By Elliott Stephanopoulos ’21
Martha Hunt is not only a supermodel but a fierce advocate for scoliosis research and awareness. Throughout her career, she has lobbied on Capitol Hill, made partnerships to raise money for scoliosis research, and has now started her own clothing company and foundation to continue her work.
The Iris: How has scoliosis affected your life, for both the good and the bad?
Martha Hunt: I think that scoliosis has affected my life for the better in the end because it's taught me to turn weaknesses into strengths. It's definitely something that I struggled with when I was younger, as I'm sure you can relate to. It made me feel very insecure and definitely made me question if modeling was a realistic possibility. My plan B was to go to college for creative writing or journalism if modeling didn’t work out because of my scoliosis, but I did still want to give modeling a shot, as I had started before my diagnosis. My curve progressed quickly in my teens, around fourteen to seventeen years old, so it was tricky figuring out my modeling future from that point. In the end, grateful for that experience because it humbled me and also gave me something to naturally want to learn more about. I think models get thrown out into the workforce at a young age and don't necessarily know their passions at that point. Although I'm not defined by scoliosis, it gave me something to want to understand better. It drove me to Capitol Hill to advocate for funding towards scoliosis research initiatives, which resulted in me meeting a spine surgeon, whom I am now partnered with in our own foundation! So it wound up being something very beautiful in my life that kept me focused.
TI: What was your experience like on Capitol Hill?
MH: I was nervous the first time, but it ended up being so much fun to talk to different senators and members of Congress. Health is a bi-partisan issue, so it was something that most people could get on board with. The second year I returned to the Hill, I found out that our advocacy was truly impactful, as we got a Next Generation Researchers bill passed through. It actually did make a difference.
TI: You just launched your company, Inegal. How has it been?
MH: It has been so much fun, but honestly a lot of work. I have never sold something myself—I have always sold something with a brand collaboration. This time, I'm packing and sending out the international packages. At Inegal, our goal is to be a brand that raises funds for different scoliosis causes. I then plan on starting a foundation to focus on research.
TI: How did you partner with Lindsay Adams (an illustrator) for Inegal?
MH: I was looking for artists through recommendations from friends. When I saw her work, it immediately resonated with me because she does women's backs in this really beautiful yet feminine and empowering way, which is exactly what I wanted to portray in my clothes. She is also just an awesome human being, she is all about embracing what makes you different and showing off the unique things that make you beautiful, which was important to me. She has cerebral palsy and it's incredible what she has been able to accomplish.
TI: How is work on your foundation (still to be named) going?
MH: We are hoping to launch by October. We just finished all of our work and are about to submit a piece of medical literature, which was a big first for me. I am hoping we get published, because I feel like we found tons of useful information and ensured that we worked in tandem with other medical professionals to make sure we were only being useful and helpful. I wouldn't have learned this new skill set of being able to do in depth research.
TI: You have walked major high fashion runways and been the face of Victoria’s Secret—how has scoliosis affected your work in fashion?
MH: Runways were always my biggest fear. It's funny, because in the beginning I would try out for runways and get rejected, and it made me feel so insecure about myself, but I kept trying. I stayed confident somehow because I had a greater intuitive sense that something would work out, I don't really know why. Then, eventually, I was ready to quit, but I ended up meeting the right agent that believed in me, and after meeting her, I decided to go out and try again. It was night and day after that. It is crazy that if you stay resilient and persevere, things can work out the next time.
TI: You have three million followers on Instagram—what responsibility do you feel you have to use your platform? What changes have you seen in social media during the COVID-19 pandemic and the BLM movement?
MH: This time has been a time of growth and learning from everyone, which is a bit of a silver lining. Social media has become a positive place for connection. In the beginning when social media came out, the goal was connection, but it became very toxic and like a distraction from reality. But now that we cannot connect in real life, it is cool that we can rely on these platforms to communicate with friends and family.
This transcript has been edited for concision and clarity.