Some models aspire to be on magazine covers, while Hunter McGrady wants to help change the world. Considered plus-sized by current modelling standards, the 23-year old recently featured in Sports Illustrated, is curvy and proud of it. She’s using her recent influx of media attention to tell her story, connect with her growing following, and let people know that it’s OK to feel beautiful regardless of body type. We spoke to her about bias in the industry, misconceptions in the media about health and how she uses social media to demystify her image.
Many people are seeing and hearing about you for the first time these days thanks to Sports Illustrated, but you are far from an overnight sensation. How did you get to this point?
Hunter McGrady: Well, I started modeling when I was 16 years old, and I was about a size 2/4… just to give you an idea, I’m a size 16 now. So I was much thinner, and I just could not keep up with that. I was trying to basically shave down bone on my hips to fit a certain measurement, I was a 38 hip and I had to be a 35.
I went into a job one day and they turned me away because they said that I was much bigger than they thought at a size 2. I found out about plus-sized modeling about 4 and a half years ago, but from the time I was about 17 to 19 I just stopped modeling because I was just defeated. I thought this just was a pipe dream, it wasn’t going to happen for me…. which was devastating, of course. When I learned about plus-sized modeling, and I signed with Wilhelmina models about four years ago, I kind of hit the ground running, and it was kind of awesome because it really aligned with what I believed in.
As I was getting taller, I grew into my womanly body. I was getting hips and I was getting thighs and stretch marks and all those things, because to me that signifies becoming a woman and becoming me and who I am supposed to be. So it kind of aligned, the whole body positivity movement, which kind of segues into the body diversity issue of Sports Illustrated. I met with the editor of the magazine and we hit it off, and she basically asked if I would want to be a part of it. Of course, I was in tears. We shot it in January and it came out February 14th, so it was a very quick turnaround.
As we are chatting, it’s only been a few weeks since the magazine was released. Have you felt a big impact on your life and career?
McGrady: Oh, yeah. I have already gotten incredible job offers out of it. The most important one to me is just the response I’ve gotten from women and men, just how they are feeling more comfortable and confident in their body. I have had women message me that they are in bathing suits that they haven’t worn — ever, I have had them telling me that they feel more comfortable with their husbands, and even men that have said “you have really changed the way that I look at women.”
That has really been the most exciting thing, above any job offers or anything like that. I am helping people realize that you can be comfortable and confident and sexy in your own body.
How long ago did the plus-sized model category come into prominence in the modeling world?
McGrady: We are talking in the past 5 years… before then, no one really talked about it. There have been plus sized models here and there of course, because there has to be clothing for bigger, curvier girls. But it was nothing like it is now… you never heard of a plus model.
Robyn Lawley is an Australian plus-sized model who is actually a friend of mine. She paved the way for that, as well as Ashley Graham, Candice Huffine, Tara Lynn. The past 5 years it has really gone on a rise, but it wasn’t always around. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s you would have never heard the term plus-sized model; it was not something that was really talked about. So, it’s really cool that the media and people are picking it up now.
Now that plus-sized models are being embraced by the media and modeling industries, many say that the next step is to drop that label entirely and eliminate those dividing lines. Do you see that as an inevitability?
McGrady: I do, I hope that this world can become a little more inclusive in time… especially right now with everything going on. We need inclusiveness, we need to drop all the labels and all the segregation and stop putting people in groups.
I am a model. I do the same thing as all the other girls, so why don’t we just call me a model instead of “Plus-sized model Hunter McGrady”? Before Sports Illustrated came along, I would often say that I’m a model and people would look at me sideways like “what”? And I would say “oh, plus sized.” “Oh okay.” You know what I mean? I would love to just be able to say I’m a model and that’s that, done.
It’s funny how body type is truly one of the last segregated categories in modeling. Nobody is called a “blonde model” or “vertically-challenged model”, and they typically aren’t categorized by ethnicity or other physical features. Why is body type the last holdover?
McGrady: I really don’t know, I don’t know. I’ve never understood it myself. One of the very first things I saw that inspired me to become a plus-sized model was the cover of Vogue Italia with Robyn Lawley, Candice Huffine and Tara Lynn. It was the first cover where curvy girls were making a splash and it was the first Vogue cover that they ever did in Italy.
I never would have called them plus sized models… to me, they were always models. I think people get uncomfortable with weight. To be quite honest, I think that there are a lot of people out there who have an issue with it, which may stem from their own insecurities… but I think it’s changing, I hope so.
Do you think a lot of that discomfort stems from an information gap for people who automatically equate certain body types with unhealthiness?
McGrady: Absolutely! There was a great thing I read, and I am blanking on where I saw it. Someone posted it and it was seven different girls, different sizes, different ages; they looked completely different and they were all 150 lbs. Basically, it was showing you this is what 150 lbs looks like on different women. One was six feet tall, one was 5’2”… one was slender because she had more muscle, one was more curvy.
I think that a lot of people, are very closed-minded when it comes to that and a lot of people will go straight to “well that’s unhealthy, there is no way that she is healthy”. You know what? I could have my doctor and everybody else tell me different. I eat very clean, I work out every day, I have a trainer. I hold my weight differently. I have hips I have since I was 17 years old.
Again it’s just a part of society where we are so trained to look at only one body type. You really haven’t seen curvy bodies in the media, in magazines and on TV until the past five or six years. So it’s really a mindset change… hopefully, people can open their minds and their hearts to realizing that not all bodies look exactly the same.
What about the modelling industry itself? Compared to treatment from the media at a distance, how inclusive is your own world when it comes to different body types?
McGrady: It is more inclusive internally, right now. I can’t speak for every designer out there, I can’t speak for every photographer but the people that I have worked with have been very on board with it and have not treated me differently. If they did, I think they know that I would have something to say about it.
McGrady: But, I know that there are people out there who don’t want to make clothes for plus- sized girls and don’t want to shoot curvy girls, which is a shame. You hear all the time that stylists or designers won’t dress certain actresses because they are bigger. What a shame, because they are beautiful and talented. It boggles my mind.
The relationship between models and the media is interesting, mainly because the perception that the media affects is just so influential to every aspect of your industry. How have you used social media and other tools under your control to help grow your career?
McGrady: I think with my Instagram and Twitter and all that, I’ve always wanted to be honest with my followers. I wanted to be honest because I knew that if my following was going to grow big and massive one day, I wanted people to look back and know that I was always truthful and honest. I wanted to share photos where I am not all done up, where I have cellulite and I have a pimple and there — god forbid!
I think that showing that side of myself has helped me grow even more because I think women who look at it are able to relate and resonate with me and feel comfortable. I wanted my social media to be a safe place where they could come and look at me, or me and my friends and know that we are just as normal as everybody else. We don’t have a hair and makeup person and styling and lighting and photographers and assistants with us every single day. It was really just about being truthful and then building that up from there.
A classic allure to some models and celebrities has been an air of mystery and untouchability. Do you think that there’s been a movement to move away from that in exchange for transparency and interactivity with your fans?
McGrady: I think that is a personal choice. I have a lot of friends who are in the business who keep their personal life extremely personal. You wouldn’t even know that these people had a sister!
I think for me it was something that was really important to me, because if I was going to put myself out in the world like I am, I wanted to know how they were going to respond to it, and I wanted to know if they felt a certain way.
I have gotten mean comments as well, and those are the people I do it for even more sometimes. They are the ones that haven’t opened their eyes to the inclusiveness that is going to happen because I will make sure of it.