"I felt imprisoned by my vanity and developed deep-rooted insecurities and self-sabotaging patterns"
Make-up artist and YouTube personality Michelle Phan has discussed how her Asian heritage shaped her career.
In an article on Teen Vogue, Michelle Phan revealed how her Vietnamese-American identity led her to a career in beauty and fashion.
Phan begins the piece by saying that she was unable to identify with models in magazines, “in a world before Instagram and YouTube, magazines were my point of reference for “ideal” beauty standards,” Phan writes. “Truthfully, I couldn’t identify with any of the glamorous faces staring back at me. This wasn’t shocking, it was normal. I grew up underrepresented and marginalized.”
Phan reveals that some of her peers made racist gestures towards her, mocking her appearance. “Someone once made a passing remark while stretching out their eyes,” she writes. “Ching chong, ching chong!” Features that I find attractive today, like my full lips, were the same features I was once ashamed of. I was mocked for them, and when I’d get my pictures taken, I’d consciously tuck my lips in to make them appear smaller”
“I felt imprisoned by my vanity and developed deep-rooted insecurities and self-sabotaging patterns.”
The 31-year-old who has amassed almost 9 million followers on YouTube has succeeded in her industry as well as succeeded in representing the Asian community. However, growing up, Phan struggled to find similar role models.
“On rare occasions, I’d see Asian models on the posters at the local Chinese market,” she writes. “Before discovering K-pop, J-pop, and C-pop, I grew up on Paris by Night. The popular Vietnamese music variety show was cheesy at times, but still it defined my childhood. I was mesmerized by the elaborate costumes and dramatic makeup that empowered me to recognize my own beauty.”
Television also failed to inspire Phan until she saw The Joy Luck Club. “Growing up, I didn’t see many Asian actresses onscreen,” she writes. “The first time I saw a leading Asian actress in an American movie was in The Joy Luck Club.”
“Not knowing what to expect, my mother and I watched, laughed, and cried. It was a movie that not only touched us, but also encapsulated our family dynamic and culture very accurately.”
J-pop played an important role in Phan’s life, exposing her to more Asian culture. “I didn’t have much access to Asian media until the age of the Internet, where I first discovered J-pop. I was already familiar with Chinese singers like Faye Wong through video games like “Final Fantasy,” but the moment I saw Japanese pop star Ayumi Hamasaki, my world changed.”
“Finally, there was someone I could identify with. She was was beautiful, talented, and Asian. It was through J-pop that I discovered K-pop and more. The Internet became my window to explore new facets of beauty through the lenses of different cultures. I found new mangas, K-dramas, and J-dramas that I would later grow to love and cherish.”
Although her “strict and philosophical” mother forbade her from wearing makeup when she was younger, Phan secretly experimented with different make up styles. Learning about beauty techniques through books, she eventually began creating tutorials.
Fast forward to 2007, Phan began creating video tutorials through her webcam received praise from the Asian community. “Comments like “I’m so glad you’re Asian like me” and “Thank you for representing us” gave me a new sense of purpose,” Phan said.
Now, Phan is proud to be the one representing Asians for the younger generation. “I know my 16-year-old self dreamed of seeing someone like me on the cover of a magazine (I never would have thought that I’d be on one 10 years later). Life has a funny way of teaching you things. It’s taught me this: Instead of wanting to see a change, I should be the change.”