She recently opened up about the whirlwind media coverage that followed her first Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover in 2012.

By Arielle Tschinkel
January 17, 2020
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Kate Upton has been gracing the covers of magazines (including Shape) for nearly a decade. The now-27-year-old mom skyrocketed to fame after she appeared on the cover of the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue back in 2012, making her one of the most in-demand models in the world.

But in a recent interview for theSkimm's podcast Skimm'd from The Couch, Upton shared that while her SI Swimsuit success was no doubt "amazing" to experience, public discussion about her body quickly put her in an "emotionally bad place."

Speaking with Skimm'd from The Couch co-hosts Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, Upton recalled the whirlwind media blitz that followed her 2012 SI Swimsuit cover. Upton said the success felt "incredible" at first. But she also couldn't help feeling uncomfortable at times with the newfound, widespread attention on her body, she shared on the podcast.

"It was not great," Upton told Zakin and Weisberg with a laugh. "A lot of [the attention] was negative, and even the positive stuff was really creepy."

With several major news outlets debating whether or not Upton was "fat," the model quickly began to feel insecure, she explained on the podcast. "I took [all the criticism] in, and it was all around me," she shared. "It got to me so much. I was in a very dark and twisted place."

Despite having family around her at the time, Upton said she "couldn't be reached at that point." (Related: Kate Upton and Kelly Clarkson Bonded Over Breastfeeding and Body Positivity)

"I hated myself," continued Upton. "I was really wondering why I would expose myself to this kind of criticism. I don't want to be exposed to stuff like this."

ICYDK, Upton was only 19 years old when she landed her first SI Swimsuit cover. So, as a teenager, being objectified—often by older men—"really scared" her, Upton said on the podcast. She recalled a story about wearing a bikini to a pool party shortly after her SI Swimsuit cover reveal, and the unwanted attention she received at the party. "Everybody was oohing and ahhing and taking secret photos of me and being like, 'You love this attention, don't you?'" she told Zakin and Weisberg of the party. "That was my last pool party. I never would get in any kind of bikini in front of people [again] because it was just too overwhelming."

As challenging as it was to endure that criticism and unwanted attention, those experiences also led Upton to realize she genuinely wanted to learn more about fitness—not as a tool to lose weight or to make her body smaller, but to help her focus on her overall health, she said on the podcast.

"I decided I needed to learn about our bodies," shared Upton. "I wanted to know what it was all about. Why are we working out? Not to get skinny, 'cause that couldn't motivate me anymore. Because I was just dead inside on that subject." (See: Why Kate Upton Is More Focused On Her Strength Gains Than Losing Weight)

Upton said she asked herself: "Why do I want to be healthy?" Her answer: to be her strongest, best self, she told Zakin and Weisberg.

That shift in Upton's mindset ultimately led her to collaborate with her trainer, Ben Bruno on the creation of Strong4Me Fitness, a 12-week fitness program offering 30-minute daily workouts with limited equipment to help people exercise at home. The program aims to encourage women to build strength and confidence both physically and mentally—something Upton hopes isn't just a passing trend, she explained on the podcast. "That's really where we see the wellness brand going next: digging into being mentally healthy and loving your unique differences and feeling confident," she said.

Adding to that momentum is Upton's #ShareStrong Instagram campaign, which she launched to create "a space where we all can be part of the conversation, empower one another, and radiate positivity," she shared on Instagram last year. "I want to open the conversation and give all people a platform to talk about all the struggles and strengths we experience."

With famous faces like Jessica Biel, fellow SI Swimsuit model Hunter McGrady, and even everyday folks sharing their authentic, no-filter photos using Upton's hashtag, social media users everywhere are reminded that strength comes in all forms—a message that Upton hopes to continue spreading throughout her career, she told Zakin and Weisberg. "I feel like sharing my experiences and learning from my mistakes and being an example for a better life is the path I want to continue doing."

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