If you’re Asian-American, there’s a pretty high chance you’ve heard of the Asian Baby Girl, or ABG for short. If you’re not, you probably haven’t heard of her at all.
The ABG is a stereotype that applies to Asian-American girls, or more broadly, Asian girls who have grown up in Western countries. The standard ABG has dyed her hair some color of balayage, usually blonde, sports false eyelashes on the daily, and likes to wear bodycon clothing. She drinks bubble tea like her life depends on it, goes to raves as often as she can, and is addicted to her Juul.
The explosion of this phenomenon is rather new, and not much analysis has been done on the ABG. The term first gained traction in the Facebook group ‘subtle asian traits’, where Asians all around the world are encouraged to share memes, stories, and news connected to their heritage and culture. The group itself was started by a couple of students in Melbourne, Australia who had initially intended it to be a fun place for their friend group to reflect on their Asian-Australian experiences; instead, it evolved into a global sensation that provided a platform for all Asians to share commonalities within the diaspora.
Alongside the inception of ‘subtle asian traits’, the ABG emerged around three years ago, and now, the term inhabits everyday Asian-American colloquial language.
When I first caught wind of what an ABG was, I was alarmed. I found the ‘baby girl’ portion of the term unsettling, especially because Asian women have historically been infantilized and perceived as more naïve than other women by society. However, to me, it was honestly pleasant to see how the stereotype itself was the opposite of what its name implied. The ABG leads the counter-culture against the decades-long Orientalist stereotype of Asian-American women as the submissive “Lotus Blossom.” The stereotype of the “Lotus Blossom” became a label forced upon Asian women after World War II, branding them as subservient, sexually submissive, innocent, and dependent on men. White men specifically have hijacked this stereotype to fit their own predatory appetites, treating Asian women as passive objects to fetishize and objectify at their will. Even today, yellow fever is rampant across America with white men singling out Asian women to date solely for the thrill of ‘exoticism’. Coupled with the Model Minority Myth, the Lotus Blossom stereotype immobilizes Asian-American women at an impossibly strict standard that ingratiatingly appeases white America.
The ABG casts that aside completely. Unlike its predecessors, the ABG is actually a self-imposed stereotype; virtually no one outside of the Asian-American community knows of the stereotype’s existence. Personality-wise, the ABG is usually incredibly sociable, projecting an easy confidence that stands in stark contrast with the acquiescent attitudes of previous stereotypes. Traditional Asian values forbid or look down upon illicit activities such as Juuling or underage drinking, but the rise of the ABG has made this perilous yet exhilarating lifestyle something to be coveted by young people. ABGs daring to date outside their race, especially to date non-Asian men of color, is also a notable deviation in behavior from the previous generation of Asians. Unfortunately, anti-Blackness remains an unspoken problem within the Asian community, and many immigrant parents forbid their children from dating non-Asian and non-white men.
ABGs are also somewhat of a new Asian-American beauty standard. Their false eyelashes and smokey eyeshadow align more with Western beauty conventions than Eastern ones, and their fashion tastes and colored hair can give any immigrant Asian mother a heart attack. Generally, they are perceived as sexually attractive in the eyes of men (white men specifically) and because of this, a considerable portion of my friends have said offhandedly that they want to get an ABG makeover. My friends seem to have this perception that if they got their hands on some falsies and booked a good hair appointment, they could ascend into an upper echelon of beauty.
I find myself associating the ABG with guaranteed male attraction as well; I immediately assume that the typical ABG I pass on Locust Walk has extensive past dating experience, a co-ed friend group, and overwhelmingly large insight on fashion and beauty. Because the ABG has carved out this new beauty standard, the ABG also produces a new social dichotomy of whether or not a girl is an ABG. Since it is such a specific stereotype, it is easy to separate Asian-American girls into this superficial binary. However, the ABG is not always on the positive side of this dichotomy.
My friends have described ABGs as “superficial” and “plastic,” or “trying so hard to look exactly the same as the next ABG.” Their main quarrel with the ABG: trying so hard to look fake.
While there are many of my friends that aspire to be an ABG, there are many of my friends who want to dissociate from them completely. My friends have described ABGs as “superficial” and “plastic,” or “trying so hard to look exactly the same as the next ABG.” Their main quarrel with the ABG: trying so hard to look fake. Their criticisms probably stem from the mainstream view that the ABG has become the Asian-American equivalent to the ‘basic white girl’. Instead of Starbucks, she lounges at your local Kung Fu Tea with the same insipid personality as her white counterpart. The personality of the ABG is another nuance of this stereotype.
While it is widely agreed upon that ABGs are confident, many also pair this confidence with vapidity and lack of education, and this makes it easier to poke fun at ABGs’ behavior, appearance, and personalities. Sexism in general may have a part to play in this as well, since there seems to be a correlation between heightened femininity and a sexist perception of weakness and a lack of intelligence. Having a toxic opinion of the ‘ABG’ is actually pretty popular nowadays; it perpetuates the same mentality as the statement: “I’m not like that girl.”
However cool it is to buy into that narrative, it’s not right to be policing a woman’s method of self-expression. Enjoying ABG activities and looking like an ABG does not inherently make a woman dumb or shallow.
This is not to say that there are not valid criticisms of the ABG. Many of my friends’ opinions are founded on personal, negative encounters with ABGs. It is incredibly worthy to note that the ABG has taken Asian-American women out of the docile stereotype in which they were pigeonholed, but it is also important to recognize that for some girls, becoming an ABG is sort of like chasing a white stereotype of popularity. ABGs have many traits in common with the popular white girl stock character; in fact, the obsession with false eyelashes, green-colored contacts, and blonde hair performs a sort of erasure of traditional Asian features, such as shiny black hair and dark eyes. The only trait associated with an ABG that hails exclusively from the ‘Asian’ cultural side is bubble tea, which is a well-received, acceptable transplant of Asian culture in the United States. In this case, the ABG itself is not the problem, but rather the problem lies in the larger reasons why girls utilize the stereotype. Becoming an ABG shouldn’t be a segue into renouncing Asian-ness and donning whiteness.
The ABG also spawned from Californian rave culture, creating a divide between West Coast ABGs and East Coast ABGs. When I spoke with a student from California, his views on ABGs were very positive. He called them nice and hard-working, the types of people to rave on the weekends but also study extremely hard for their Organic Chemistry midterm the next day.
I grew up on the East Coast, and my high school experience with ABGs has been, for the most part, more negative. My experience with ABGs is in no way reflective of all East Coast ABGs, because I’m sure some are incredibly lovely people. During senior year, the ABG dichotomy had started to develop within my friend group, splitting us in half. The ‘ABG side’ became obsessed with labeling themselves as ABGs, trying to tick all the boxes to solidify their places as Asian Baby Girls.
They were particularly fans of phrases like “FIERCE PUSSY” to advocate for feminism, but didn’t hesitate to ignite tensions and cause drama with my friends over hanging out with the boys in our friend group. Our senior summer ended with our four years of amicable acquaintanceship being torn apart.
I think there’s a difference between being an ABG or a self-proclaimed ABG. West Coast ABGs seemed to have created the stereotype themselves. They simply existed in that bubble tea-loving, rave-going area of California, and others simply ascribed a name to those activities years later.
Transferring to the East Coast, there was bound to be some cultural delay, and by the time the ABG grew in popularity here, there were already a list of things necessary in order to be considered an ABG. East Coast Asian-American girls aspire to be ABGs, and change their behavior and appearance to conform to the stereotype. There exists a sense of pride in knowing you fit in with Californian stereotypes, especially since the location is so romanticized. I asked my friend for her thoughts on the regional divide, and she explained that on the East Coast, ABGs were people that didn’t know themselves or their personal identities and turned to fulfilling a trope so that they could assume some type of personality. Perhaps it’s the perpetual chase of popularity that drives girls to transform into this stereotype and overcompensate by amplifying the negative personality traits that accompany it.
The ABG is still in its infancy, and I’m sure it’ll evolve as word of its existence outgrows the confines of the Asian community. Personally, I’m glad that the ABG originated from the Asian-American community and wasn’t foisted upon us by white men, as Asian stereotypes have traditionally been. However, it is important to acknowledge that countering a previous stereotype does nothing substantial to unpack it. The ABG may be on its way to oust the “Lotus Blossom” stereotype, but this doesn’t mean that discussion about the negative impacts of past stereotypes should cease. The ABG itself retains some white influence that may have been the product of internalized racism. Wrestling with Asian-American identity has never been easy. The ABG’s future may be unclear, but one thing’s for sure: I’ll still enjoy the memes in ‘subtle asian traits.’
Photo credit: Samantha Quang on ‘subtle asian traits’, see https://www.facebook.com/groups/1343933772408499/permalink/1990828911052312/