vietnamese farmer

“Good Morning Vietnam”

Kate Moss photographed by Bruce Weber for Vogue US June 1996

Fashion Editor: Brana Wolf

Hair: Thom Priano
Makeup: Kay Montano

“Finally, on our last day, the crate was opened in a field north of Saigon. It was in the middle of nowhere and reminded me of our ranch in Montana. Brana, Nan, Kim (our guide) and Terry unpacked the dress, which was so huge that it needed all of them to carry it and dress Kate. The sun was about to go behind a grove of trees, when all of a sudden this elderly Vietnamese farmer with a white beard, dressed in his pajamas (which incidentally matched Kate’s dress), walked toward us from out of nowhere. Kim politely asked him where he was going, and he calmly said that he was ‘walking across this field to say goodnight to my grandchildren.’ She then asked him if he would mind posing with Kate, and he bowed his head in an elegant gesture. His grandchildren came out in the field and couldn’t imagine their grandfather being photographed in his pajamas with this beautiful young girl. He left us just like he came, just disappearing into the softness of the evening.”

Bruce Weber’s Journal

southeast asian aesthetic

The days where I feel beautiful are rare. Being a southeast Asian woman is difficult because what is fetishized as beautiful and exotic amongst the broad umbrella term of “Asian women” are features that I don’t have. My eyes are monolid only some days, my skin is not pale, the slant to my nose is not dainty. And I am not small and petite and cute enough to pick up and put in your pocket.

I live in a world where I compare myself constantly to two different standards: to the American standard of conventional beauty as well as to this pigeon hole view of what is considered by the entire world as “Asian beauty.” In reality, what is revered to be considered desirable traits amongst Asian women can really only be applied to very specific ethnic groups, Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian groups not exactly included. My ancestral make up is that of one hundred percent South Vietnamese– a history of farmers and laborers– men and women with crooked backs, gnarled hands, and wrinkles lining their face. An entire people who lost their war years ago, but still sing of the phantom limbs they’ve lost. My skin turns dark brown if I’m out in the sun for too long. I have a horrible open bite. My hair is not naturally sleek and straight. And both of my eyelids fold differently, making the upper portion of my face unsymmetrical whenever I smile.

I’ve struggled with self image for as long as I can remember. Not only did I not look like all of the white girls at school, with their pretty blue eyes that changed color in the sun and soft golden hair that felt like corn silk when touched, but I also didn’t look like the other well known, well liked Asian girls either, with their skin creamy as milk and their hair long and shiny. My eyes were as big and wide as a deer caught in headlights. I was praised for this by passing strangers; Americans who would compliment my mom on my big brown eyes as if she went in there herself and snipped at the corners with a pair of scissors. But where do I fall on this spectrum of beauty, with my eyes as wide as an American, but my skin not white enough? With the heart of a child raised and born in an Asian culture, but my skin still not white enough to fit in, with my hair too frizzy to count, and my eyes too big to be seen?

Am I enough to be seen, to be noticed? How is it that I can look at myself in the mirror, see the features that my Vietnamese parents passed down to me, and on bad days, think that I am complete trash? And yet, still also struggle with the fetishization and infantilization that all Asian women undergo? Whilst also not entirely fitting in to those standards with which Asian women have been fetishized with?

The concept of beauty is an odd thing to think of and apply to yourself, especially when you’re a woman of color, and in my own personal case, especially when you are from an ethnic group that is not deemed popular in Western society. What disheartens me the most is when Southeast Asian women criticize other Southeast Asian girls for not doing more to make themselves look like anything but themselves. As a child, I was whispered about by the aunties while they played card games betting on who would host the next family get together. They spoke in Vietnamese, hoping I wouldn’t understand them when they laughed about how I looked like a poor farmer’s child, how my chin was too small, and my teeth too big, and my eyes so round, and skin so dark that I must have worked on the construction site with my father; my father, who always came home tan and dirty after working a manual labor job to provide for his family.

It is a hard job having to remind myself that I am enough. The internalized contempt I have for features that I have on my own face are so deeply ingrained, that I wonder if I’ll ever be completely rid of them. But I will always protect and defend my fellow Southeast Asian girls who think they don’t fit into any standard of beauty. We can create our own standard; that Southeast Asian aesthetic. Girls with the tan skin and the big noses and weird eyelids that look vaguely Asian while still folding like an ass, making eyeliner impossible to even out. To my Southeast Asian girls who are covered from head to literal big toe in stubbornly thick and dark hair, we are beautiful. We are Southeast Asian women, and goddamn, are we beautiful.