Not Your Mother’s Asian Stereotype

Photo Credit: Julian Nava IG: j.nava__

Photo Credit: Julian Nava IG: j.nava__

Passive. Shy. Polite. Submissive. Innocent. These traits encapsulate the unfortunately long-standing lotus blossom stereotype Asian women have had forced upon them for decades. Our Asian mothers and their mothers before them were painted in this light against their will. However, our generation may not be. Why not, you ask? Because there’s a new Asian woman stereotype in town. Meet the “Asian Baby Girl” (aka. the ABG). Decked out in bold makeup, piercings, and tattoos, dressed to the nines in revealing clothing, likely only a bralette when they hit up clubs, in constant attendance at raves, and with aspirations that they work hard towards, ABGs are known to have the best of both worlds: beauty and brains. Sure, they have fun and are inseparable from their Juul, but they also earn top marks in school and have successful careers. This stereotype might seem ideal—fun, confident, rebellious, AND smart? However, in reality, the ABG stereotype, creating a white-washed persona, for example, hurts Asian women just as much as prior ones.

Created from within the community, the ABG stereotype differs from previous Asian ones. In fact, this stereotype has only been circulating for the past decade. Most outside of the Asian community are wholly unaware of this term. A group of Asian students in Melbourne, Australia created a Facebook group called “subtle Asian traits” to casually discuss their Asian-Australian experiences, but their group became an internet sensation and a global online group for Asians. It was in this Facebook group that the label, ABG, rose in popularity. 

However, it was actually developed decades before. In the 90s, Asian young women in big cities in New York and New Jersey had only two options: adopt a nerdy reputation or hang out with the wannabe gangsters in Chinatown. Those who opted to join gangs ended up being called “Asian Baby Gangsters” or ABGs, the first appearance of this acronym in relation to stereotypes about Asian women. While the term obviously changed over time, the concept, rebellious Asian women who party at clubs and raves, stayed the same.

Often compared to the “Valley Girl” stereotype, the ABG stereotype has adopted far too many elements of western culture for this negative aspect to be overlooked. Dyeing their long hair blonde or in a blonde ombre, rarely going out in public without green contact lenses and false eyelashes, ABGs follow Western beauty standards, essentially promoting the idea of being “as white as possible.” Thus, becoming an ABG just becomes another disguise for suppressing one’s own differences because of internalized anti-Asian racism and not wanting to look different from the people around us. Essentially, it feels like another form of colonization, but this time it’s our looks being modified to appeal to the white population. Having devastating consequences for the self-esteem and self-love of Asian girls, this enforcement of the Western beauty standard prevents Asian women from being proud of their distinctly beautiful Asian features. 

As a young, South-Asian girl, I used to want a perkier, button nose like my white classmates, so I would press my finger against the fleshy end of my nose in an attempt to bend it backward. After struggling with acceptance for years, I now love my long, big nose, which is why it’s heartbreaking to watch as my fellow Asian Americans don white features just as I tried to do when I was younger and ashamed of my differences. We should be proud of our dark eyes, glossy black hair, and all other traits passed down through our family trees. This stereotype directly blocks Asian women from obtaining cultural pride. 

Another harmful effect of the ABG stereotype is that it doesn’t lead to an overall increase in self-confidence for Asian women, instead reducing it. Or at least based on its portrayal on the television screen. It seems that Hollywood has found out about the ABG stereotype and is shouting this discovery from the rooftops with… drumroll please… the badass Asian girl with a brightly colored streak in her hair. Tina Cohen-Chang from Glee. Gogo Tomago from Big Hero 6. Yukio from Deadpool 2. What do these characters have in common? They’re all cool, confident, interesting Asian women (good so far!) with a blue or purple hairstreak (and there’s the clincher). These characters embody the ABG stereotype in mainstream media, where this term is a rare sight to behold. Nevertheless, this stereotype of a rebellious and confident Asian girl contrasts every traditional value their parents tried to instill in them, such as an aversion towards dyed hair, so it is being shown here even if the term isn’t in use. In 2017, Anne Shi described the issue with this stereotype best when she explained that film and television producers in the West seem to think that they need to give the “edgy” Asian woman a hairstreak to differentiate her from the subservient lotus blossom Asian woman commonly depicted in media. Insulting to the max for Asian women everywhere, it feels like Hollywood sees and perpetuates the lotus blossom stereotype as standard and all encompassing for Asian women by making the ABG stereotype into an Asian girl who is “not like the other Asian girls.” Making them out to be rare oddities, this marginalizes confident, rebellious Asian women who live in the real world. Additionally, this makes it seem like Asian women can’t be interesting just as they are, that they have to try their best to stand out from other Asian women in order to be of any value. Of course, this isn’t true, which is why an extreme stereotype like the ABG one can be harmful to Asian women who don’t identify with this stereotype, damaging their sense of identity.

Furthermore, even those who do feel like and personify ABGs receive the short end of the stick with how they’re perceived by others both within the Asian community and outside of it. Inside the Asian community, ABGs have wrought the same blowback as the “basic white girl” in western society. Even though ABGs drink boba instead of Starbucks, the staple “basic white girl” beverage, both labels have faced ridicule from their respective communities. There’s a misplaced sense of pride for some Asian women that they’re not ABGs, demonstrating how this stereotype has a reputation as being vapid. Even though ABGs tend to be studious and intelligent, their good looks and confidence have been unfairly correlated with a lack of book smarts. This is a result of the intersection between sexism and anti-Asian racism. 

The Asian community has often been seen as monolithic by those outside of it. It seems like the rest of the world thinks it’s impossible for Asian women, in this case, to have more than just one set of traits: to be both outgoing and academic, both fun and focused on their futures. Sexism explains how the patriarchy has enforced this false notion of femininity to equal a lack of brains. ABGs are known to be strongly in touch with their femininity, as can be seen from their use of bold makeup and false eyelashes, for example, and their dismissal as academically successful women demonstrates that sexist idea. 

No stereotype will ever give Asian women what they deserve: just to be allowed to exist without having labels slapped onto them. Multifaceted with varied personalities and interests like the women of every ethnicity, Asian women should never be forced into a box, and that’s what these stereotypes are attempting to do. We’ve faced the lotus blossom stereotype for years, being hypersexualized and overly dominated by white men. Now that we have a stereotype on the opposite side of the spectrum, we face the same number of issues, now having our culture watered down in favor of a white-washed persona, being burdened with the duty of making ourselves interesting for others rather than simply living for ourselves, and still being seen as less than we truly are. A dichotomy is no better than a monolith. Even worse, this second Asian stereotype was created and then discredited by the same Asian community that is harmed by it. Adding more stereotypes and boxes no one will fit into helps nobody; we must dismantle all stereotypes and simply let Asian women be. They’re all worthy of love, respect, and acceptance as they are. 

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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