NEW YORK – Hunter McGrady is no longer a rookie.
The 26-year-old plus-size model is appearing on the pages of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue for the third time and she couldn’t be prouder to officially be crowned as the magazine’s “curviest” pinup today.
But her rise to success was far from easy.
While McGrady originally started modeling at 16, the star was told she was too big at a size 2, prompting her to take a hiatus for a few years. Ultimately, McGrady decided to accept her “God-given body” and hasn’t looked back.
McGrady spoke to Fox News about appearing in SI for the third time, why she prays for her haters and how her fiancé really feels about the sizzling snaps.
Fox News: This is going to be your third consecutive year being in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. What does this mean to you?
Hunter McGrady: I'm so thrilled to be a part of it for three years in a row. This year is especially important because it's a diversity issue, so we have incredible women in it that just really represent all shapes, sizes, walks of life. And every year [editor] MJ Day just ups the ante, and it just gets better and better and better. So, I'm so excited.
Fox News: Takes us back to that very first time when you saw yourself on SI. What was going through your mind?
McGrady: So, my very first shoot with them was in body paint, and it was absolutely incredible. It took 12 hours to paint on. And when I saw the photos for the first time, my heart dropped. I've never been so excited and so proud in my life because I'm a size 16, 18. I'm a curvy girl. So, to see those photos in this huge magazine was just such a remarkable moment, not only in my life but in my career. It was just wonderful.
Fox News: It’s been said you’re the curviest model to appear on Sports Illustrated. How do you feel about that?
McGrady: It’s incredible. That is a title that I hold so near and dear to my heart because I know growing up, I never was able to open a magazine and really see someone that resonated with me. I want to make this change not only for our generation but pass this down to the next generation so that we can see diversity, we can see inclusivity in magazines, billboards, on television, across the board, because it's so needed, and it just takes little by little, step by step, and Sports Illustrated is just the leading for in this whole matter.
Fox News: You previously discussed reaching a place of self-acceptance when it comes to your body. How did it get to that point?
McGrady: You know for me, as for many people, it was a long journey. Self-love is a never-ending journey, and it's an everyday thing that we have to go through. And whether that be affirmations, whether that be exercise, whether that be therapy. Whatever it is that makes you feel good. For me, personally, it took me a few years to really get there and fully embrace myself, my curves, my stretch marks, my cellulite. All the things that just make me who I am.
For me, it was positive affirmations. Quite literally standing in the mirror and telling myself, “Hunter, you are worthy. You are enough. Your stretch marks are beautiful. Your cellulite is beautiful. These are the attributes that make you who you are, and there's only one of you, and it's special. You're special in your own skin.” It took me a while to learn that, but through the help of therapy and family and friends and mental health help, I got there, and it's amazing. But again, that doesn't go to say that I don't have days where I struggle, because we're all human.
Fox News: It was reported that when your photos were first published in the magazine, you, unfortunately, had to deal with trolls on social media. How did you deal with that?
McGrady: My family always told me, “Hunter, hurting people hurt people.” And that's just simply put. And whenever I see those comments, that phrase just plays through my head, and I pray for them. I mean, it just goes to show how badly we need this now more than ever. The more comments like that I get, the more I'm like, bring it on. We need this. This is so apparent that this something that we need to continue fighting for and continue talking about and this narrative needs to continue moving forward. You know, there are always people who don't like you.
Fox News: Why do you pray for your haters instead of taking a different approach?
McGrady: It’s just not worth my time, you know? They are clearly hurting. They obviously have insecurities of their own, and I've been there. I know what it's like to be insecure and feel bad about myself, so then I have to put that on others. And I've been there, so I understand that. So, if anything, I make it a learning lesson and I just say I'm praying for you, and God bless. I hope the best for you. I hope that wonderful things happen for you because better to kill them with kindness. You can't fight fire with fire.
Fox News: Where does your confidence come from?
McGrady: It's funny. I was more confident in a teeny, tiny swimsuit at my size than I was at a size two. For me, and for most people, it's the mental health… The better I feel about my body and who I am, the more comfortable I am to wear anything I want. People always say… you shouldn't wear stripes or string bikinis or polka dots or prints or this and that and the other. And so, I'm like, “Well, I'm going to wear all of it then.” I don't see anything wrong with wearing everything that you absolutely want to wear. And for me, I was able to look in the mirror and say, “You know what? This is who I am and I love my body. I love myself. Every bit and piece of me.” So swimsuit shopping for me now is fun. Granted, there's not a ton of options for plus size women, but I think that we're getting to a place where there can be, which is awesome.
Fox News: How did you and your fiancé meet on Snapchat of all places?
McGrady: He reached out to me. He was on a date with a girl, and she had mentioned my Snapchat to me, and so he followed me for about five months. And I was going from LA to New York. And he had reached out. I was in New York and said, "Hey do you want to get some dinner?" I'm so and so. I said, "Add me on Facebook." I didn't know who he was, and I wanted to see what he looks like. So, he added me on Facebook, and our first date was three days. And now it's been three and a half years and we're getting married in a month.
Fox News: How does he feel about your photos on SI?
McGrady: He is the most incredible and supportive and secure and amazing man I've ever been with in my life... I'm putting myself out there, and I'm really putting it all out there. And he's the first one to buy the magazine. He's the first one to say, "Babe, this is amazing. You look killer... This is beautiful." He's so special.
Fox News: Many brides immediately go on diets for the big day, but you’re choosing to skip the weight loss race. Why?
McGrady: I never quite understood why people used their wedding as a weight loss journey. For me, I've had friends who have gotten married and all of a sudden, they show up on their wedding day and they look nothing like themselves. Of course, I think exercise is important. Eating right is important. Taking care of yourself is important. But I think that these ... Sometimes people go to extremes for their wedding day, and I always say, well your fiancé asked you to marry as you are right now. You're beautiful as you are. For me, it was not something that I had to lose a ton of weight for that one day. I'm happy where I'm at. I feel good. I feel beautiful. So, I'm going to show up on my wedding day just like this.
Fox News: What’s a misconception you feel the public still has about you?
McGrady: I think that a lot of people feel that women, we don't deserve respect because we're in a magazine like Sports Illustrated. Or if I post a bra photo. For me, women deserve respect with their clothes on or with their clothes off. And I think that that's the important lesson and the most important thing I can get out there because I get a lot of people saying "Why are you doing this? And you're Christian." Or you're this and you're that. And I deserve respect regardless of what I'm wearing.
Fox News: Your mother and grandmother were both models. How did these two women inspire you to pursue the family business, so to speak?
McGrady: I grew up with these two incredible women. My mom is someone I always looked up to, and I still do. I remember going through all of her magazines and tear sheets and just saying, “I want to be just like my mom. I want to be just like my mom.’ I just thought she was the most glamorous woman, and again, I still do. And that was just something that I really wanted to do, and they set such a great example for that. And here I am. It's really a cool, full-circle moment.