Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model Hunter McGrady recalls the moment she accepted her 'God-given body'

Sports Illustrated Rookie Hunter McGrady is happily diving into her latest project — swimwear.

The plus-size model launched a new collection with London-based lingerie brand Playful Promises and she’s determined to make a major splash in the fashion world by offering an array of sizes.

McGrady, who at a size 16 stunned audiences when she posed in body paint and skimpy bikinis for SI, is eager to inspire women to feel just as confident to strip down.

Fox News spoke with McGrady about collaborating with Playful Promises and her journey to becoming a body image activist.

Fox News: What inspired you to launch a swimwear collection with Playful Promises?
Hunter McGrady: I always wanted to do this for as long as I can remember. I was born and raised in Malibu. I’ve also worked with Playful Promises before and I love everything that they represent.

And I thought that right now, it was so needed. We need more swimwear for plus sizes. There’s not nearly enough. I can really only count with my one hand stores online that I’m able to buy swimwear. Which is unfortunate, but times are changing.

Fox News: Do you think it has gotten better for women of different sizes to be accepted in the fashion world?
McGrady: That’s a loaded question, and here’s why. I think we’re definitely on that path of acceptance when it comes to all body sizes, which is amazing. And I am excited to be on the forefront of that. But on the other hand, there are still designers still falling behind [who] aren’t taking that chance. They’re missing that audience.

You know, 67 percent of women in America are a size 14 and now this year, a size 16 and above. So they’re missing more than half of the population. I think that we’ve definitely come a long way, especially within the last five years with brands like Michael Kors, Sports Illustrated – huge names are taking that chance. And it’s working for them. So I think that once more people start doing that, it’s going to catch on.

Fox News: Where does your confidence come from?
McGrady: My confidence comes from me, within. I had to truly teach myself to love myself. It took a long time and it’s a daily struggle for me. But I do it.

I literally look in the mirror and I tell myself, "Hunter you are beautiful. You are confident. You are strong. Your stretch marks are beautiful, your cellulite is beautiful. You’re worthy. You’re worthy of putting on that swimsuit and strutting your stuff in front of everybody." It takes one person to do that so other people can follow suit.

Fox News: Could you describe that moment when you realized this was your "God-given body" and you were going to embrace it?
McGrady: For the longest time, I really struggled with myself and what my body looked like... It almost felt like I was offending God, in my opinion, to not love my body. This is me 100 percent. This is the body I was given and I was really treating it poorly. Not feeding it correctly. Not eating. I was overworking it. I’m speaking extremely negatively to it. And it just really affected me. So God was a huge, huge part of my entire transformation. Not just as a model, but as a person.

That final moment was at a photoshoot. I was 16-years-old and 6-feet tall. I was turned away and told, "We don’t think you’re going to be able to fit into these clothes." I wasn't even given the chance to try them on. That for me was a real eye-opener. I realized I couldn’t do this to myself anymore. I needed to stop sabotaging myself. There’s no way this is going to be my life.

If this is what my huge modeling dream is going to be, I’m out. So I took those years off, from 16 to 18, and just really focused on myself, focused on my health, focused on my mental health, which is the most important thing… I had forgotten who Hunter was along the way because I was trying so desperately to be somebody else. Somebody that society told me I should be. So it was at that photoshoot where I realized I couldn’t do this anymore.

Fox News: How do you deal with critics today?
McGrady: There’s always going to be someone that says something negative about you. I get that all the time. My mom and my dad both taught me at a young age – and they’re both in the entertainment industry – that you’re never going to make everyone happy, so just make yourself happy.

I also take matters into my own hands. There’s a section on Instagram where you can block any mean, hot-button words. And I have a huge list of words that I block, so there are no negative comments on my Instagram because I have control of that. I don’t want to see that.

Fox News: How did Sports Illustrated change your life?
McGrady: It changed it in so many different ways. I knew it was going to have a huge impact on my career. But most importantly, it has opened so many doors for other women and men everywhere. It’s allowed me to tell my story and it has hopefully brought to light... the importance of body positivity and loving yourself. I knew it was a huge, huge feat for the fashion industry. It’s still being talked about… Just coming back for a second year was incredible. I think it’s so important to keep the conversation going.

Fox News: What was going through your mind when you learned Sports Illustrated wanted you to be in their magazine?
McGrady: I was freaking out. (Laughs.) Honestly? I wasn’t really shocked because, why shouldn’t they want me? We should actually start thinking about ourselves in a positive way. As women, we’re told to tear each other apart.

We tell ourselves we’re not good enough. We should warped those thoughts and instead think, "They should want me. I have all the abilities that they need and I’m here for it." But of course at the time, my initial thought was, "Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening. What an incredible moment for my career, but also for the story of my life."