Why Jordan Peterson’s Attack on Sports Illustrated Model Yumi Nu Backfired
In mid-May of 2022, Yumi Nu became Sports Illustrated’s first Asian American “curve” model. Nu, 25, grew up in New Jersey, Maryland and California, and is half Japanese and half Dutch. She was thrilled to have made history and said that being featured on the magazine cover put her “on cloud nine.”
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“This is nothing I could prepare for,” she said. “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.”
But her proud milestone moment was infamously interrupted by none other than Jordan Peterson, a well known Canadian clinical psychologist, conservative online personality, and professor at the University of Toronto.
Why Jordan Peterson Body Shamed Sports Illustrated Model Yumi Nu
Peterson took to Twitter to post the following response to Nu’s covergirl appearance:
“Sorry. Not beautiful. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that.”
Peterson’s initial tweet garnered more than 64,000 likes and 24,700 replies, with many questioning his description of Nu’s cover as “authoritarian,” with one user noting that it was, “Ironic how he somehow thinks only pushing one body type is not authoritarian.”
In the wake of the backlash, Peterson sent out a series of followup tweets reaffirming his comments. In one, he added that including Nu on one of Sports Illustrated‘s covers represented, “a conscious progressive attempt to manipulate & retool the notion of beauty, reliant on the idiot philosophy that such preferences are learned & properly changed by those who know better.”
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In other tweets, he went on to detail his reasons for choosing to leave Twitter, which centered on the barrage of negative comments directed at him by users. This ferocity of the responses to Peterson’s comments led the free speech advocate to describe the “incentive structure” of Twitter as “intrinsically dangerous and insane.”
Going a step further, he claimed he was taking an extended breather from Twitter and that he had his staff “change his password, to keep him from temptation.”
That being said, Peterson’s Twitter account has since seen numerous posts and re-posts, so it doesn’t seem that he ever actually planned to stay off the platform for a prolonged period.
Why Yumi Nu’s Response to Jordan Peterson Is Beautiful
What’s really worth noting in this whole “feud” is Yumi Nu’s world-class response.
In a video posted to TikTok, Nu lip-synced some of the words to “Itty Bitty Piggy” by Nicki Minaj while using Peterson’s tweet as a backdrop. Her choice of lyrics could not have been more perfect:
“I mean I don’t even know why you girls bother at this point,” Nu mouths before holding up a copy of the magazine. “Like give it up, it’s me, I win, you lose, Hahahahaha.”
Nu’s choice of lyrics serves to recast the focus on her moment of glory rather than have her shine stolen by Peterson’s sense of entitlement to attention (“I win, you lose”). And they also act as the perfect template for directing laughter at a man who takes his opinions perhaps too seriously.
Within two days, Nu’s video had 65,000+ views and close to 100,000 likes, with many TikTok users congratulating her for getting Peterson off Twitter.
The Controversial Cultural Agency of Men Like Jordan Peterson
Peterson, the author of 12 Rules for Life, has five million followers on YouTube. He’s a well known rightwing pundit who shares his views on cultural and political issues like climate change, gender, free speech, and political correctness.
The pressing question is this: Why do Jordan Peterson and others like him possess cultural capital? What makes him an authority on anything, let alone beauty standards?
Perhaps the answer has to do with his audience, as well as their caliber of resources. In other words, Peterson’s narrative agency may have a little something to do with his cultural authority as a doctor, author, and professor: His titles do seem to, well, entitle him to more than a little controversial behavior.
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Back in 2018, he had young men attending his lectures from miles around. The topics touched upon skills like advancing one’s social position by way of a clean room and/or an upright posture. But although he has been relatively quiet over the last two years, weighing in on Nu’s physical appearance was apparently irresistible to him.
As beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, Peterson is anything but beholden to finding Nu attractive, but describing her appearance on a Sports Illustrated cover as an instance of “authoritarian tolerance” is a stretch to say the least.
As Will Gendron of Input Magazine puts it, “People like Peterson are enamored with the idea of the free market serving as a great, democratizing force. It’s ironic that his ‘take’ on Nu’s cover shoot, was rejected by the same system he advocates for — he introduced an opinion that was forcibly rejected by the public, and now has to go back to the drawing board.”
For her part, Nu does a fantastic job of not letting the haters get to her and is excited about the industry becoming more inclusive. Although the Sports Illustrated cover is her most recent appearance, she has also graced the covers of Vogue and Vogue Japan, becoming the latter’s first-ever Asian curve cover-model — a trailblazer in more ways than one.
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