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Last week, model Yumi Nu visited her agent for what she thought was a routine interview and career check in.
But while she was answering questions earnestly, “My agents were in on this little plan,” the 25-year-old told The Post. Midway through the “interview,” Sports Illustrated Swimsuit honcho MJ Day and other staffers from the bikini bible popped out with a camera crew as the cover of this year’s magazine, featuring Nu, filled a nearby monitor.
“I was processing the surprise of it not being a real interview and that this was actually the SI cover reveal. I could not speak. I had full body chills. I was shaking, I was crying. They really got me good,” said Nu.
Her first call was to her boyfriend Dimitri Dinas.
“He was freaking out. He was like, ‘If I were a teenage boy, I’d have a poster of you in my room. Now I’m dating an SI cover star.’ “
He has many reasons to be proud of his girlfriend. It’s been a stretch of career highlights for the plus-sized model and singer who is of Dutch and Japanese extraction. (Her mother is the daughter of Benihana founder Rocky Aoki, and she is the niece of DJ Steve Aoki). She was part of an ensemble of supermodels to grace the cover of the iconic September Vogue issue, and in April, she was the first Asian curve model to land the cover of Vogue Japan.
“It’s amazing. I’m on cloud nine. This is nothing I could prepare for. It’s unexpected. I feel like we’re in a place right now where people are making space for more diversity on magazine covers. It’s a big time for Asian-American people in media. I know I play a big role in representation in body diversity and race diversity, and I love to be a role model and representative of the plus-size Asian community.”
Born in New Jersey, Nu moved to Maryland as a tot, and at 14, her family went out to California, where she attended high school. As a young child, she started her career in front of the camera, but the first stint was fleeting.
“My mom had experience in commercial modeling, so when we lived in New Jersey, she would take me to do some kids catalogs. When you are a toddler and screaming and crying, you have no sense of self control. She knew I wasn’t enjoying it,” said Nu.
The beauty returned to modeling when she was 12, the same age she started singing lessons. By 15, she was writing her own songs and realistically saw her future in the music world.
“I wasn’t sure where the [modeling] industry was headed. I think I was a size 10 then, and the only people working were either a size 2 or a size 14. I really had my sights set on music, but then the industry left more room for me to be a part of it. Once the trends of inclusion came upon us, it was easier for me to make a living and a career out of it. It was like, ‘Oh, there are so many possibilities, and there are no bounds on what anyone can do now,’ ” she said.
She is quick to credit Ashley Graham and Sports Illustrated for fostering that seismic shift. In 2016, Graham landed the cover, shattering norms and opening the door for a variety of body shapes to take center stage.
“Her SI cover changed so many people’s lives, and I think it changed the industry because you have this legendary publication putting its first curve model on the cover,” she said, adding that Hunter McGrady has also served as an inspiration.
But Nu doesn’t have to look beyond her family tree for insight and support, particularly her mother’s sister, Devon Aoki.
“She has a cult following and will be a classic model for the rest of time. She has really helped me this year now that I am working with a lot of bigger names, like Steven Meisel. She has helped me stay grounded and remember why I am doing what I am doing.”
On Friday she is also releasing her EP, “Hajime,” which is Japanese for “the beginning.”
But as Nu is multitasking in both the music and modeling world, she is looking forward to a break, which includes lounging and episodes of Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie.”
“I don’t think hustle culture is something I want to promote,” she said. “I want to enjoy life.”