Forget the mullet. One 80s revival we didn’t see coming was … the himbo. It’s a term that has pinballed through the decades with only a slightly wavering definition. He’s the male bimbo: the hunky but empty-headed “hottie”, typified by Channing Tatum in Magic Mike. And, according to Mel magazine, we are, in 2020, living in the “golden age of the himbo”.
Recent examples include Joe Wicks, the Gen-Z rent-a-hunk Noah Centeno, Jon Snow from Game of Thrones and Keanu Reeves as Ted, about to return in Bill & Ted Face the Music, while the term has been trending on Tumblr and Twitter (@fangirljean’s “himbo is ableist” tweet became a meme at the weekend).
“I just started hearing [the term] left and right in the past few months, so I assumed it was on the newer side,” says the Jezebel writer Ashley Reese. “But I feel like this is the perfect time for it to make a comeback.”
Typically, for the lucky old himbo, he seems to be constantly living in his own golden age.
The term was coined by the Washington Post in 1988 for men who chose “flex not sex”, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, or were praised for being an “honest sexist” like Bruce Willis. The renaissance was in 2012, when GQ saw a trend on TV and in films for sassy talking heroines – Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon on 30 Rock, Kirstin Wiig in Bridesmaids – thrown into relief by a buff, dumb-as-bread guy. “Now dudes are simply the shiny backboards off which female stars can bounce their punchlines,” wrote Lauren Bans.
And now, in 2020, here we are here again. Alongside Reeves, Reese listed Bob the Builder, Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise, Danny Zuko and “bongos era” Matthew McConaughey. “The himbos from the past have been perceived as harmless and may be a guilty pleasure to some,” says Dr Jeffrey R Gardere.
For Reese, the himbo exists in sweet relief to other over-intellectual types. (“The dude who will never let you forget that he was a philosophy major in college, the devil’s advocate type, the brooding bad boy.”)
He is “the perfect anecdote” and he is “a golden retriever of a man – kinda hunky, a little goofy, but not necessarily an idiot … but maybe a bit of an idiot.”
The Cut’s Sangeeta Singh Kurtz says Jason Momoa exhibits the subtle mix of qualities we would expect from the himbo-type. “He seems so full of joy. He’s big, and I like to imagine he does stuff to make himself bigger, but not gym stuff … more like throwing tomahawks or fighting sharks,” she says. “He also embodies a crucial quality that their traditional sense of masculinity doesn’t regulate them … he wears pink suits with matching scrunchies. It’s a kind of confidence that is playful about his aesthetics, but not reliant on it.”
The himbo’s resurgence is a way of sifting through the wave of toxic masculinity discourse, but keeping the brawn. “The desire for a himbo is the desire to escape toxic masculinity without sacrificing the sexiness that comes with a traditionally conceived masculinity that looks like muscles, body hair and sweat,” wrote Vice’s Gita Jackson.
On a darker level, as sexual assault allegations continue to emerge, the fixed narrative of who is “good”, “bad”, “safe” and “not safe” becomes shifting and unknowable.
“I think we’ve been sort of convinced through a lot of media narrative that the jocks are dangerous and the nerds are safe,” says Reese. “I think the last decade in particular – Gamergate, the mainstreaming of incels, an increasing number of people coming forward about sexual assault and harassment allegations in comics, tech – have proved that this is bullshit.” She says that it is in this space that the himbo acts as “a subversion to that aforementioned kind of guy”. Himbos, weirdly, have become kind of heroic.