Though 2022 will mark Hunter McGrady’s fifth time appearing in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, it’s her first as a new mom. She found the shoot her most empowering. “I felt really powerful on set,” the 29-year-old model says. “I think now I’m stepping into this new version of me, this new body, this new me that’s a mom, and I feel really powerful and strong. It feels a little bit different this year, but it feels better than ever.”
McGrady’s husband Brian Keys supported her decision to leave their 6-month-old son, Hudson, home in order to go shoot in Belize. “It was my very first time leaving him at home which was hard, but it was actually really wonderful,” she says. “My husband kept telling me, ‘Listen, this is what you love to do. You have to fill your cup, too, and do what you need to do and get to Hunter and who that is because that goes hand in hand with being a mom.’ And so, it was my first trip away from him, but I felt like I was leaving family to go to family.”
After receiving a text from SI Swimsuit editor in chief MJ Day inviting her to be a part of the 2022 issue, it took the All Worthy clothing designer 30 seconds to think it over. “I was like, you know what, I may not be exactly where I want to be in my body, but I feel really good and empowered.” Something that definitely comes through the pages for others to embrace: her superwoman energy.
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This is a milestone year for you with your fifth appearance.
“Everyone always asks me, ‘Do you feel like a veteran now and how does it feel?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, no, I feel every year I’m just as excited if not more so than the very first year I was asked to be in it.’ I feel like Sports Illustrated is in my mind because Bali [where McGrady shot in 2020] was on my bucket list. Belize was on my bucket list, and I’ve been to both those places with SI. Belize is absolutely beautiful. Being there and being back with the Sports Illustrated family was wonderful because they really have become like family to me. I’m now manifesting an Iceland shoot!”
What was your experience on-set this time?
“If you would’ve told me that I was going to be shooting for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit six months postpartum, I would’ve been like, ‘Yeah right.’ It just wasn’t on my radar, but that just goes to show how much of a powerhouse Sports Illustrated is and how they really are driving that inclusivity and that need for visibility of women of all stages in their lives and all body types. I honestly felt the best I’ve ever felt.”
Can you elaborate?
“I think we grow up in a society that pretty much tells us you can’t have it all, especially as women. We have to pick one thing and it just goes to show whether you want to be a stay-at-home mom, whether you want to work, whether you don’t want kids, whether you want to be a mom and work, whatever it is, you can have it all. And I think that there’s just something really spectacular about that and empowering.”
In terms of shoot prep, did you do anything differently from your past times posing for SI Swim?
“Well, I had a baby, which was very different! In the past, I would have geared up for months. People don’t realize that after you have a baby, you have about a month and a half of recovery, so technically I just jumped right back into it. Of course, once I was cleared to work out and everything, I was just getting prepared mentally for it. But it just felt different because before I could immerse every waking moment into getting prepared. This time, it was like, O.K., I have to split my priorities here. I felt like superwoman, and it was really special.”
What did you love about Belize?
“I think the best thing about Belize was the people. I loved everybody I met. The beaches were maybe the best beaches I’ve ever been on. The water was like bath water. The sand was soft. It was just beautiful. Every ground that we shot on was more beautiful than the next. And then we were able to do a day where we really learned and immersed ourselves into the culture and what that really looks like. And I’m so enamored with the culture as a whole. We did a survivalist workshop with this amazing woman who basically lives on a piece of land and everything that she needs is there. She catches her own fish every day. She has her own herb garden. She was so happy and so blessed. And I think that I really was like, wow, it just goes to show that it’s really the little things in life that make people happy and feel good. I really came back with that perspective.”
Which was your favorite swimsuit from the shoot?
“There was a yellow one-piece that I loved. It was so beautiful. It was bright and stunning. I felt confident and good in it..”
Thinking back to before you were ever in the pages of SI Swimsuit, is there a standout shoot you remember?
“I grew up looking at Sports Illustrated. My mom was a model; my grandmother was a model, so I grew up around Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. I think the one that really stuck out to me was Tyra Banks. I just remember looking at her thinking, this is the most beautiful woman in the world and being so enamored. It’s pretty incredible that I am amongst all these women. Another one was Kate Upton that I was really enamored with because, at the time, I felt like her body looked like mine. And I just felt that was the first time I really saw someone that was curvier than the models that I had seen in the past.”
Was it a goal of yours or did you not even realize it was a dream of yours to be in these pages?
“I didn’t even think that it was ever a possibility, ever. And then I saw Ashley Graham was on the cover the year before I came into the issue in 2016, and I was just like this is beyond my wildest dreams.”
You have said before how every year you shed a bit of your insecurity…
“I think going into it every year, I’ve grown in my mind, my spirit, everything. And I feel like every year I deserve to be here. I’ve worked hard to be here. And as each year passes, I take that year to really continue working on my self-love journey. I keep telling people it is a journey; it’s not a destination. Everyone has their times where they don’t feel great. It’s in fact a journey, a very long bumpy one, but I feel like I’ve just really honed it in more and more.”
And being a new mom, there is a whole new layer of self-doubt. How is it being Hudson’s mama?
“I always tell people, ‘We don't know what we’re doing.’ I feel like motherhood is basically no one really knowing what they’re doing together and figuring it out along the way. I definitely feel like I’ve gotten my footing with it and gotten in the groove as far as knowing my son and what he needs and his personality, but every day it’s something different. There’s no rule book. I learned that very quickly. I’m just going to cruise with this and see how it goes.”