Why is ‘Xiao Mei Mei’ Problematic?

Xiao Mei Mei. A familiar trope that most Singaporeans have grown up with. However, after spending about two hours in TikTok hell and coming across at least 20 XMMs staring at me through the screen a thought occurred to me. Is this right?

[Image Source: Pocky Lee on Unsplash]

By Jill Chang

Xiao Mei Mei. A familiar trope that most Singaporeans have grown up with.

As aptly put by urban dictionary, ”XMM is an abbreviation for xiao mei mei which in Chinese is 小妹妹.” Traditionally, this would refer to girls aged 11 to 14 years old.  However, the term has begun to encompass any young-looking long-haired female, clad in booty shorts and a tank top – just make sure that your iPhone or your hair blocks out your entire face in mirror selfies. With TikTok’s popularity growing like a tumour, it is not surprising that videos of XMM pop up as well. Be it staring placidly into the camera as a manyao song plays in the background or attempting some rapid hand movements, you know you’ve seen them somewhere.

However, after spending about two hours in TikTok hell and coming across at least 20 XMMs staring at me through the screen a thought occurred to me: Is this right?

No really, is it okay that 14-year-old girls are flaunting certain features for the world to see? It’s not just on TikTok, but on Instagram as well. Search XMM and you’ll find accounts dedicated to posting selfies and videos of unnamed young girls. Whether or not these girls consented to these pictures being re-posted is another issue altogether. A quick check through Instagram highlights of accounts like @xmmcutiesg will reveal that there some of these accounts do actually seek permission from these girls before posting their selfies. And in some instances, some girls even approach them to do so.

The dangers of “attracting attention” 

However, that’s where the complication comes in. It’s easy (and arguably premature) to blame the girl for dressing in a certain manner or doing suggestive things. When pictures of these girls are circulated on the web, or more specifically Telegram channels, it’s easy to point fingers at the girl and argue that it’s her fault for posting her picture on a public platform. By publicly posting her picture online, she is calling attention to herself.

Why does posting selfies or videos for attention automatically entitle viewers to make sexualised comments or open it up for men’s own private usage? Fishing for compliments is not an excuse for sexual harassment.

But that raises the question, what are these girls looking for when they post these pictures?

Finding self-worth in seflies

Most of them are 11 to 14-year-old girls just trying to figure out what is going on in their lives, many of whom are struggling with issues that deal with self-esteem and confidence. Posting selfies that they feel good about could be a way to validate themselves, which in retrospect isn’t something adults are unfamiliar with either. Many girls of this age are sexually maturing and probably are at the stage where they will be exploring their body, inevitably comparing it to what society defines as an “attractive” woman. Naturally, girls would want to accentuate these features and feel as beautiful as these posed standards.

However, when men make sexualised comments about these pictures or choose to circulate their videos or photos, they are taking advantage of this inexperience. Some men may even go as far as to claim that it is a form of appreciation, but there is a painfully obvious difference between complimenting someone for their beauty and merely sexualising certain features of her body.

Being a part of a larger problem

Unfortunately, whether subconscious or not, many of us worsen this problem.

It’s present in the way that we humourize the trope, along with the YP (young punk) memes and “zhut zhut” sounds – we have turned what could potentially be a cause of sexual harassment into a joke. That is not to say we are ignorant of the problematic nature of XMM, it is evident enough in the sheepish way men feel if it is ever suggested that their preference of women is a XMM. Liking a XMM suggests a strange obsession with naivety and innocence, a desire to control and be in power. And as history tells, power imbalances are usually not a good thing.

Joking about XMM trivialises what could be a potential reason for why so many young girls face sexual harassment online and perpetuate the stereotype that surrounds it. There is a risk of boxing and categorising every young girl in booty shorts that listens to manyao as a XMM and failing to look past anything other than that. Conversely, this may lead to a tendency to treat girls, or even women, that fall within this category with more condescension than usual.

So, what should we do?

Well, we are not expected to actively rid this localised term for good, and it’s definitely not the first time such a problematic term is tossed around (i.e. Sarong Party girl, Cikupek). However, one should acknowledge and keep in the back of our minds the larger problems that could be associated with it. The cause of sexual harassment is complex and with such acts being condemned even more harshly in this tech era, it is only a matter of time before we start asking ourselves where such tendencies come from.