We met when you were 19, and you quickly became a household name. How did you deal with so much notoriety at such a young age?
I was very grateful for my success. I started modeling when I was 15, so it didn’t really happen overnight. I spent three years working hard, learning about the industry, and meeting different people. Nobody really prepared me for [success]. At the beginning, people thought they knew who I was before getting to know me. Slowly, I’ve worked to bring my real personality to the forefront.
How do you want to be perceived?
I’m not one-dimensional; I’m a whole person. Sports Illustrated really launched me, so everyone looked at me as a swimsuit model with a curvy body.
How has your life changed?
Where do I start? I feel like I’m in a much more stable place in my life than when I was 19. I’m engaged! [Upton’s fiancé is Detroit Tigers baseball player Justin Verlander.] I’m still growing my career and branching out into new directions. I also understand the world that I’m in better, and maybe I have a better appreciation for it.
What’s next for you in fashion?
I found the most success through my message of body confidence and positivity. I want to continue being a spokesperson for that, and helping women find balance between living a healthy life—working out and eating well—but also enjoying their lives. In terms of Hollywood, I’ve been taking acting classes for seven years. I want to continue growing in that outlet but continue my modeling career as well.
Do you have any regrets?
Of course, but any mistake that I’ve made in my professional life has been a learning experience. Now, I’m smarter and more prepared.
Why did you want to work with [photographers] Matt Easton and Siobhan Roso for our shoot?
I’ve worked with a lot of iconic photographers, but I also think it’s so great to work with upcoming talent. Matt and Siobhan come from a really unique place—they worked with [photographers] Mert [Alas] & Marcus [Piggot].
You have a massive Instagram presence. Does it stress you out to have so many followers?
I’m one of those people who sometimes forgets to post! It’s difficult, because people don’t like you to post much on jobs. If I take behind-the-scenes photos, I end up forgetting about them completely by the time the work comes out. But I do enjoy sharing some of my life with my fans.
How are your horses?
They’re in Florida. I have two new ones, which are rescues. I train them whenever I’m in town. Being out at the barn with the horses is helpful to my mind. It makes me feel connected with life and slows everything down. It’s my outdoor therapy.
You had your third Sports Illustrated cover this year!
I was so excited. That team is truly like family. They helped launch my career in a massive way, and they are lovely people. This year’s issue was all about women of every age and size loving themselves and showing their confidence.
Will we see you in the Hamptons this year?
I would love to go! I used to go once a year, and I love it. I grew up in Florida, so my favorite thing to do is to hit the beach!
What kind of sunscreen do you use?
Neutrogena SPF 110 on my face.
Very smart! Your birthday was this month. What did you do?
I went to Tokyo! When I got back to L.A., my friends threw me a surprise party, which was a lot of fun.
Any plans for July 4th?
It’s my dad’s birthday, so every year, my entire family goes to my hometown of St. Joseph, Michigan, to celebrate.