Melissa Kenny On ‘The Genuine Delight That Is Transferred From A Circular, Smiling Asian Baby’ And Her New Book
Melissa Kenny is the technical mastermind behind an Instargam account that, so far, 126,000 people are completely obsessed with. The handle is @tinygentleasians and I can assure you that all content is most definitely tiny and gentle and Asian. At the same time, it’s also relentlessly sassy, cute and relatable. A small child lazily whining over the taste of her food, captioned “When you realise the bacon is facon,” me. Another small child with a lettuce leaf cupping her head, captioned “The head is a mere conduit for rich artistic expression,” also me. Yet another small child, with cheeks like cotton cheesecake, snoozing peacefully, captioned “Why fall in love when you can fall asleep?” All of us.
Due to the account’s success and Mel Kenny’s anything but tiny and gentle determination, a book deal has been landed. Which means now you can meet TGAs offline, and now I have a very official reason to get in touch with Mel.
Hi Mel! I don’t know what to ask you about first: Tiny Gentle Asians, Instagram, or books. Can you explain all of them to me?
Tiny Gentle Asians is the most fun. Instagram is the most paradoxical; a stressful balancing act of time-wasting and maintaining zeitgeist literacy. Books are great but I find it increasingly hard to read them .
You yourself were once a Tiny Gentle Asian. Can you tell me about your upbringing? Where’d you grow up, what was it like, when did you first realise you were so good at harnessing the power of the Internet to write captions from the perspective of very cute small humans?
I grew up in a smallish coastal place where a lot of white, blonde surfer types also grew up. My mum is Thai and would send me to school with non traditional lunches and pick me up in weird clothes and I always felt a bit not right. I’m unsure exactly when I unlocked my potential for this ‘line of work’ (bulging Asian babies and absurd captions) but I commonly ‘hear’ that this type of ridiculous content is a response to the unstable climate of modern life, so there’s that.
Did you always want to author a book? Did you ever dream it would be about babies?
I think I thought I’d write about my mother first, in a memoir style. She’s a dichotomous lady who’s equal parts comedienne and lion. A very unique and wonderful and stressful person.
What genre is this one, technically? Is it parenting?
I think it’s ‘novelty’. Or ‘gift’. Or like, ‘humour’, if we’re being generous.
You’re a very good writer by trade, mostly on the Internet and in magazines — but do you think you might be addicted to the rush of being an author? Is another book coming? What’s it about?
You are much too kind. I started writing for money right out of university (online, at this very magazine!) and I think back then I found the social reactions and affirmations very rewarding. There was no Instagram then and Facebook was a new thing, and having people opine on my opinions was exciting, disheartening and alien (literal strangers!) Now I work in branding/content strategy, so it’s less about public motivations — I’m a largely anonymous cog in the wheel.
I have no concrete plans for another book, though the mum thing from a few questions ago is not likely to lose steam anytime soon (she becomes more beautifully unhinged as time progresses).
Back on Tiny Gentle Asians — why’d you start it, how’d you find this niche to fill?
I can’t credit anything other than the genuine delight that is transferred from a circular, smiling Asian baby to its onlooker. I am the original onlooker, now there are a few thousand. How nice! The captions grew more and more dumb as time went on. Something to do with reframing the ‘awwwww cute’ baby cliche felt… necessary.
Has your approach to generating content been the same the whole way through? Or have you changed and adapted?
It used to be about trailing a flubbery baby through Sydney’s Chinatown in a manner that no-one will deny was unjust. Now the algorithm does all the work for me TYSM.
Do any of the parents feel weird?
I think 20% feel weird. It used to be more like 30%. And maybe 56% before that. But as I accrued more followers, people realised I wasn’t an uncouth lawbreaker and recognised the celebratory nature of the thing! Y’know?
Do you feel weird that you have over 126k followers?
Yes. This type of following is reserved for front-camera self care tutorials and big booty, small waist girls. Thanks for having me!
Are there any surprising stats?
People generally tagging their friends all day long with “it U”. Like, calling your friends a baby is popular and fairly universal at this point.
If you have a Tiny Gentle Asian of your own, would you post it on your account?
No kids for me thanks!
Why do you think people are so obsessed with small adorable humans being imaginatively sassy?
Because they fat? Because their mums dress them up? I don’t know entirely.
What is the thing that you’re secondarily obsessed with, after TGAs?
Wow. Honestly probably figuring out how to relax properly but failing every time? Help?
Would you make an Instagram account about it?
Well no. That would be too sincere.
Tiny Gentle Asians is out now! Own it for yourself right here.