She was of the first generation of models to reach stratospheric success by posting photos on social media. Now, Charlotte McKinney is shifting gears—and getting real.
Tuxedo bodysuit, $850, by Alexander Wang at thewebster.us; miniskirt, $980, at Gucci, Phipps Plaza; Zoe pumps, $625, by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent, Phipps Plaza; sunglasses and earrings, stylist’s own.
On December 29, @charlottemckinney hit the “share” button and took a deep breath. She put her phone away and waited a few hours before she opened Instagram again. It was a scary moment that signaled a turning point for the actress. For the first time in her life as a public figure, she had really and truly exposed herself.
Sit with that for a moment. Because we are, after all, talking about Charlotte McKinney: the 26-year-old model and actress from Orlando, Fla., who a mere five years ago starred in a Carl’s Jr. Super Bowl commercial that left very little to the imagination. Who wore skimpy swimsuits in the Baywatch reboot. And whose cleavage was the star of a Guess lingerie campaign. The girl has been exposed. This was different.
“I just said F it. It is what it is. Take it or leave it,” says McKinney about the decision to publish the post. The “it” she refers to was an honest portrayal of what the last 12 months had been like for McKinney, who suffers from a chronic pain condition. “I was so ill, and in and out of hospitals all year. I decided I’m not going to BS and start a year saying it was so great. It was horrible.” In the photo she is seen lying in a hospital bed wearing a decidedly unsexy blue gown and blue hairnet. It signaled the beginning of McKinney’s new chapter, one that is raw, unfiltered and sure to grow her bond with the millions that follow her every “share.”
Feather-embellished minidress, $3,550, by The Attico at thewebster.us; earrings, stylist’s own.
Since you last appeared on the cover of Ocean Drive, your vibe is definitely different. What’s up?
The biggest difference is that I’ve been doing this for a minute. I know what works and doesn’t. I’ve had ups and downs, and I’ve learned that happiness doesn’t always entail a magazine cover or a job or a commercial. I’ve learned to not let it control me, not let media control me, caring about comments or what people are saying. It’s something I’m working on.
How is that reflected in the public-facing Charlotte?
I grew up right when Instagram started. And I just used it to post modeling pictures. And now everyone wants to see everything. They don’t care just about pretty pictures—they want to see everything. What I’m eating, what I’m doing, me looking perfect and also me not looking perfect. I am trying to adjust because now it’s not just about a pretty Instagram picture. I’m trying to grow with how the internet is growing, which is kind of scary and I definitely have trouble with it.
Do you think about how these decisions you make—about what to share or not share—influence other women who are watching you on social media?
I started noticing that whether it was a celebrity or an influencer, when people spoke about real things that were going on in their lives, I was like, ‘Oh wow, I don’t feel as alone about this topic.’ And if I’m taking this in, I can’t imagine what other women have taken from me. So I’m trying to find more of a voice in that sense of everything is not perfect; this is how it is. And building more of a female audience. It’s about letting go, putting away the Photoshop and the filter and being more raw and honest.
Is that difficult for you?
To be totally honest, it’s really hard for me. I’m trying to find a way to do that, because I’m learning that I react more when people are honest and real and open. It’s fun to figure out how to do it in the right way.
Let’s talk about the entertainment industry as a whole and the way women are portrayed.
This goes all the way back to being a model when I started out in Miami. Castings, everything—you went into anything with this sickening feeling. You just never really knew what to expect, if the casting was with a male photographer or this and that. In that day and age, there weren’t any borders. There wasn’t anyone telling you to call your agent if this happens. There wasn’t any of that. And now I feel like that would never happen. Seeing younger girls, it makes me feel better. If they are in a bad situation, it’s something they can feel more open to talking about. I remember being so young and just wanting to work and meet people. And it was a really dangerous and scary business. I always said that if I had a daughter, I would never want her to be a model. But it’s changing for all the best reasons. And nothing makes me happier than seeing everything going down.
Any moments or experiences that you can take us back to?
I’m not going to go into details. But a lot of my young modeling life and getting into the entertainment industry was very different than it is today. But, yeah, I think it’s all changing for the best.
Changing topics, you recently did a Comedy Central spot with Whitney Cummings and David Spade. It was hilarious. Tell me about that.
I have always been a huge fan of Whitney. And I’ve done a ton of work with David Spade in the past. When he started this show, I was like, ‘When are you going to put me on? I’ve gotta do something.’ I had never done standup, but I really wanted to do it. It pokes fun at girls in my generation and pokes fun at the world I live in. For me, whether it’s doing a skit like that or sharing on social media, poking fun at situations is how I’ve been handling things lately. What I enjoyed most was getting out there putting my guard down and just talking shit about myself and roasting myself.
Are you looking to get more into comedic roles?
For me it’s breaking a barrier of walking in and having the casting director see me as ‘Hot Girl No. 1/Bikini Scene.’ I’d like to try to use my humor. Or even more of a rawer moment where it’s not full hair and makeup, something that you wouldn’t normally see me as.
I hear you are starting a YouTube channel. Will that be where we get to see Charlotte unfiltered?
For the past couple of years, I’ve always had managers and agents tell me, ‘Your Instagram is great, but we really want to see your personality. You are so funny and all these things, but on your Instagram you can’t really see it.’ And they brought up YouTube. I was like, ‘Ugh, I’m not a YouTuber. That’s so lame.’ I didn’t quite understand it. But I’m at a point in my life where I’m accepting things and doing things I normally wouldn’t do. So I’m launching a YouTube channel this summer, a behind-the-scenes of my life. I definitely don’t see myself becoming a full YouTuber vlogger, but it’s something I’ll add to the roster because you can’t get a sense of who I am just from photographs. And times are changing with TikTok and things like that. I’m old-school when it comes to all this, but sometimes you have to follow what the kids are doing, because they are gonna be stealing my jobs in no time!
That’ll be interesting because we don’t see much of your personal life on social media.
I’ve always kept everything pretty private because there are a lot of things in my life that aren’t private. But this past year I went through a lot with my health. And I realized that opening up helped get me through these dark times. In the past I would never talk about my health or anything like that. But I realized I have this platform, I have this condition, and I felt so much better after I shared my own struggles. Everyone is in a battle. But I was like, ‘Oh wow, I can talk about this and not feel ashamed.’
One-shoulder printed stretch bodysuit, $790, gucci.com; earrings, stylist’s own.
Are you comfortable now talking about the condition you have?
I’ve always had a kidney condition, and as I got older things just took a turn for the worse. Like I said, it wasn’t only physical. Not being able to do a job or not being able to go to an event, always being home by myself—it turned into a bit of depression. It’s something I still don’t feel totally comfortable talking about, but it’s something that happened.
How do you take care of yourself physically and mentally?
I’m constantly doing acupuncture cupping therapy. I’ll do anything for any kind of relief. For years I’ve always done hot yoga. In the morning it centers me. But for me, it’s trying and seeing what works for my body. For the last couple of years I had been vegan, and I recently brought back meat into my life and I’ve been feeling more energetic.
Aside from the YouTube channel, what other project do you have going on?
I’m designing a workout line for women with bigger breasts that you can wear and know you are going to have support. I have that one bra that I wear, but it’s hard to find.
Let’s talk about Best Buddies.
I started with Best Buddies in high school. I didn’t have a ton of friends. I dropped out because high school wasn’t my thing. But I loved spending lunch hour with my buddy. I did it throughout high school, and when I started working and I had this platform, I was happy to share it. It’s such a nice thing to make people more aware of it. And I always do something with them when I am back in Miami.
Well, we miss you in Miami. What do you miss about Miami when you are in L.A.?
Being able whenever it’s winter to run out and go in the ocean. I love living in Malibu, but I do not swim here ever. Growing up in the Bahamas and Florida, I just love the ocean. Here it’s too cold. I like to see my feet in the water; here it’s dark, you don’t know what’s going on. It’s funny how, when you get older, how much you miss little things like that.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Live every moment because you never know when that opportunity is going to happen again.
Photography by: RIOCAM; Styled by Gemma Louise May; Hair by Dallin James; Kristin Hilton