but she speaks clearly, so we can see her, since we clearly didn't when she told us her loneliness was killing her, or when she begged us to just let me, let me be. "I'm sad."

Subject to surveillance for her entire adult life from the media, her family, medical authorities, court-appointed figures, and us, her fans Britney has suffered for this society's sins, its ravenous appetite for good girls going awry, but she has also survived. Yet we don't seem able to learn our lesson, and the pseudo-stalking and attempts at control concealed by "concern" continue. In recent years Britney has had to deal with fans calling the police to her home after she deleted her Instagram and faced a barrage of condescending commentary on her mental health after being photographed in her pajamas after an argument with her boyfriend at a hotel.

In her early music, Britney told us to hit her, and then she said she needed us. But that was back before the Fall, or it was after the tabloid flood and the rebirth, the buzz cut and baptism by Blackout album, depending on when you date Britney's exile from early fame's Eden. "Everybody looks at me like I'm a little girl / did you ever think it would be ok for me to step into this world?" she sang, and we screamed along, and then didn’t let her walk down the street. So it wasn't a Fall: these girls were pushed.

Bimbos, barbies, and dumb blondes alike are tiptoeing across a narrow bridge in high winds: young, nubile, girl beauty. When they become adult women, the media and their fans can find themselves equally at a loss, unsure how to interact when these women ask not just to be loved, but to be listened to. Hilton remembers mourning Princess Diana, "in Heaven with Marilyn, forever young, forever perfect," when she was young herself, and hadn't yet stopped "to wonder why everyone wants women to stay young if dying is the only way to do it."3

Back when I bought those necklaces, I gave them to two friends who would have helped me escape a bad party or put a nasty rumor to bed, like Paris, Lindsay, and Britney were doing for each other that night. Girls who wanted to gossip as often as they wanted to engage in intellectual analysis, who understood that there isn't always a difference between those two activities, who loved me and cared that I cared so much about these beautiful bimbos, these women who inspired beautiful feelings and fan art and devotion along with innuendo and cruelty and stampedes. Now that the good girls gone bad have grown into women, maybe we can finally admit that that story was always too simple, as fictional as the characters we paid them to play. The essays in this cluster refuse those rote narratives, finding nuance and novel angles into these women's much-analyzed lives. These writers investigate these women and the society that trapped them in the frame through the lenses of addiction, overexposure, sexuality, surveillance, chauvinism, spirituality, self-creation, and archetypal notions of both femininity and intellect finally studying the American bimbo through kaleidoscopes and magnifying glasses, rather than the long lens of a paparazzi camera.

Emmeline Clein is the author of the book Dead Weight: Essays on Hunger and Harm and the chapbook Toxic. Her writing has been published in The Paris ReviewThe NationThe Yale ReviewMother JonesThe Washington Post, and elsewhere.


  1. Paris Hilton, Paris: The Memoir (New York: HarperCollins, 2023), 98.[]
  2. Britney, For The Record, directed by Phil Griffin (2008; Los Angeles: RadicalMedia), TV Movie.[]
  3. Paris Hilton, Paris: The Memoir (New York: HarperCollins, 2023), 85.[]

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