Hunter McGrady is no longer a rookie when it comes to posing for Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit edition. The 26-year-old plus-size model has appeared in the Swimsuit issue three times and it shows, particularly in her latest shoot — where she confidently and sexily rolls around in the sand. She brings that same confidence into the room with her for her interview with InStyle. Dressed in a bright pink, belted dress, she sits on a chair beside me and tells me not to worry as I move my water far, far away from her black Saint Laurent bag (I’m too prone to spills to listen).
It’s easy to feel as captivated with Hunter as Aidy Bryant’s character, Annie, was on Hulu’s Shrill (Hunter, by the way, was the iconic lady in red), but the model quickly makes me feel comfortable, as if I were gossiping with a pal at Starbucks. We dive right into all things Swim, and start talking about Hunter’s fierce repertoire of poses.
“I just do what I feel is sexy — it’s never about hiding anything,” she tells me, after praising how the magazine has embraced diversity over the years. “It’s never about ‘Oh, let me tuck this in, let me do this, let me do that.’ I really want to showcase my body as it is. It’s so important that it’s prevalent in the images that are picked.”
What’s also important to Hunter is letting people know that there’s a full team involved in capturing her perfect moment — “Hair, makeup, lighting, photographers,” she lists, admitting there’s a lot going on behind-the-scenes (ex: leg cramps) that people don’t see. Still, even on the normal day, she isn’t shy. When I ask what she looks for when swimsuit shopping, Hunter smirks and says she’s the worst person to answer this question.
“I think less is more. I love a teeny-tiny bikini. I also think an old-school, Pamela-Anderson-in-Baywatch, high-leg, one-piece is so sexy. I’m not, like, a tankini girl. I have nothing again them — there are some really amazing tankinis and high-waisted swimsuits — but I just prefer a teeny-tiny bikini.”
Eventually, the conversation drifts over to Hunter’s part on Shrill, which the model is visibly excited to talk about.
“I’ve never gotten more DMs in my life than about that moment,” she beams, referring to the memorable scene where Annie follows her character around. “I was like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of women support out there!’"
Hunter says that she was thrilled when she heard the show got picked up for a second season.
"We need more shows that feature all different body types. There’s a particular pool scene with all these incredible women, from all walks of life, of all body types. I wish every pool scene was taped like that — fun, enjoying yourself, living your life as you are. We should all be enjoying ourselves and our bodies and stop putting so much stress on [ourselves].”
I wonder out loud if this career move means that we’ll be seeing Hunter — whose dad, Michael McGrady, is also actor — pop up on screens more often.
“That’s something I’ve always been interested in,” she says before pausing. “Again, for acting it’s the same as modeling — plus-size women are not quite as seen in that world. I would love to see more plus-size women, I would love to see different body types, different walks of life on screen. That’s so important, and I think that movement has to happen.”
Hunter seems so wise, so confident, and she’s so clearly passionate about changing the world that it’s hard not to consider her a “role model.” But, when asked about the pressures to come with the title, she is honest.
“I’ve kind of been given this title,” Hunter tells me. “I try to use it wisely and be the best person that I can be; I try to wake up, and always practice what I preach, and feel confident, and all that stuff. But, of course, I’m only human. There are days where I may say, ‘Today’s the day we’ve got to love our bodies and love our stretch marks,’ but then there are days where I don’t want to get out of bed. I’ve battled depression and anxiety, and at the end of the day, we’re all the same. We’re all human.”
Hunter just so happens to be a human who continues to inspire others — and is also the physical embodiment of the fire emoji in this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, which is out now.