Hunter McGrady, five-time Sports Illustrated model and new mom, in the 2022 Sports Illustrated Swims...

Model Hunter McGrady On Being 6 Months Postpartum In Latest SI Swimsuit Edition

“I feel sexier than I've ever felt before.”

Most new parents probably wouldn’t be thrilled about the idea of doing a bathing suit photo shoot six months postpartum. Even five-time Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Hunter McGrady hadn’t imagined it for herself after the birth of her first child, Hudson, but she’s a pro. “I have changed in so many ways: I’m a mom now, my body looks completely different,” she tells Romper, “and I’m so proud.”

McGrady made her SI debut in 2017 when she was just 22. At the time, plus-sized models had only just begun to grace the pages of the iconic annual issue. Since then, the brand has continued to include greater body diversity, expanding beauty standards while maintaining the glamorous, sexy tone of the classic issues.

“They've really honestly accepted me and honored me and championed for me from the very beginning,” says McGrady. “When I first started in this industry, plus-size modeling was really still like the very bottom of a rise, and I think it takes these big brands, like Sports Illustrated, to really take that chance on somebody and say, ‘You know what? I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and I'm going to make the change happen.’ So in the last seven years, we have seen that massive jump. I think that we still have a long way to go.”

This includes, she says, plus-sized representation in pregnancy. “I was taken aback at how little representation there was,” she says, from maternity clothes to pictures in brochures, to media coverage. “It's like once you get pregnant and you're plus-size, forget it, this just doesn't exist. And I thought, ‘Whoa, I feel very alone in this.’”

Hunter McGrady appeared in her fifth Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, six months postpartum. Yu Tsai/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

And yet when it comes to motherhood, little can dim her joy. Being a mom to Hudson, who will turn 1 next month (despite her husband’s suggestion of keeping it low-key, McGrady’s going all out with a dinosaur theme and 50-person guest list), is her “favorite job.” And despite the narratives and pressure about “getting your body back” (even worse in the modeling industry), McGrady’s relationship with her body has only improved since pregnancy and birth.

“I have a whole new respect for my body and I really admire my body postpartum,” she says. “Before I would really focus on the way it looked outwardly and every mark and scar and this, that, and the other thing. And now my focus is really on, ‘Oh my God, this body of mine was the first home to my son, gave life to the most important thing in my world. And how could I sit there and bash it anymore? How could I look at my body and say something wrong about it when that was his home for nine months and created his life,’” she shares. “So I've shifted my whole perspective on my body as a whole, me as a whole, this industry as a whole. And I have such a deep appreciation for it.”

McGrady is one of several notable moms in the 2022 Swimsuit Issue. Mom of 4, Kim Kardashian, is the cover model, Kelly Hughes proudly shows her C-section scar, and even visibly pregnant Katrina Scott can be found in the glossy pages. McGrady hopes that it will help “take back the narrative” when it comes to certain aspects of motherhood.

McGrady encourages women to “wear the damn swimsuit.”

“For so long, we've been led to believe that once you become a mom, you lose yourself, you lose any of your sexuality and sensuality and it's not true, it's absolutely not,” she says. “I feel sexier than I've ever felt before, actually.”

The 2022 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue will be available at newsstands on May 19.