When Grazia meets supermodel Martha Hunt in the grounds of a leafy private residence just outside of New York City, it’s a bright winter’s day, and the supermodel looks the picture of health. On set, she’s full of verve, having just been announced as the new face of Pinko. “The power, boldness and style of the brand appeal to me,” she reﬂects. “For me, it’s always been a brand that is synonymous with strength and femininity.” Indeed, after nearly a decade in the fashion industry, they’re qualities that Martha herself certainly embodies. She’s walked in hundreds of shows around the world, yet only became a household name six years ago when she joined the cast of the Victoria’s Secret show. However, her dream career very nearly didn’t happen.
When her modelling career ﬁrst took off as a young teen, she was diagnosed with severe scoliosis, which progressed to leave her disﬁgured and in severe pain. “My balance was off, one shoulder was considerably higher, and my hips were uneven,” she tells Grazia . The health condition – which can lead to lung complications and severe disability – meant that at the age when most teenagers are deciding which degree they are going to major in at university, Martha had to make the tough decision to undergo a life-changing spine operation. “The best part about being young was that I felt fearless. The idea of surgery didn’t scare me. On the other hand, living with a problem that hindered my everyday functioning was a far scarier reality,” she admits.
Martha recovered quickly over the summer following her operation, and in September was given the all-clear by her doctor, enabling her to move thousands of miles north from her small hometown in North Carolina to pursue a modelling career in New York City. “There was a time that I felt I was scamming the fashion industry,” Martha conﬁdes. “I thought my slight limp and the 36cm scar down my back deemed me imperfect.”
She put all her time into learning to walk again and building core strength, and was soon snapped up by one of the biggest modelling agencies in New York, IMG. “My life changed completely. To my surprise, I started to get booked for the biggest designer runway shows in New York, Milan, and Paris. Finally breaking through and being cast for the most elite shows, I proved to myself that I could overcome any obstacle with perseverance.”
Although she no longer has many of the symptoms of scoliosis, Martha explains that it’s important to her to keep a discussion going about the condition. “Many women have written to me, saying that my story helps them to feel less lonely and helps them keep their faith that they will be able to accomplish their dreams,” she continues.
Martha went from being a successful model to international fame when she joined Victoria’s Secret in 2013. “The Victoria Secret sisterhood is a real thing,” she insists. “It actually gives me chills just thinking about it, because there are so many relationships in my life that were built walking the fashion show, and that will last me forever.”
Outside of Victoria’s Secret, one of the many friendships Martha has built during her incredible career is with the cousin of Prince William and Prince Harry, Princess Eugenie, who also suffered from scoliosis as a child. “I met her over the summer in London. When she showcased her scar with her wedding dress, it made me so proud,” Martha recalls. “I think scars are a symbol of strength; all scars are beautiful. We chatted about some of our insecurities we had as young women dealing with this illness, so seeing her wedding gown was so important, because scoliosis was getting representation. When we were younger, you didn’t hear about people talking about it openly.”
The strength she has shown through adversity is part of the reason Pinko appealed to her in her most recent campaign: “I have always loved the Pinko campaigns. The images have always struck me, and because they are always of these beautiful, empowered, iconic women. So I was very ﬂattered when they asked me to be part of their new campaign, and I am very happy with the way things turned out.”
Discussing the future, Martha reveals that she wants to lean in more to the struggles she has experienced, as well as continue in her modelling career. “I want to keep on modelling, of course, but I am also working on my own foundation [which invests money in scoliosis research] this year. It’s a little more complex than I thought, but it’s very exciting. I am working on directing money straight into the progress of scoliosis research. Ideally, I’d like to find a better treatment for severe spinal issues, especially in developing countries. Hopefully, I can use the opportunity I have been given by my successful career to help others with this condition.” What better way to pass her wealth of experience forward to the next generation?
Photos: Alex Cayley Styling: Chris Campbell