What AAPI Month Means to Me: Balancing My Vietnamese Roots with American Identity

In a previous blog, I opened up about my time competing in both Vietnamese and American beauty pageants. I didn't go into detail then about how different those experiences were and how it impacted my identity as a Vietnamese woman raised in America. Now, as we celebrate AAPI month, it feels like the perfect opportunity to share how navigating these diverse beauty standards has deepened my understanding and appreciation of what it means to be both these identities. 

In Vietnamese culture, we’re raised to be subtle, soft-spoken, and gentle. We were told by our mothers and aunties to not eat too much rice because being frail and skinny meant we were prettier. I couldn’t stay out in the sun too long because having tan skin wasn't viewed favorably. When six-year-old Jenn would jump around with other kids on the playground, I was reminded by the adults that I needed to act more like a “Vietnamese Girl” – whatever that meant. 

When I started school in America, the opposite was expected of me. I was encouraged by my teachers to be more confident and speak louder. While my American friends learned to assert their presence and discover individuality, I often found myself caught between two worlds, unsure of when to speak up or how to maintain my identity as a Vietnamese girl. 

This internal conflict wasn't just a passing phase; it followed me into my 20s as I stepped onto the Miss California USA stage. In American pageants, confidence and a sun-kissed glow were not just admired—they were rewarded. Each competition was a reminder of the balancing act I faced, not just on stage, but in every aspect of my life.

During the weekdays, I became ‘Work Jenn’—prioritizing my role as a good Vietnamese daughter and dedicating myself to our family business. This role required me to embrace the traditional values and expectations that had been instilled in me from a young age. However, on weekends, I allowed myself to explore a different side of my identity. As 'Everyday Jenn,' I experimented with tattoos and piercings and adopted a more rebellious style with ripped jeans. This wasn’t just about changing clothes; it was about expressing the parts of me that I had to mute during the week.

Eventually, I grew tired of constantly switching roles. I began questioning the expectations set by society, my surroundings, and even myself. That’s when I decided it was time to stop dividing my life into segments. I started to forge a single, cohesive path that honored all my interests and aspects of my identity. I learned that embracing both my Vietnamese roots and my personal aspirations begins with respecting where I come from, while boldly setting my own standards and forging my own path in the world.

Learning to navigate these differences has been a transformative part of my life. It has opened my eyes to how wildly beauty standards can vary from one culture to another. Every part of the world has its own definition of what it means to look good. This variety has made me question: who really decides what's beautiful? The truth is, there’s no universal answer because beauty is deeply personal and subjective. I am beautiful whether I am too Vietnamese or too American. 

This idea of blending cultures shapes my work at embody. We create skincare that respects tradition but also embraces modern needs. It's not just about looking good; it's about feeling good in your own skin, no matter which part of the world you come from.