Sports Illustrated Swimsuit is featuring their very first Asian curve model. Up-and-comer Yumi Nu has been named a 2021 Sports Illustrated “Rookie,” an annual competition in which SI readers get to cast their vote for Rookie of the Year. Nu shared the exciting news on her Instagram, alongside her official “Rookie” photo, which will be featured in the magazine’s print issue hitting stands on July 20, 2021 (via Us Weekly). “What an incredible honor it is to be in such an inclusive and beautiful magazine that has pushed the envelope since day 1,” the Japanese-Dutch model wrote in the caption. “I’m so proud to be making history as the first Asian curve Sports Illustrated model.”
M.J. Day, editor of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, shared the news on her own Instagram, singing Nu’s praises in the caption. “We work with a lot of incredible women. Yumi, however, possesses the most amount of confidence and appreciation for herself and body that we’ve seen,” Day said. “She doesn’t hold herself to any traditional beauty standards and is gracefully unapologetic for seeing herself as a powerful, beautiful, sensual woman.”
Nu may be a “Rookie,” but she’s actually been modeling since she was a child, and has pursued other creative ventures. Read on for everything we know about the Sports Illustrated newcomer.
She's also a singer and songwriter
In addition to modeling, Yumi Nu is also incredibly passionate about music. In a 2019 interview with beauty blog Into the Gloss, Nu said that she began taking singing lessons at age 12 and was writing music by age 15. “I put out my first song when I was 16, and most recently I released an EP in June,” she told the outlet. Nu also said that her uncle, DJ Steve Aoki, “has always been an influence” to her. “Growing up, I didn’t understand the weight of my family. He and Devon [Aoki] are both massive Asian influences in the music and fashion industries, and I’m so grateful for how the two of them paved the way.”
This week, Nu revealed that she’s planning to release new music soon. In an interview with People, said that she took a much-needed break from creating songs. “My relationship with music has had more ups and downs,” she said. “It’s a more vulnerable part of myself being expressed through my songwriting, and I’ve been so afraid of rejection at times that it has paralyzed me and my art. I’m in a way better place now, getting ready to debut my first song after a two-year break!”
She wasn't always confident as a plus-size model
It’s clear that Nu is confident in her body now, but that wasn’t always the case. “I started out modeling when I was a baby, but I would cry too much, so I stopped. I came back to it when I was 12,” Nu told Into the Gloss in 2019. “I was always going on castings, but the plus industry wasn’t fully formed at the time.” The model goes on to explain that at the time, her sizing was too large for straight-size modeling but too small to be considered plus-size.
“Everyone was telling me to gain weight, but that’s not what you really want to do when you’re in high school,” she continued. “I had this never-ending battle of not being good enough, not feeling beautiful in any area of my life. And that’s really hard when you’re pubescent and hormonal and just want to be loved. So I took a break from it all and quit modeling.”
Though Nu has learned to accept herself the way she is, she thinks that sizing categories should be abolished all together. “I wish I could be considered just a normal model,” she told Us this week. “The industry has a long way to go until there is no divide between sizes.”
She's learning to embrace her Japanese heritage
In a recent Instagram post, Yumi Nu opened up about how she only recently began to embrace her Japanese heritage. “Growing up half Japanese half white, I suppressed any connection to my Japanese side until 3-4 years ago, because for the longest time it was what separated me from belonging with everyone else,” she wrote.
Nu went on to describe her experiences with racism growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Maryland. Her parents eventually resorted to moving their family out of the area, all of which caused Nu to develop a complicated relationship with her ethnicity. But as an adult, she says she has gained a new perspective. “I healed the areas of my life that made me believe my asianness was an ugly thing — I’ve grown so raw and sensitive to it,” she said. “It’s so beautiful to be Asian and I’m learning more and more about it.”
She has spoken up about recent Asian hate crimes
Given the recent spike in hate crimes targeting Asians, Yumi Nu has expressed not only her sadness and frustration, but her commitment to shedding light on the issue. “I feel so f****** helpless that we are in 2021 and this is still happening to POC,” she wrote in an emotional Instagram post this week.
“It’s hard not to see my mother or my grandmother in this situation. My heart is with the Asian community right now. There’s not much to say to ease the pain, but all we can do is stick together and continue to fight the fight. #stopasianhate please let me know what we can do.”
In her interview with People, the model highlighted the importance of speaking up about the recent atrocities and her position as an advocate for her community. “The Asian community isn’t always a loud one,” she said. “Our society’s view of Asians in the model minority myth lens has silenced us for many years. In this time of anti-Asian violence, it’s so important now more than ever for Asian people to be heard and supported. The division and racism in our world has gotten so bad; we’ve grown so far from love and connection. I want to create a space for people to feel heard and safe. That’s my purpose on this earth.”
She was once terrified to wear a bathing suit
You might never know it from looking at her recent shoot with Sports Illustrated, but model Yumi Nu wasn’t always happy — or even willing — to wear a bathing suit. In a 2019 interview with L’Official, Nu spoke about the turning point in her life when it came to body positivity. “In 2016, I went to Hawaii to visit my family,” she said. “I was there for 3 weeks, just looking at the gorgeous water, and I had this moment where I decided I didn’t want to look back and hate myself because I didn’t go in the ocean.”
She continued: “I was so embarrassed. I never lived life fully. I never wore what I wanted to wear. I never actually felt free because I thought, ‘I’ll just wear bathing suits when I’m a certain size.’ Or, ‘I’ll go in the water without insecurities when I’m a certain weight.’ There were all these thresholds that I could never reach.”
Clearly, Nu has overcome her insecurities and learned to love her body the way it is — something her past self could have never imagined. “The younger version of myself would have never believed I would be a Sports Illustrated model one day,” Nu told Us. “It’s given me so much confidence to believe that anything is possible for us.”
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