In early 2017, model Hunter McGrady became the curviest woman ever featured in the Swimsuit Edition of Sports Illustrated. “That’s a title that I hold so proud,” she shares. “Because it made waves.”

Survivor

But her path to those famed pages was a steep climb. As a teen, McGrady dealt with bullying so extreme that she was pulled out of high school after freshman year. During the teen years, she says, is “when you’re really a sponge. Everything people are saying to you, you’re soaking in. That’s what you start to believe.

“I didn’t want to get out of bed,” she recalls. “I would cry every single night. I would cry every single morning.”

Positive thinker

Her family was a crucial support system during that time, teaching her lessons in positive affirmation that she still applies daily. “They kept reminding me, ‘Hunter, listen, you aren’t going to make everybody happy. You have to do what’s best for yourself, and you have to know that you are beautiful.’”

Every morning to this day, she wakes up, looks in the mirror and tells herself, “Today is going to be a good day.” She notes, “If it’s not a good day, fine, it’s okay to not be okay, but know that you are worthy. You are wonderful in your body. You don’t have to change for anybody. There are always going to be people telling you you’re not enough. Really, that’s a reflection on them—it’s not on you.”

“If it’s not a good day, fine, it’s okay to not be okay, but know that you are worthy. You are wonderful in your body.”

Ambassador

McGrady is now an ambassador for the JED Foundation, an organization that works to develop and strengthen mental health education programs across the country. She hopes to impart to young adults the importance of friendship. “If someone is struggling,” she says, “you need to seek help. Even if someone says something to you like, ‘Listen, I’m going through this. I don’t want you to say anything, but I feel like I want to take my life.’ Being a friend is going and telling someone. That’s showing love.”

Game-changer

McGrady acknowledges the enormous pressures and impossible standards traditional and social media can create, laughing as she imparts a favorite quote: “Not even the models in the magazine look like the models in the magazine.” However, she senses a growing trend towards body positivity. After, all, she’s living proof.

“It showed men and women that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes,” she says, reflecting on her history-making magazine shoot. “I’ve struggled with these things, but here I am, accepting who I am in my body. I think it’s really opened doors to more acceptance in the media.”