Sports Illustrated’s first Asian American Plus Size Model on Diversity

  • Yumi Nu made history by becoming the first large-scale Asian American model in Sports Illustrated.
  • The 25-year-old model faced self-doubt in an industry that traditionally favors white and thin models.
  • Nuk tells us how he changed that narrative and how the fashion industry could be more inclusive.

Yumi Nu is an essay based on an interview with a 25-year-old model, artist and songwriter. Edited for length and clarity.

Modeling has always been a part of my life. My mother was a model and took me to the movies as a kid, and I went back to high school there.

At first I wanted to be a model because I wanted to be cool as a kid, but I feel like my intentions have changed. The industry has changed a lot and there is so much history to make, and I want to be a part of that.

I honestly didn’t know I was going to be on the cover of “Sports Illustrated,” so I thought I’d be in one of the magazine’s shootings. I was happy to be on the subject. I was doing a fake interview on MJ Day, the editor-in-chief of “Sports Illustrated” and the team surprised me with their skin.

People ask me if I dreamed of being on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but I didn’t know I could. In the last two or three years alone, brands, casting directors, and editors have made an effort to open up to a variety of models, both in terms of bodily diversity and racial diversity.

Yumi Nu was shocked at the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Nu “Sports Illustrated” was shocked by MJ Day’s editor-in-chief in a fake interview with him.

Mike Coppola / Getty


In search of identity in childhood

When I was younger, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me in the media. This created a lot of insecurity and merit issues for me.

I’m half Japanese and half white. Growing up, it wasn’t very nice to have anything other than white. I wish the media, culture, and society wouldn’t affect us, but yes, especially when we’re young. We look at what is important and what we need to think, look and say.

So I wanted to join the whites. I didn’t — or wanted to — have a connection to my Asian side, because this embarrassment made me different, and it was the thing that set me apart from the well-known kids at school, and I thought I should be beautiful. It was the same with the large size.

I didn’t normalize or encourage anyone to be as happy as I am with my skin. I didn’t know how to give myself that validation, because the Asians of my life also spent so much time in an environment where I feel like I’m whitewashing myself to survive in the growing areas. We are healing. now from all that in recent years.

Earlier in my modeling career, I changed the size spectrum; sometimes I was the perfect size for large sizes, other times I was too small. It’s a smaller window of what we could have been as role models.

Culturally, Asians don’t want to be praised for being bigger, and that was leaked to the American perception of how they want to represent the people of Asia. I never saw an Asian curve pattern until recently. People didn’t know what to do with me because I didn’t fit into that mold.

Changing the narrative for me and the industry

Eventually, I got tired of hating myself, thinking I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t a certain size or race.

I was in Hawaii in 2016 and I thought to myself, “Am I going to get in the water because I feel too big? Where did I get that idea?” I realized that I would be 80 years old when I was in the water when I didn’t get in, or because I was wearing what I wanted to wear, or because I was ashamed of who I was all my life. I wanted that freedom.

It’s a journey. After clicking on the switches, I had to build a new mindset and rewire my brain.

Yumi Nu attended the Swimsuit on Location event organized by Hard Sports Seminole at Hard Rock Seminole on May 21, 2022 in Hollywood, Florida.

Nu says the fashion industry still has a long way to go in terms of body and racial diversity.

Alexander Tamargo / Getty Images


I’m seeing that narrative slowly begin to change in modeling as well. Recording with “Sports Illustrated” was a great experience: everyone on the set is present, friendly and makes sure you feel confident. They make sure that all the swimsuits fit well, that I feel good and that I listen to the music that feels my best on set. (I hear Megan Thee Stallion because she’s a trusted queen.)

But there is still a huge gap in fashion resources: everyone wants to hire oversized models for their campaigns, but they don’t have the actual size in stock. People will see me in a campaign and say, “I can wear that because Yumi wears it!” But then they click on the store and see that it only goes up to size XL.

I can’t even wear brands in some outfits. It can be a lot to sew outfits, panels or other outfits. Or several outfits will be prepared for me, but I can only wear one that fits, while all the others are seemingly changing. I’ve often wanted to cry because there are so few opportunities.

A large percentage of the fashion industry does not put money into their mouths. I’m still going to show up for these works, because it’s important to still be seen. The industry is moving to a place where we are ready to follow these trends and finally see these changes.

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