“You don’t have any eyelids!”
Bewildered, I reached up and touched the skin above my eye as my friend squealed and beckoned others to join with her in examining my face. After some questioning, I realized that what she meant was that I did not have a fold over my eye, what I would soon learn was called the “double eyelid.” That knowledge — acquired at the highly vulnerable age of 11 — has stayed with me ever since.
During my over-plucked eyebrows and crusty nail polish era, I would search on YouTube for girls who looked like me. I scoured the internet for influencers who could teach me the step-by-step of how to look more like everyone else. “MONOLID MAKEUP TUTORIAL” and “HOW TO MAKE ASIAN EYES LOOK BIGGER” were among my most commonly clicked videos. I took notes in my mind as I watched the way they blended their peachy eyeshadows and utilized glitter to make their “boring” brown pupils pop. I studied up on eyelid tape and colored contact lenses. But in the back of my mind, I knew that no matter how much I spent on products and what brand of false eyelashes I used, I could never fit this beauty standard — my eyes would always be too small, my nose always too bridge-less, my face always too flat.
It’s a hard message to escape. In an attempt to do so, I decided before coming into college that I was going to rebrand myself. I started playing more with makeup and my wardrobe in a strange mixture of self-discovery and imitation — self-discovery in that I felt myself growing in confidence in the way I presented, and imitation in that I was largely achieving said confidence by trying to make myself look more physically “acceptable” by society’s standards. But I soon learned that even this “new me” fit the description of yet another unwanted label.
“You’re such an ABG.”
When I first heard this, I couldn’t quite figure out why it bothered me. That is, until I searched up its actual definition. According to Urban Dictionary, an ABG is an “acronym for Asian Baby Girl who puts on a lot of makeup, wears fake eyelashes and thick eyeshadow.” They also “wear revealing clothing, and is usually a slut.” ABG’s are known to love boba, raves and making out with their boyfriends. Oh, and apparently, “most Asian girls do not appreciate being called an ‘ABG.’ ” Thank you, @asianbabygirl, for clarifying that — as a labeled representative of this group, I can almost guarantee that you are not one of us (cue aggressive eye roll).
Growing up in the United States, being taught that looking “conventionally Asian” was bad, I was faced with the reality that trying to look otherwise still made me out to be something just as bad — if not worse. “Bad” not in the sense that having dyed hair and tattoos is wrong, but that being an ABG labels someones as somethings. An ABG is essentially a concentrated term that represents one of the highly yet wrongly accepted ways of stereotyping Asian American women. The expansion of the acronym itself — as a “baby girl” — is no less than a fetishization masked by glorification. Not to mention that the supposed “praise” for such a demographic comes mainly from the white male audience. Don’t even get me started on the other term, “yellow fever.”
And while I do fit certain “criteria” of the typical ABG, being placed under this exoticizing term makes me feel like I am doing something wrong by having a nose piercing and lighter colored hair — things that, on a non-Asian, would simply be considered a choice in personal aesthetic. Accessorizing myself suddenly becomes a means by which an entire set of stereotypes I do not identify with is placed on who I am. These stereotypes are stacked on top of a preexisting set that comes with being a woman and whether I put effort into my appearance before leaving the house. The term “ABG,” in that way, diminishes the reality of who I think myself to be and replaces it with a one-dimensional person whose defining characteristic is her Asian-ness. I’ve merely gone from the Asian girl with no eyelids to the Asian girl who wears false eyelashes.
No matter what, I look “too Asian” — and not in a way that lets me be proud. In other words, I have constantly been made aware that I am other. I can’t win.
See, but I don’t want to have to explain that every time a friend playfully calls me an ABG. I don’t harbor anger toward people who use the term, but I do wish I was brave enough to start the conversation about where it comes from without the fear that I will be seen as being easily offendable. I don’t want to sound like I can’t take a joke, but sometimes I want to ask why it’s even a joke in the first place. It’s clear how patronizing the definition of an ABG is, and yet it’s a term that’s so easily used to describe people. And since it’s so common, it feels awkward to bring up all the reasons it shouldn’t be. But I guess that’s the thing about big topics like these: They need to be talked about in order to address the problem. Sometimes, such as in this case, people need to be reminded that there is any problem at all.
So, yes, this is an issue that needs facing. Take it from an “ABG.”