Phan did not have a picture perfect childhood. Depending on food stamps, her family moved around a lot, and her father was not in her life for some time. This wasn't something Phan was sharing with viewers when she began her YouTube videos. She told Glamour, "I depicted myself as the girl I wanted to be, with money and a great family." However, Phan told the magazine she credits the early difficulties with helping her be the person she is today, sharing "I believe everything happens for a reason. The universe will never give you any problems not knowing you can resolve them and can grow."
In many interviews, Phan discusses her mother and how much she inspired her in life. Phan's mom had moved from Vietnam after the war with less than $20 in her pocket, never having spoken English. She started working as a beautician, and Phan often accompanied her to work after school. This was when Phan began to find her passion. She told the Wall Street Journal she would read all of the beauty magazines and absorb the information.
Her mother wanted more for her daughter, but Phan valued her mother's work. "She didn't feel empowered by it, but I kept telling her growing up, 'You know this is beautiful what you're doing.'" She went on to explain that success isn't always what you think it should be. "There's beauty in everything, and sometimes the media portrays success in a certain way, but I believe everyone has their own vision of success," she said. Now both Phan and her mother are enjoying the benefits of her success — she was able to help her mom retire a few years ago.