The Big Problem With 2022 TikTok Trends Like Russian Bimbocore

Russian Bimbo-core on TikTok

Trigger warning: this article contains references to disordered eating which may be confronting for some readers. 

In January 2022, like anyone with a passing interest in the internet, I saw references to Indie-sleaze and Millenialcore popping up everywhere. My knee jerk reaction? Ick. To me, Indie Sleaze was the era of Hot Damn, Terry Richardson, unflattering American Apparel skirts and gross headbands. Reading about the trend I could virtually taste the Diet Redbull and Vodka. Not to mention the bad experiences — after all, wasn’t Indie Sleaze culture, kind of sleazy?

Since then, more TikTok micro-trends have steadily rolled out, from Tumblr Girl (for those who want twee rather than sleaze) and, possibly the strangest: Russian Bimbocore. There’s a lot to say about the appropriation of Russian culture, class, sex work and Russian women’s historic fetishisation here. I am going to set them aside to focus on one element of this mid-aughts resurgence – the glorification of hyper-thin bodies.

What is Russian Bimbocore?

As pointed out on trend podcast Nymphet Alumni, Russian Bimbocore has an intrinsic focus on the body. Specifically, a small body. Russian Bimbocore looks feature skimpy clothes like belt-skirts or lingerie paired with giant fur coats, hoods and snow boots. The style plays with proportion, emphasising the waif-ish-ness of the wearer tucked away in her huge furs.

Indie Sleaze and Tumblr-girl aesthetics share this preoccupation with thin-bodies. For Indie Sleaze it’s party girls of the 00’s like Cory Kennedy and Peaches Geldoff, for Tumblr twee it’s Jeffrey Campbell and Black Milk donning teenagers of 2008 blasting Mickey Avalon’s “So Rich, So Pretty” (its charming lyrics a case in point: “I like a girl who eats and brings it up, a sassy little frassy with bulimia.”) 

For me, the resurgence of this “heroin-chic” aesthetic is far more disturbing than any implied celebration of hedonism and party culture (hey, it’s been a tough few years).

So, What Was So Great About the Early-Aughts?

…If you were a teenage girl, not much!

I turned 14 in 2005. I was in Year 8 attending a private Catholic girl’s school when the 00’s avalanche of celebrity eating disorders (think Lindsay Lohan, Mischa Barton and Nicole Richie) hit news stands. Coverage was full of faux concern and ill-concealed glee: “Skinny SOS: Stars’ Scary New Affliction — Foodophobia And It’s Contagious” helpfully accompanied by said celebrity’s weight. This concerned headline ran below a breakout story: “Reese: “Not pregnant – Just Bloated!” Heat announced that “Skinniness” was becoming a Hollywood epidemic — and promised a roundup of “The 20 Skinniest Celebs” inside.

At 14 I swapped my chocolate paddle pops at the local supermarket for these magazines – along with pre-body positivity glossy issues of Vogue and Harpers, where I could feast my eyes on the most popular Russian models of the moment. My friends and I would sit cross-legged together at lunch, cutting out images and creating real-life mood boards of our favourite thin models and celebrities. We didn’t need Tumblr, which would soon become a hub for thinspo imagery — we had print media.

These “skinny stories” were also complemented by huge dollops of drama, making them even more captivating for a bored teen. Daily Mail reported on a “gaunt and tearful” Lindsay reflecting on her breakup with Samantha Ronson. Celebrities were “mean girls,” with ruthless friendship fallouts occurring three times a week. Peak 00’s Mean Girls culture was, of course, Nicole Richie’s infamous Memorial Day Weekend email:

 “There will be a scale at the front door. No girls over 100 pounds allowed in. Start starving yourself now. See you all then!!!” 

Incidentally, Mischa Barton was hospitalised after this event with alcohol poisoning. The message from mainstream media was clear: being dangerously thin was interesting, having a drug problem was exciting and having turbulent relationships was even better.

While my friends and I could have focused on school, we instead started eyeing our changing bodies with suspicion and horror. Between the ages of 14 and 16, my mind was dominated by one thing: food. While I flunked maths, not a minute went by where I wasn’t making complex calculations about calories and exercise in my head. After school, I marched for hours despite the pleading of my parents. Some friends stopped inviting me to sleepovers because they found my bingeing and frequent trips to the bathroom too alarming… but just as many joined in.

I visited dieticians, psychologists, and psychiatrists but the trick was moving schools. In a mixed-gender, less conservative environment where I felt I belonged, I found creative outlets, room for other interests and importantly, friendships that weren’t based on food. Slowly, my obsession faded. This isn’t that surprising. Social isolation and loneliness are directly linked with disordered eating, which explains why the pandemic drove a steep rise in demand for treatment.

Social Media, Isolation and Eating Disorders

Health professionals called the pandemic a “wake up call” as they faced a dramatic escalation in eating disorders. In 2021 ABC reported that there had been a 25 to 50% surge in the number of people seeking treatment for eating disorders across the public health system during the pandemic. Meanwhile, those with existing eating disorders experienced an 88% increase in body image concerns during the lockdowns. 

You could argue that the content being circulated and trends being generated by social media are merely reflective of the rise in disordered eating during the pandemic.  However, there is evidence that engagement with social media during the lockdowns correlated with disordered eating.  Then, there is the natural cycle of trends to consider. As Kim Kardashian turns 40, gets a divorce and becomes less relevant to a younger generation, the physical ideal she personified is falling out of favour. Kim Kardashian’s physique was criticised as unattainable. But the body type Kim Kardashian popularised was a hyperbolic version of the female form. By celebrating her body the media were celebrating attributes most women have: hips, boobs a butt, and maybe even a skerrick of cellulite. Meanwhile, for most women, emulating the waif-aesthetic requires trading butt-sculpting deadlifts for dangerous dieting.

When I think about myself and my friends from that period who still struggle with the physical and psychological impacts of disordered eating, I feel alarmed by the explosion of these trends in youth-centric media. Some friends sat out the HSC, in treatment facilities or hospitals when they should have been studying or celebrating. All of our experiences started with a diet. 

If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can also call the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673 or you can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

Featured image credit: @angelhutchns TikTok

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