Foreign affair: How China’s Gen Z fell in love with the Asian Baby Girl aesthetic

If you’ve swiped across TikTok, chances are you’ll have seen videos about the ABG aesthetic. From makeup and style tutorials to skits, the “Asian Baby Girl,” or ABG trend has been on the rise in recent years.

The ABG look, according to the internet, is a fashion and lifestyle trend embodied by Asian American women who often sport long, dyed hair, eyelash extensions, manicured nails, tattoos, and tanned skin.

While its beginnings are contested, some accounts assert that the term ABG first originated among the Asian diaspora in the 1990s, influenced by the rise of African-American hip-hop culture. Since then, the style has undergone several evolutions; today, it’s associated with the aforementioned tan, intense makeup, as well as street and clubbing-inspired outfits and hairstyles.

However, the ABG aesthetic is no longer geographically limited to Asians living overseas — in fact, it’s now a growing sub-trend in China.

China’s version of ABG

Since surfacing in 2020, the “ABG girl” (#ABG女孩) hashtag has accumulated over 9.8 million posts and counting on local lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu. According to Taobao, the turnover of ABG-related clothing and products increased 333 percent in 2021.

Chinese women make the ABG aesthetic their own. Photo: Xiaohongshu

“I’ve always wanted to try this type of look, but never found a good term for it. Now I know it’s called ABG,” Chinese influencer Chelle posted to her 287,000 followers on Bilibili before transforming herself into a tattooed, boba (bubble tea)-drinking ABG. She completes the look by sporting gray contact lenses, smoky eye makeup, and an animal print scarf tube top with jeans.

Across Chinese social media, a variety of beauty and style tutorials can be found on how to get the ABG look. Characterized by cropped graphic tees, baggy pants, pleated skirts, trucker hats, knee-high socks, and white sneakers — along with tattoos, piercings, fierce brows, and glowy highlighter — the ABG aesthetic has become representative of how the Westernized Asian diaspora is perceived in Asia.

Bilibili user Chelle applies fake tattoos and heavy makeup to transform into an ABG. Photo: Bilibili screenshots

With the global rise of K-pop and the popularization of Asian celebrities such as Jennie from Blackpink and Chinese rapper Vava, a hip hop-influenced “Westernized” Asian aesthetic has become increasingly glamorized in China.

For some, the appeal of this look lies in giving others the impression of having lived or been educated abroad. The brands typically worn, such as Hollister and Revolve, or luxury labels like Gucci and Chanel, can denote status and reaffirm perceptions of foreign lifestyles.

On social media platforms like Xiaohongshu, Chinese netizens speak of ABGs’ perceived confidence and independence.

“In addition to their makeup, the difference between Chinese girls and ABGs can also be seen in their gaze,” writes Jingzi Jing (@镜子靖). “ABGs have a more commanding look in their eyes, and they give off an impression of being less concerned about others’ evaluations and perceptions.”

Beyond an Asian American stereotype

However, for many members of the Asian diaspora, being an ABG is about more than the aesthetic.

In the West, the look has been criticized as another restrictive stereotype that counters the conventional model minority myth of the “polite, law-abiding, hard-working” Asian American.

Asian American women have long been stereotyped as timid and lacking in assertiveness in society and the workforce.

“The attitude of an ABG rebels against that notion, and embraces the exact opposite with dark flashy makeup, tattoos, piercings, and raw aggression and sexuality,” writes blogger Karin Cho. “However, that too can be problematic when there is an entire movement of girls looking the same way and acting similarly.”

Thanks to the prominence of TV shows such as Beef and American Born Chinese, as well as the popularity of Everything Everywhere All At Once at the 2023 Oscars, Asian Americans are gaining greater recognition of the diversity and realities of their societal roles, appearance and self-expression.

And while depictions of East Asians in the West may still be criticized for being shallow if not one-dimensional, it’s evident that the growing influence of the Asian diaspora is being felt in China.

Diasporic trends like the ABG look will evolve in the coming years, as the roles and representation of Asians overseas become increasingly nuanced. Future iterations of the ABG and other multicultural Asian aesthetics will reflect this development, both in the West and in China.

Additional reporting by Sadie Bargeron, Kristie Chu and Huiyan Chen


Beauty, Consumer Insights, Diaspora