Modeling career

Hunter McGrady reveals what changed the course of her modeling career and what she really thinks of the term ‘plus size’

At this time of year, it feels like there is endless talk about changing your life and losing weight. If you want to make a change, there is nothing wrong with it. What isn’t that great? Feeling that you have to have a certain appearance to be worthy. It is exactly this notion that Hunter McGrady has spent much of his career trying to change.

As a plus-size model, the 28-year-old has accomplished things few other models, curvy or not, have. She has participated in nationwide campaigns for top fashion and beauty brands and has graced the pages of numerous magazines, including the swimsuit issue of Illustrated sports four times. And she branched out: she has a clothing line with QVC called All Worthy, has partnerships with brands like Fabletics and Olay, and co-hosts a popular podcast called Model citizen with her sister, Michaela McGrady. The guideline in everything she does? Know your worth and encourage others to know theirs.

How did you come to modeling?

I was born in the industry. My father is an actor and my mother is a model. I grew up seeing my mom’s photos and I was just in love. So, around the age of 15, I started to get into modeling. I’m 6 feet tall and at the time I was a size 2 and weighed 114 pounds. I was very thin and I was trying to be. I was just like, “Let me see how much I can lose weight.” I hadn’t even fully reached puberty yet. I’ve been to agencies, and every agent kept telling me, “You’re awesome. We love you. If you can just lose some more, we’ll sign you.”

It must have been hard to hear.

When you are so young, you are a sponge. So I was like, “If I want to do this, I have to lose weight. The last straw was when I got a job and I was like, “I’m the thinnest in my life. It’s fabulous.” I come in and everyone looks at me. The producer walks up and says, “Look, we have to talk to you. We didn’t realize how tall you were.” It was a stretch t-shirt business. They didn’t even give me the chance to try anything – they just said they wouldn’t work with me. After that, I told my mom that I didn’t want to do it anymore. I really felt it emotionally and I was dealing with anxiety and depression.

What did you do after deciding to quit modeling?

I went to therapy. My diet was out of control, I was not healthy. Mentally, I knew I needed help. I really had to put aside everything I had been told and taught. I look back and I’m like, “Wow, that’s sad.” But it is also the first cornerstone of the career that I have now. I really had to get to know my body and learn to nourish it and love it again.

How did you do that?

The only thing that clicked for me was something my therapist told me to do. She said, “Look, this is going to sound silly, but I want you to take a shower, slick your hair back, and stand naked in front of the mirror. Then tell yourself 10 things you want to love about you.” She explained that I probably wouldn’t believe them yet, but that they should be things I wanted to like. I did and it was so stupid and silly. But I kept doing it, and each time I got so emotional. It was obviously striking something in me. I’ve done it every day since, but not always naked! I will do it in the car or elsewhere. It helped me change the way I think about my body.

What brought you to plus size modeling?

Around the same time that I was working on all of this body stuff, I saw an amazing magazine cover come out. It was Vogue Italy, with three models who are now my girlfriends: Tara Lynn, Candice Huffine and Robyn Lawley. They were plus size models, I didn’t even know that was a thing! In my free time, I had grown physically and mentally. I thought, “These girls look like me now.” So I went to Wilhelmina Models, and they signed me. A week later, I flew to Miami for Miami Swim Week and worked for Forever 21, Lucky Brand, Macy’s, and Nordstrom. It was confirmation that this was what I was supposed to do.

What do you think of the term big size?

Funny, when I started I didn’t mean to say I was a plus size model, I was just a model. And along the way, a lot of women were like, “I actually really like being called plus size, I’m not ashamed of that.” I am pro-women, if you want to be called plus size, great! To me, now I’m like, “Yeah, I’m a plus size model.”

It’s such a spectrum and a journey. Some days I wake up and I’m like, “Wow, I look super sexy.” And some days I’m like, “You know what? My body is what it is, and I’m neutral about it. And it’s okay.” I don’t hate it, but I’m human, and I have these days.

Were you afraid of getting pregnant?

Tons. Before pregnancy, society told me that my body was not healthy and that it would be difficult for me to get pregnant or stay pregnant. With every doctor’s appointment, I was so nervous. I have become more daring when it comes to my body and the doctors. In the past, my ears hurt and they would say, “You should lose weight.” So, early in my pregnancy, I told my doctor that I didn’t want to discuss my weight unless it became a real problem for me or the baby. When I got on the scale, I told them I didn’t want to know the number. As someone with an eating disorder, I have worked too long and too hard to care what that number is. My doctor agreed and I had a healthy pregnancy until the end, when I had preeclampsia.

Has pregnancy changed how you feel about your body?

I must have seen myself again during the pregnancy. My body was supporting someone else. I enjoyed my body in a different way. Maybe it’s because of the way society treats pregnant women. All of a sudden people say you are radiant and fabulous. And then postpartum happens, and everyone’s asking when you’re going to lose weight – there’s all this rebound culture. You don’t sleep, you don’t even know your name, you can’t think of bouncing. It made me understand that throughout life, you have to find yourself again and again, because your body changes and that is what is beautiful.

Let’s talk about well-being! Do you like to train?

To like! I do the Peloton, I am obsessed. I think it’s another misconception, that if you’re fatter you don’t like to exercise. I exercise for my mental health, that’s where I get my free time. I think we need to see more representation in the fitness world, from the coaches to the reception team.

How else do you take care of yourself?

The most important thing is to make sure that my mental health is on the right track. For me that means therapy, taking care of myself, meditating, but above all therapy.

Just before the birth of your son, your younger brother passed away. It must have been tough.

The past year has been completely crazy. There was the pandemic and then I got pregnant and had COVID-19 during my pregnancy. And then I lost my brother. It was like one thing after another. I’m the kind of person who could have gotten lost in all of this. Thanks to the work I did, I knew at that point that I was not going to give up therapy. I knew I had to double down and go twice a week. Dealing with the greatest loss of my life, then the greatest blessing of my life, has taught me that life comes to you quickly. I knew I needed this extra help and there is nothing wrong with it. I manage depression and anxiety. I’m on medication for this, and I’m open about it because we need to continue to break down the stigma around mental health.

This article was originally published in the January / February 2022 issue of Health magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

To get our best stories delivered to your inbox, subscribe to Healthy lifestyle bulletin