You know music’s hyperactive, cake-throwing DJ Steve Aoki. You also know his sister, model-actress Devon Aoki. But you may not know their niece—at least, not yet anyway. At 16 years old, Natalie Nootenboom is already a triple threat: a curvy model (she recently signed with MUSE Models and she was cast to star in Charlotte Russe’s plus-size campaign), an aspiring vocalist, and a novelist. And not only is she incredibly poised, but she’s also quite inspirational herself—she’s using all the tools she has at her disposal to empower women, encourage body acceptance, and to redefine beauty standards.
We got Nootenboom on the phone to chat with her about how the fashion industry is becoming more body-inclusive, the advice she received from the Aokis, and the one (surprising) person who inspires her most.
When did you know you wanted to be a model?
Growing up, I loved Adriana Lima. I really thought she brought something new to the modeling industry. I really loved her editorial work and she showed me that modeling is an art form—it’s like being a silent actress. And my sister Yumi was also a plus model when I was growing up, so I always looked up to her, because she markets herself as a classy woman as well as a creative one. She is very hardworking and has a lot of ambition for someone her age. She stays true to herself and her beliefs.
Did you learn anything from Devon Aoki?
I have a lot of respect for her work ethic. It’s always been in the Aoki blood to never stop chasing your dreams. I love that about my family.
Your sister was a plus sized model—did she give you any advice?
She definitely coached me on how to model, how to carry myself, and what to look out for. She always taught me to be confident. How you make an entrance, the impression you leave on people.
We love that the fashion industry is becoming more body inclusive, or at least, it’s heading in that direction. Do you think that’s made it easier for you to break into modeling?
Absolutely. I really love the fact that I’m an Asian plus model (my mom is Japanese, my dad is white, so I grew up in a mixed household). I think it makes me different. The Asian norm is to be small and super skinny—that’s a stereotype. I love the fact that I could be a spokesperson for the Asian plus division and really try to reshape how we view beauty.
What do you hope to see more from the industry?
I love the agency I’m with, MUSE Models, because they push me toward my dreams, they’re excited bout my passions, and they love me at any size. We just all need to empower each other of any size and say, ‘You know what? You’re beautiful, no matter if you gain weight or lose weight.’ I hope we can really capitalize diversity.
What do you hope to achieve in the long run?
I always looked up to Jared Leto because he’s always been more than one thing. I don’t want to be remembered for just one thing. I want to be remembered as a musician, a model, and a novelist. I’m currently writing my first fiction novel, which is about women empowerment. My female protagonist is someone I look up to because she’s overcome trauma and beauty ideals. I’ve also started my music career by collaborating with electronic bands, like The Hype. I did a few tracks with them, and now I’m stepping into female metal. In terms of modeling, how I know I’ve made it is when I’m always on my feet, I’m never at home for more than a month, I’m always moving forward, always traveling.
Which brand or designer do you dream of working with?
I really want to work with Teen Vogue or Nike. Those have always been dreams of mine.
What’s the most surprising thing about modeling?
A lot of people who have never modeled say, ‘Oh it’s easy—you turn, you put on a bunch of clothes, and you move.’ But it’s not that way. It’s being attuned with your body as a whole, moving your face as well as your arms, all at the same time. You really are a canvas for the photographer and for the directors.
That would mean being comfortable in your body, which so many women struggle with. How did you learn to embrace and accept your body?
I definitely educate myself on self-help and self-love books. I realize you only get one body. A huge inspiration of mine is Katie Willcox and I read her book and it really inspired me to love your body. It’s been with you, it’s been loyal to you, so you should treat it well. If you’re trying your best and you’re chasing health, and your body is your body, and it looks different, there’s no reason to hate it or try to conform it to a fake beauty ideal.
How would you describe your personal style?
I’m a collection of different styles: artsy, colorful, punk. This year, I created a music identity for myself called Godesty, where I wear a blue robe that signifies women empowerment and respect, and it shows models that we are queens—women are queens—and we deserve respect and empowerment.
Tell us more about your musical aspirations.
I’ve done two tracks with an electronic band called The Hype, who also found me through Instagram and just this year, after working with them, I wanted to start my musical dreams. This year, I’m planning on forming a female metal band, and I’m really excited to do that because I can bring Godesty into that and incorporate my deep vocals, because there aren’t a lot of deep, soulful vocalists in metal. I grew up playing the piano, so I write a lot of music starting on the piano, and I’ll transfer it over to beats.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I love Jared Leto because he’s more than one thing, and I love his music, as well. I also love female metal vocalists, like Butcher Babies or In This Moment because the message is about overcoming abuse, overcoming trauma, and using that for good. I look up to those two bands.
Has Steve Aoki been an influence?
He’s definitely encouraging in my modeling and musical careers. He’s definitely taught me to be authentic and confident. He grew up in punk music and I love a similar genre, which is metal, so we bonded over that. He’s taught me to never stop dreaming and to never stop chasing.