I’m Just a Girl Who Loves Bows, But What Does That Even Mean?

Sometime last week I received a text with a link to a TikTok video featuring a pickle tied with a pretty pink ribbon. The caption read: “this is me if u even care” and my friend’s text read: “This is so you.”

A couple days later I sent a similar text to another friend except there was no pickle but instead a big black lab insisting on eating a pink ribbon that was tied to her head, as Let The Light In by Lana Del Rey played softly in the background. My friend is stubborn and beautiful like that dog and so I let her know: “This is so you.”

That’s how I can sum up a majority of my social interactions over the last couple of days. I’ve sent and received at least 30 similar videos of corn dogs, ice cubes, more dogs and some deer, zithromax pill bottles, 20 pound weights, letters of resignation, tamales, shallots and bottles of Tito’s Vodka tied with bows while Lana Del Rey coos dolefully in the background. These kinds of videos have amassed hundreds of millions of views and likes. They’ve reminded me of specific girls in my life and inspired me to text them about it. They’ve made me tie a ribbon around my boyfriend’s water bottle just so I could hold it up to him and say, “Wait, do you get it?” They’ve somehow turned the tethering of fabric into a dialect that can’t be translated, like a secret handshake you didn’t realize you knew.

But why?

Well, it isn’t necessarily the most unexpected internet phenomena. It has, after all, been the year of the ribbon. With tiny school girl skirts, pearl-embellished everything, and square toe pointe ballet flats, brands like Miu Miu, Simone Rocha, and Sandy Liang found a way to bottle and sell girlhood to eager fashion fans, all tied up in a nice bow—a constant motif seen in all of their most recent collections. At Miu Miu, they adorned the almost-always-sold-out satin ballet flat. At Simone Rocha, models wore them glued to the undersides of their eyes and tied into their long dangling pearl earrings. At Sandy Liang, they were supersized into large bags with drooping fabric falling at the shoulder.

A model at Sandy Liang’s spring 2024 show with a huge bow turned bag.

Courtesy of Sandy Liang

On TikTok, these three brands have become a holy trinity of sorts for millennials and Gen Z. In #fashiontok doctrine, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are diaphanous and dainty in a not-a-girl-not-yet-a-woman kind of way. If you scroll through the thousands of comments on the ribbon videos, you’ll find their names mentioned everywhere. On the first video I saw of the ribbons tied to random objects trend, a comment read: “This is so Sandy Liang-Miu Miu-Simone Rocha coded.”

london, england february 18 a model walks the runway during the simone rocha ready to wear fallwinter 2023 2024 fashion show as part of the london fashion week on february 18, 2023 in london, united kingdom photo by victor virgilegamma rapho via getty images

A model at Simone Rocha’s fall 2023 show with ribbons attached under the eyes and a matching pair of drop earrings.

Victor Virgile
paris, france march 08 a model walks the runway during the miu miu ready to wear fallwinter 2022 2023 fashion show as part of the paris fashion week on march 8, 2022 in paris, france photo by victor virgilegamma rapho via getty images

The popular Miu Miu ballet flat re-envisioned as a heel, with a bow detail on the tip.

Victor Virgile

The obsession with bows feels like a side effect of how women, in large part, have embraced the hyper feminine recently. It was meant to be a year of the recession but instead it was the year of Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour, Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour, and the Barbie Movie, generating billions of dollars and effectively boosting the economy through the spending power of women. It’s also now been over a full year since the supreme court overturned Roe v. Wade.With women’s bodily autonomy up for constant debate, it’s not necessarily a girl power era. And dressing like it is won’t necessarily will that into existence. But it does feel like an act of defiance and pride as though to say, ‘I’m a woman god dammit! And I’ll wear a pretty pink bow if I want.’

There’s also the undeniable infantilization of wearing a ribbon in your hair or pinned to your peter pan collar. It’s the kind of aesthetic associated with fleeting girlhood, of times where you didn’t know that your gender could be weaponized against you. And youth, in general, is trending in a big way amongst zoomers, who will tell a 25-year-old they look good for their age and brag about the benefits of starting preventative botox in college. On TikTok, middle schoolers have gone viral for 12 step skincare videos, where they preach the benefits of anti-wrinkle cream. Younger millennials and Gen Zers lost three years of their normal, precedented youth, to Covid. Ribbons are like a quick fix, something you can tie on to try and make up for lost time that screams, I’m still young!!!

A couple days ago on X, formerly known as Twitter, a tweet went viral featuring the clip from Uptown Girls, where Brittany Murphy’s character and the child she’s nannying are spinning round in the Coney Island teacups ride. It read: “grown women participating in a trend to seek a perpetual state of girlhood… preteen girls asking for retinol cream for christmas…”

It made me rewatch the film, and within the first couple minutes there was a scene I had entirely forgotten about. At her 22nd birthday party, one of Murphy’s friends tells her she can get botox to fix her worry wrinkle. While panicking about it in the bathroom mirror, Murphy sees an old lady in her reflection before a small voice calls out from a stall and says, “I used to have shoes like that…when I was five.” The little girl was talking about Murphy’s girlish heels, with two large sequined stars at the tips. This movie came out in 2003—two decades ago!—and yet we are still there, pressing our face against mirrors looking for imperfections and being told we need to buy some glitzy heel or skirt or bow that can maybe help reverse time.

Yes, the bow can be seen as a symbol of us trying to cling to our youth as it has been marketed to us, but perhaps it’s also representative of how collectively we are really just stunted and stagnant. We don’t want to grow up and we haven’t grown up. We’re all in that spinning teacup ride, watching time pass us by as everything stays exactly as it was.

I can also be seen as the waving of a white flag. With the rise of the bow trend came the resurgence of the phrase, “I’m just a girl.” It’s been used to caption these ribbon videos, and to justify unnecessary purchases and just about anything and everything else, like leaving a car running for an entire school day or grabbing only makeup when the house is on fire. I’m just a girl, I didn’t know better, someone please save me.

new york, new york february 11 a guest wears brown beige jacket, skirt, bag outside sandy liang during new york fashion week on february 11, 2023 in new york city photo by christian vieriggetty images

A guest outside of Sandy Liang’s Spring 2024 show, wearing a headband by the designer with long two bows adorned on each side.

Christian Vierig

Alongside the rise of videos with corn on the cobs adorned with bows are videos of girls expressing their desire for a stay at home life, a rich husband, a sugar daddy, no work or aspirations or career. And ironically, they’ve used No Doubt’s Just A Girl song as the soundtrack. But maybe they didn’t really read the lyrics: “… Take this pink ribbon off my eyes / I’m exposed and it’s no big surprise / Don’t you think I know exactly where I stand? / This world is forcing me to hold your hand … / ‘Cause I’m just a girl, / oh, little old me / Well, don’t let me out of your sight / Oh, I’m just a girl, / all pretty and petite / So don’t let me have any rights.”

Or maybe they just didn’t want to. Once videos dissecting the ribbon trend went as viral as the videos themselves, people got defensive and said things like, “Why can’t girls just enjoy things?” and “Nah, I just like ribbons.” But I’m still sitting here, with a Sandy Liang bow pinned to the back of my hair as I look up at my large pink bow I’ve hung onto my christmas garland, very much enjoying it, while trying to grapple with what it all means.

london, england september 17 alexa chung is seen wearing brown mini skirt, coat outside simone rocha during london fashion week september 2023 on september 17, 2023 in london, england photo by christian vieriggetty images

Alexa Chung outside of Simone Rocha’s most recent runway show, wearing a bow top by the designer.

Christian Vierig

One friend told me she thought ribbons were actually sort of democratic. You can buy some cheap ribbon, tie it in your hair or on your bag and achieve that high fashion “Miu-Miu-Simone Rocha-Sandy-Liang core” look without spending more than $5. Another told me she liked how now, if you step outside the house with a bow or a ribbon somewhere on your outfit, you’ll get a handful of nods and smiles from girls you don’t know on the street who feel it gives them a sense of community.

But just like the pussyhat didn’t save us in 2017, ribbons aren’t going to in 2023. Even if some of us have a hard time admitting it, we are all more than “just a girl” and ribbons are more than just ribbons. And I’m more than just a girl who likes ribbons and yeah…this is me if u even care.

Headshot of Tara Gonzalez

Tara Gonzalez is the Senior Fashion Editor at Harper’s Bazaar. Previously, she was the style writer at InStyle, founding commerce editor at Glamour, and fashion editor at Coveteur.