What Is a 'Himbo' and Is It OK to Say?

Perhaps you've seen the term "himbo" popping up lately. And maybe you've wondered what, exactly, it means. Well, "Himbo" is a portmanteau of "him" and "bimbo." It ascribes the stereotypes formerly reserved for a gendered insult against women to be about beautiful but vacuous men.

While Merriam-Webster has found himbos stretching back to 1988—most notably in a Washington Post article describing a "macho himbo" walking down a beachfront promenade with a python draped around his shoulders—the coinage occasionally gathers new traction in online discourse. Most recently, the term's been at the center of a social media flap over whether or not the the concept is discriminatory to the disabled.

Derived from Italian and used in the first two decades of the 1900s as an insult directed at men, in the subsequent century "bimbo" has been used almost exclusively as a gendered insult for an attractive but dim-witted woman. Similar to the stereotypes applied to blonde women, the insult "bimbo" is used to sexually objectify and demean women, portraying the insult's targets as simultaneously an object of lust and contempt.

Cultural critics have periodically resurfaced "himbo" as a response, applying the term particularly to male celebrities known for playing sexy but vacant men. A 1995 CNN article describing various Hollywood himbos made the table-turning subtext explicit, opening with the words "women have been treated this way for years" before applying the term to Keanu Reeves, Tom Selleck, Sylvester Stallone and the male castmembers of Baywatch.

The himbo found new cultural currency in the 2010s discourse surrounding "Peak TV," with a flood of articles describing the transgressive rise of himbos in women-led shows like 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Cougar Town and New Girl.

Chris Hemsworth as the quintessential "himbo" in 2016's 'Ghostbusters.' Columbia Pictures / Sony Pictures Releasing

But the latest himbo flap doesn't come from women artists reappropriating the stereotypes aimed at them and firing back at stupid, sexy men. Instead, the himbo has returned as a controversy in itself, with a single tweet launching a heated debate over the appropriateness of making stupid men the objects of sexual attention.

On Sunday evening, media critic "Fangirl" Jeanne tweeted, "'Himbo' is ableist" to her more than 13,000 followers. "I find fetishizing someone's supposed lack of intelligence to be predatory. Why would you desire someone who seemingly has less power than you? Why is that sexy? Why is that different from [preying] on underage kids? It's not."

“Himbo” is ableist. I find fetishizing someone’s supposed lack of intelligence to be predatory. Why would you desire someone who seemingly has less power than you? Why is that sexy? Why is that different from praying on underage kids? It’s not.

— Fangirl Jeanne (@fangirlJeanne) June 21, 2020

People swiftly disputed various aspects of Jeanne's tweets, particularly the suggestion that sexualizing stupid men is akin to pedophilia, leading Jeanne to amend her original statement and apologize for contributing to what she describes as a "harmful stereotype that neurodivergent people are helpless children." She also offered a working definition of "himbo" that explains some of the appeal behind the concept: "a guy who has the physical power but not the toxic danger that physicality represents on toxic masculinity."

In this framing, the himbo is almost valorized, since he isn't merely stupid and sexy, but also muscled and simultaneously harmless. Rather than a potential for violence or domination, the himbo's muscles provide a sexually attractive contrast, since the himbo is innocent of the guile required to exploit privilege and social power.

I appreciate people explaining the meaning of himbo and really like the concept of “a guy who has the physical power but not the toxic danger that physicality represents on toxic masculinity.”

I’d love to know more, but would really like to avoid ableist slurs like”dumb.”

— Fangirl Jeanne (@fangirlJeanne) June 22, 2020

Newsweek has reached out to Fangirl Jeanne for additional thoughts on the term "himbo" and context regarding the backlash she experienced, but did not hear back by time of publication.

While Jeanne opened up a still-raging debate on the nature of the himbo, much of the discourse has already moved on to arguments over who qualifies for the moniker. Many men on social media have already nominated themselves, while other people have put forward a variety of celebrities and movie characters who combine just the right amount of stupid and sexy.

Lot of hit dogs hollering wrt their himbo fetish. Leave our beautiful dumb boys alone! pic.twitter.com/9gkuyIKPpF

— Stagger Lee (@leslieleeiii) June 22, 2020

Look, I think we can all agree it's time attractive but otherwise unremarkable men finally caught a break.

— Osita Nwanevu (@OsitaNwanevu) June 22, 2020

Potential himbos include Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Game of Thrones' Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the Klingon security officer Worf (Michael Dorn), from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Himbos are the human equivalent of golden retrievers: Big, pretty, lovable, prob bad at calculus, and wouldn’t hurt a fly unless they’re defending someone vulnerable. #TeamHimbo

Christopher Thor Kevin Hemsworth, King Himbo the First, tells all himbo haters to get off my lawn pic.twitter.com/S9XqXgVU2n

— Emily Thiede (@ethiedee) June 22, 2020

But more than any fictional character, people seem to agree on one Himbo King: Chris Hemsworth. Long may he him.