Down with the patriarchy. Time’s Up. Whatever you want to label the movement, it’s here, and it’s evolving. Women’s voices are loud and they’re only getting louder. In 22-year-old YUMI, women have a new role model championing body positivity in all forms.
For International Women’s Day, Forever 21 has launched their “Forever Female” campaign to celebrate female diversity in music, and YUMI’s song “Camouflage” is at the center. Last week, the song was projected in Times Square as part of the campaign. As a Japanese-American growing up in the Mid-Atlantic, the model and musician never thought she’d see that image—even with the influence of her famous uncle, Steve Aoki.
YUMI talks to L’Officiel USA about body positivity, the dangers of skinny shaming, her liberation through music, and the pressures of growing up in a famous family.
Tell me about your single, "Camouflage."
"Camouflage" is about my journey to body positivity and accepting being Asian, because that was something I didn’t like about myself for a long time. I lived in Maryland and New Jersey until I moved to Newport Beach, California. Middle school in Maryland was a really hard time because I was the only Asian kid in an all-white school. Names like “Godzilla” and “wing-wing” were always thrown at me. All the guys that I liked were white, and they went after white girls, so I thought I wasn’t beautiful because beauty, at that age, is measured by who likes you. Then, I went to high school in Newport Beach, and it was more of a melting pot, but I still felt like the beauty ideal didn’t reflect me.
I wanted to write something for Women’s Day and the journey of coming to love myself. All of my songs are about the same 3 guys that I get so dramatic over. I wanted to do a song that’s not about guys or love, and I just wanted something to reflect my journey of self-love about my race and my body.
What was the pivot point for you with adopting an outlook of body positivity?
In 2016, I went to Hawaii to visit my family. 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. 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.
Where those moments of insecurity harder to deal with under the pressures of a famous family?
Yes. I was so miserable because I was a business major but I’m a creative person, and I really wanted to do music but I didn’t know how. I was just so unhappy because everyone in my family lives this crazy life of doing a million things at once, and really being stapled down. It started with my grandfather [Rocky Aoki]; everyone is just very go-go-go. So, for me to be in business school, and having this vision for myself, was very hard. The minute I left that path and stepped into music, it was very freeing because it was like stepping into a lane that I felt was designed by me and always waiting for me.
If you could give your 10-year-old self some advice, what would it be?
I’d say to hold things lightly. I can be kind of dramatic as a person and take things very seriously. I’m very sensitive, but things always work out. Not always how I want them to but like, most of the time for me, it’s better. I had this specific plan of what my life should look like but I realized I can’t control situations. That’s what I’d tell 10-year-old me. I was still super controlling at that age.
Who are your musical inspirations?
Right now, I listen to a lot of music. I have a new favorite artist, like, every day, and then it changes. I’d say right now that Troye Sivan is it for me. I’m majorly inspired by him and Lauv. I think it’s really cool when people write and produce and they don’t really talk about it. The humbleness is amazing. Spotify changes the game.
Do you feel anxious to have your uncle [Steve Aoki] listen to projects before they’re released?
No, I love it. I know that he’s my ultimate stamp of approval so I don’t bring something to him unless I know the song is so good. These tracks specifically that I’m putting out over the next few months, I’ve had a very special connection to and feeling about, and when I showed them to him, he said they were my best songs and he was really excited for me. He knows the industry, and hearing it from him is the best feeling. He’s someone I’m very close to, and I admire his opinion so much. He has my best interest at heart.