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The Asian Baby Girl (ABG) aesthetic is a subculture that contradicts the model minority stereotypes that are expected of Asian American women, such as being studious, obedient, and passive. It originated with Chinese American female gangsters in the 1990s but can apply to any East or Southeast Asian American ethnicity. It is now most strongly associated with Southeast Asian Americans, particularly those of Vietnamese descent.

In its early stages, the term 'ABG' was associated with Asian American gangster subcultures. 'ABG' was considered derogatory and had many implications of violent behavior, low intelligence, sex work, drug usage, and assimilation of negative aspects of Western culture. Due to the decline of organized crime among Asian Americans, views of the subculture have greatly softened; now most ABGs are Asian American girls who have no gang connections and simply adopt this aesthetic to be subversive, escape academic stress, and/or gain confidence to socialize while breaking Asian stereotypes.

Starting from around 2020, the ABG aesthetic spread from the United States to China.[1]

History[]

The 'Asian Baby Girl' (ABG) culture originated in the 1990s among the Chinese American youth gangs of the United States East Coast, especially in New York City. ABGs hailed from ethnic Chinese enclaves in Queens, Chinatown, Jersey City, and the Lower East Side.

Political activists Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee developed the "Asian American" identity in 1968 and it was popularized from the 1970s to 1980s. By the 1990s many Chinese Americans had begun to identify themselves as "Asian Americans" and would describe their race "Asian". Prior to this, the most common labels were "Oriental" and "Asiatic". There existed no "Asian American" or pan-Asian identity in the United States.

The 1960s also saw the creation of the "model minority" stereotype by white Americans. Originally describing Japanese and Chinese Americans, it was used as a way for white Americans to put Asian Americans in competition with other racial groups they perceived as "problem minorities", most notably African Americans. Asian Americans who resisted the emergent stereotype in the 1960s–1980s could not gain enough support to combat it due to its so-called "positive" connotations. However, by the 1990s, an increasing number of Asian Americans began to speak up against the harms and inaccuracies of the stereotype, and hip-hop-influenced Asian American youth created the term "AZN pride".

In the 1990s, there was an "Asian party scene" in New York City with promoters like Genasia and KM Productions, mostly in Midtown Manhattan and Queens. ABGs would frequent clubs that played hip-hop, and later trance music. They wore black, lightened their hair with Sun In, and presented themselves counterculture to the submissive "model minority" stereotype of Chinese American women.

The ABG subculture arose out of a desire to carry on Chinese American gangster traditions of the East Coast, which had largely died out in New York City in the 1980s due to government crackdowns ordered by Rudy Giuliani.[2] Chinese American gangs that went defunct because of the crackdown include the Flying Dragons and Ghost Shadows.[3]

“The Chinatown gangs were really active in the 80s, until [Mayor] Giuliani locked everyone up. He would give ten years for a burglary charge and a lot of the bigger members got life, so after they cleaned up my generation was full of wannabe gangsters. If you weren’t ‘hanging out’ with a gang you were a total dork. There was no in-between.” - Jennie Kan[2]

New York Chinatown gangs have a long history and still exist today, but are considerably less numerous and notorious than they were in their primes from the 1890s to 1930s[4], and 1960s to 1990s.[3] The ABG subculture spread from the East Coast to other areas with Chinese American organized crime or 'Tongs', such as the West Coast, where gang activity among Asian Americans remained more active.[3] Although the ABG subculture originated in the East Coast, it became much more prominent in the West Coast, where it developed an association with the rave scene and drinking bubble tea.

Southeast Asian immigrants from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand began to arrive in the United States from the late 1970s to early 1990s. Most of them were war refugees and formed gangs. The women in Southeast Asian gangs emulated the ABG lifestyle from the pre-existent Chinese American female gangsters they came in contact with.

In the 2010s, the term ABG resurfaced as a fashion trend rather than a subculture as the term become re-popularized on the Facebook group 'Subtle Asian Traits' (SAT). During this time, the Facebook group, as well as many popular Asian YouTubers such as Wung Fu Productions, allowed teenaged and young adult Asian Americans to bond over stereotypes and common traits shared in Asian households, such as the snacks and parenting styles. Many Asian men at the time both expressed attraction and mocked the ABG trend, fueling its popularity. Because of this, many teenaged-early 20s Asian girls were exposed to the subculture, even if their environment and socio-economic class did not give them exposure to truly gangster ABGs. The Asian girls taking on this trend tended to be middle class, attended Californian universities, and lived in suburbs. This rise in popularity is when ABG became more associated with rebellion and partying, rather than true criminal activity.

Later, on TikTok in the 2020s, Asian American women created tutorials and transformation videos to showcase the look of an ABG. Some controversy regarding the popularization of the ABG subculture as a fashion trend arose on platforms like Tiktok. They accused it of "appropriating" the ABG subculture from Southeast Asian American gangsters, especially when performed by East Asian Americans (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean). This is a case of historical revisionism[5] as it disregards how the ABG subculture was created by Chinese American women and already considered in the 1990s to be a less hardcore version of Chinese American East Coast gangster culture.

Asian American women who are considered posers and adopt the ABG aesthetic without having any of the gang affiliations are sometimes derisively called 'Basic Asian Girls' (BAGs).

Fashion[]

ABGs typically wear:

  • Large hoop earrings
  • Blonde hair dye
  • Tattoos (dragons and Chinese characters being the most common)
  • False lashes
  • Spaghetti straps
  • Coffin nails
  • Bralettes
  • Tube tops
  • Baggy sweatpants
  • Jerseys
  • Shiny lipstick
  • Eye contacts instead of glasses for people who wear them, or colored contacts

Music[]

Artists[]

  • Lil Mariko
  • NIKI
  • Keshi
  • Lexie Liu

Playlists[]

Resources[]

Vendors[]

  • Nike
  • Adidas
  • Louis Vuitton
  • Gucci
  • Chanel

Pinterest Boards[]

Criticism[]

Objectification[]

One criticism of the ABG culture is the perpetuation of stereotypes and objectification of Asian women. Some argue that the ABG image, characterized by a specific fashion style, makeup, and behavior, reinforces narrow and exoticized perceptions of Asian women, reducing them to superficial stereotypes rather than recognizing their diverse personalities, talents, and contributions. This can reinforce harmful racial and gender stereotypes and limit the understanding and appreciation of Asian women as individuals with unique experiences and identities.

Consumerism/materialism[]

Another concern is the potential for the ABG culture to promote materialism and consumerism. The emphasis on designer brands, luxury goods, and appearance can create pressure to conform to certain standards and fuel a culture of materialistic values. This can lead to issues such as excessive spending, financial strain, and the prioritization of material possessions over personal growth and development.

Reinforcing beauty standards[]

Additionally, some argue that the ABG culture may reinforce harmful beauty standards and body image ideals. The pressure to conform to a specific look, often characterized by a slim figure, specific makeup techniques, and other physical attributes, can contribute to body image issues and self-esteem concerns among individuals who do not naturally fit into these standards. This can have negative effects on mental health and perpetuate unrealistic beauty expectations.

Gallery[]

References[]

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