Illustration by Avinash Hirdaramani
Like many other twentysomethings -- especially twentysomething women -- this fall weather and the aromatic smells wafting out of Starbucks have got me thinking a lot lately about the 'basic bitch.' That 'extra regular' female we all love to shit on seems to be reaching its nadir after a long and circuitous route through pop culture that began when it was still a term used within the LGBT and drag communities (often in the context of "reading" -- or dissing -- competitors or rivals at vogue balls or otherwise); moved on to its adoption (co-option?) by segments of the hip-hop community; exploded on certain corners of the Internet -- including PAPER -- in 2012 when a then-eighth grade boy named Lohanthony wore some amazing green spandex and shot a video of himself twirling his leg and calling these girls out (later, he was kind enough to define the expression for us); and now, after two years of Thought Catalog articles, College Humor videos and countless hashtags, seems to be reaching its peak in 2014 just as we enter Uggs-and-pumpkin spice latte season (two accessories that have become as associated with basic bitches as granny glasses and skinny jeans were to mid-to-late-aughts hipsters). It's a term that -- beyond being associated with those two previously mentioned items -- denotes a certain type of woman who follows the herd, who gives in to 'girly trends' (whether Lululemon yoga pants, bandage dresses, Soul Cycle) and who exists in many different regions and micro-iterations.
A couple of days ago, Noreen Malone penned a well-written piece for The Cut that asked "What Do You Really Mean When You Say 'Basic Bitch'?" and in it, she argues that what we're really getting at when we use that phrase is a dig on someone's mainstream consumption habits at best and misogyny -- whether committed by a man or a woman -- at worst.
This doesn't tell the whole story.
While there's no question of the fact that the term has whiffs of sexism and that the very way we catalogue a 'basic bitch' is by her consumption habits, what we're really saying when we say 'basic bitch' is a 'fuck you' to the perceived popular girls, the privileged girls, the shallow girls. The "bb" is the "sorority girl" 2.0 but whereas the term "sorority girl" is not necessarily a pejorative, the "basic bitch" is an unambiguous slur and one that can encompass a wider swath of women than just the ones wearing ∆∆∆ sweatshirts.
Explained in the simplest of terms, it's a way for a picked-on art kid to lob an insult back to the captain of the cheerleading squad. And it has bite. For a generation raised by our parents/teachers/coaches to think that we're all 'special little snowflakes' and to come of age when a lot of us believe we're important enough and unique enough that people should want to like our selfies goddammit!, one of the most stinging things you can tell someone is that she's not special. She's ordinary, regular -- basic.
And what's equally important to this idea of the 'basic bitch' having social privilege is that they're perceived to have class privilege, too. It seems okay to pick on someone from the dominant 'in group,' particularly if what you're making fun of is a person's mutable choices and not their immutable characteristics. And, at least where consumption habits are concerned, perception more or less equals reality. Uggs are still pricey ($155.00 at Bloomingdales, if you were wondering) and a tall pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks is $4.15. Privilege, in this particular sense, can be colorblind as Jezebel illustrates in their "United States of Basic Bitches." While it's most often stock photos of white women that are used to depict bbs in blog posts, a 'basic bitch' can be found in all sorts of contexts when groupthink collides with social and class privilege, no matter the race.
Another reason the term has caught on so well is that, like the wealthy, popular girl who peaked in high school and turns up to your ten-year reunion with a dead-end boyfriend and talks your ear off about how much fun it was that night senior year when everyone got drunk on Mike's Hard before hitting up a Dave Matthews Band concert, there's something weirdly anachronistic and dated about the basic bitch. As Malone writes, she's "mid-aughts." At a time when the indie/DIY/artisanal -- okay, hipster -- lifestyle has become mainstream, there's something fascinating about those who stubbornly cling to mass market consumer items and trends -- especially when those items are expensive. Hipsters used to be the group snarky bloggers would diss but now the pendulum has swung and it's the 'mainstream' that gets our disdain. Why spend $4.15 on a PSL when you can get a latte from Blue Bottle coffee for $4?
And, finally, the phrase draws power from the fact that as much as we may use it to 'other' someone, most of us can't help but occasionally -- if embarrassingly -- identify with it. Whether it's the editor of a white-hot streetwear bible going to Soul Cycle five times a week to the warehouse party promoter who lets herself loll around on Sundays in yoga pants, we all have a little of the 'Basic Bitch' in us. Being cool all the time can get exhausting. After waking up this morning to crummy, rainy weather, and barely surviving a subway full of damp strangers and wet dog smells, I made a beeline to the Starbucks on 33rd and Park for the one thing I knew would cheer me up: a pumpkin spice latte.