The Viral ‘Baby Bowl’ Trend Rejects Adulthood

The baby bowl phenomenon is a prime example of Chinese youth wanting to slink back into childhood rather than face adult life

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7:00 PM HKT, Tue December 12, 2023 1 mins read

The ‘baby bowl’ phenomenon is going viral in China, but it’s not directly related to parents and young children. The Mandarin 宝宝碗 (bǎobǎowǎn) translates to English as ‘baby bowl.’ Recently the term has been used not just to refer to bowls for babies and toddlers. Instead it points to when a couple eating at a restaurant orders only one entrée and the guy puts a small portion into a smaller bowl for their significant other. This bowl is more than just a small portion: it’s supposed to serve as proof that the girl is pampered and cared for by her boyfriend. Furthermore, it boasts that the girl is petite, delicate, and has a small appetite

There’s no problem with wanting to try a bite or two of your partner’s food, or eating less if you’re not hungry. But what may have started off as a relatively harmless way for couples to show affection has evolved into a potentially damaging trend, one which pushes a heteronormative view of relationships and unrealistic body norms. Some netizens are arguing that the trend is evil, “because it deliberately weakens and infantilizes women.”

This relationship dynamic has gone so far that some girls have begun calling themselves 老公宝女 (lǎogōng bǎonǚ) which translates to husband’s baby daughter. That is to say, the girl views their significant other as a father figure who completely takes care of her.

Baby Bowl Trend

Caring or controlling? A boyfriend prepares a ‘baby bowl.’ Still image via Douyin.

At the same time, some female netizens have mocked this trend by posting videos of themselves eating from a big bowl while their boyfriend eats from a smaller bowl. In refutation of the baby bowl, others have created what they call a ‘grandma bowl,’ since ‘baby bowls’ don’t hold enough food to keep them full.

Putting aside gender issues for a moment, the trend clearly indicates a desire to regress back to childhood, escaping from the responsibilities of adult life.

This is a current that has been present in Chinese youth culture over the past few years. Other examples include ‘dopamine dressing,’ which reached China this year. It originated amongst university students looking to elevate their mood and quickly gained traction on Weibo and Xiaohongshu.

The story of viral frog costumes from earlier this year is also illustrative — not only did the creator of the costume design it out of frustration with her difficulties finding a job, but the frogs have also given people a chance to embrace costumed gig work as an alternative to stifling ‘996’ work culture. For some, the ‘baby bowl’ also seems to offer an escape, albeit one that leads back to childhood and traditional gender norms.

Banner image by Haedi Yue.

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