I first interviewed Ha Anh for Oi Vietnam magazine back in 2015, before going on to collaborate with her on her grandparents’ book Letters in Love and War. During our interview, Ha Anh offered many fascinating opinions and insights into the modeling industry in Vietnam and her experiences both here and abroad. While the limitations in word length for the article itself made publication of all the comments she shared impossible, we now publish here these exclusive extracts from my discussion with the celebrity to flesh out the content we published in the magazine. Read on and learn more about the writing supermodel, Vu Ha Anh.
Why did you choose to work in fashion?
I work in fashion not because I grew up, thought I was beautiful and wanted to be a model. I studied marketing. I never thought I’d become a model, and I’m not interested in makeup. As you see, I don’t wear makeup every day, I don’t “think I’m beautiful.” But I do that because I was given an opportunity when I was in London, and the more you do it the more you know that you have to be good at it. And as a real life person you become what you become, and for me now, I think I do what I do because I enjoy it. I feel passionate about doing something good, and supporting people and bringing a support group to make something great for my country, which I’m very passionate about. That’s completely different from when I model in Europe or America or anywhere. You are there experiencing it, earning your money. Fair and square. But here, it’s my country and whatever you can possibly make, give people an inspiration.
Do you think women are treated as commodities in this industry?
I think there are a lot of women who could not be a model or an actress or a famous person, but who still see their beauty as a commodity. So that they can have a wealthy boyfriend, wealthy husband, or whatever. Everywhere else in the world is also the same. If you’re a handsome man then you’re also a commodity, because you have an expectation that you will land a certain job, meet certain people, be certain ways. So it’s how and in what specific circumstances. But for me, I think it’s very hard to judge these girls. I know there are many girls like that. To me personally, being a bit patriotic, sometimes I couldn’t help but think that I wish that they would have more pride and would study more, would have more to offer than just their beauty and fighting for a man.
Also with students, the young girls who I train, I also wish they would have more ambition, I wish they understood more. But I have to take into account that most people do not have the opportunity that I had to make choices, to have a family to fall back on, to be able to walk away when I want, to be able to MC, the ability to direct a show, not many people have that ability, so you have to sympathize with that.
What keeps you grounded in this business?
I think that for me, it’s having a very strong family foundation. My family is 110% supportive of me and what I do, and for me, that’s something I learned from when I was younger, that it’s not worth telling lies. It’s one thing that I don’t like, and I’m terribly bad at it, and I know in life sometimes you can’t help but having to twist the truth for certain things. But for me, it consumes more energy to tell lies than to tell the truth. That’s why I decided to keep my life open and frank, because basically I have nothing to hide. So in the past, there were competitions or verbal fights with people, and they said “I’m going to expose your scandal,” and I was able to stand there and say, please go ahead, if you feel that I have any, feel free. Because for me personally I have nothing to hide. I know that my family will get my back no matter what. They will trust me, they’ll believe in me, they’ll… you know.
I know that it’s very easy for a young person to make a mistake. Just like me in the past. I could have been somewhere doing nudity or something that you didn’t know was going to harm your career. But luckily I wasn’t. I always have in my mind that I’m a Vietnamese and an Asian woman. It’s a conflict because people see me as being very strong and open. Vietnamese people will think oh, she’s not one of us. But actually deep down, I’m a very traditional person in many senses; in the values that I keep, as an Asian, I’m not going to expose myself, I’m never going to dance on the table, I’m never gonna appease men, I’m never going to take my friend’s boyfriend… all of these values are very much part of me.
What are your vulnerabilities?
I always had what I feel are broken pieces, and every time I was in a relationship with a different man, every time I got close I would run away, question everything. Many times I said in my book that I owe myself my own happiness, because I realize that with all of these men who are waiting with open arms, who want to give me happiness, I want to run away. I wondered if I would ever find someone who I can feel trusted with, want to be with, and find that peace and security, that I can love. That’s why my audiobook is about sharing with people. I said I shared it with all the broken souls that are looking to lighten up, such as me.
What makes you proud about your audiobook?
One beautiful thing is that I did it for myself. All the loving words that I expected, I told myself and to my family. And my parents used to not talk to each other anymore, because there was so much bitterness between them. But now they know that I want them to remain people who protect and love us both. And they are getting closer. Now they they can actually be in the same room together, because they know that they have greater roles than just being our mother and our father. That’s one of the beautiful things that came about from this for me.
Are you really as strong as you seem?
There’s always conflict, but they always say that women, the stronger they look from the outside, they are the most vulnerable ones. I think that’s true of me. I’m definitely more sensitive, I’m more vulnerable than other people. It’s easy if people you love and trust can break you, you’ll definitely feel broken. That’s why it’s very important that you choose the right people to be around you.
When do you write? Early in the morning, do you get up and write something?
Not early in the morning! I wake up quite early, but I just let my mind wander. When I write best I listen to music. It’s inspiration.
What do you listen to?
It depends on my mood, really, but I think for me, I observe people a lot. I question myself a lot about people’s lives, their situation. My situation. I think that I try to answer my own questions, and the philosophy of it, the logic of it. Sometimes emergency. When I talk to women who don’t have a happy marriage or relationship, I go home feeling very sad because I’m very sensitive in that sense. But in many ways I feel that being someone who is so sensitive in many ways, you are burdened with a lot of people’s pain. It takes up a lot of energy. You have to fall back and reserve yourself, and you come out and give people what you’ve got. So it’s very instructive for me, and I’ve learned that about myself as a person to go slowly, step by step.
What do you like to write about?
I write about people, I’m very interested in writing about love, about relationships, about society. The society that I’m in. The difference is for women, for men, what the difference is, how is it locally, how is it linked universally… because I’m Vietnamese, but I have for a long time been living overseas, I’m traditional, but yes, I’m very open, so there’s a lot of conflict, and I ask myself a lot of questions. All of my writing is basically to answer my own questions, which I hope that people will find interesting. I’m not trying to be a “writer,” I’m not trying to be a journalist. I would never be a journalist, I would never be a writer. You need to have a lot of discipline I feel to do that, and I don’t have the discipline. I’m distracted by millions of other things. But I love writing when I have the opportunity.
What do you really care about?
For me, I have many things that I care about. I care about equality, children, for the LGBT community, for women. I care about, that women should not be treated badly as in domestic violence, for kids, and for people who are not treated as a human being as they deserve. And I feel that perception of people can change a lot. Perception of people can change the lives of people. I like to be able to use my perspective and my outlook and my reach to be able to change people’s minds. Get people to maybe think differently or think openly, or just to be aware of yourself.
How do you feel about being called a supermodel?
I don’t really care about being called a supermodel. That’s why my slogan is “It’s me, Ha Anh,” because I can be 50 years old and still be someone that someone wants to look up to, who wants to send their kids to school, or wants to read something about me, because my brand and my name will mature as I go along. I’m not going to try and be a young girl forever. One day I’ll settle down and have kids, and that will grow with me.
I trust very much in my own instinct. My gut instinct is really that when the time is right, it all comes down to logic in the end. In order for something to work out, it needs to have many elements. You need to be aware of how you feel. You need to be able to do something you love. For you to know that, you just have to open up to many different possibilities. Not narrow yourself down to “this is what I have to do now.” “Oh my god, I’m older now, but I’m not married, so I need to build a company…” that’s something that people would usually think, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the only way. So to come to see how you evolve yourself and what you feel like… maybe at that time when I become a mother, I will just want to be with my kids. I don’t know, right? You don’t know, you never know until you do that. Because whatever I do, I feel that I will want to make sure I will be happy.
Do people presume you’re not intelligent because you’re a model?
It’s interesting, also it’s a reverse discrimination, you know? I know with people who I work with, many Vietnamese, and they say OMG I see you smile! Yes, of course I smile! I’m a normal person! People don’t always think of you as a normal person. And also because when you work overseas as well, you build yourself to be a very workable, likeable person. You need to be nice. I don’t like to feel famous, because it’s nothing. Like I say to people all the time, it’s like, what do they think they are? Their fans don’t know, Don’t pretend that you only live in five star hotels, because you do not. You should be very connected to where you come from, even on the street, please just be a normal person, be polite and nice to everyone. Because we’re all human in the end. Then one day you’re not famous anymore, because they don’t like you.
What do you love more than the glamor of your industry?
I love nature – I mean, some places that I see in the movies, I would love to go there, just to walk around and look at the view, and see you are so small. I think that if you’re in a busy city all the time, maybe it’s boring, but I would love to go… for me, nature is the most beautiful thing, more than jewelry. I don’t wear jewelry because I think that it can be nice, something can be nicer, but something like nature is so unique on its own, and it’s the only thing that can take my breath away.