Charlotte McKinney on Her Overnight Success (and Struggles) and 2020 Goals

Photo source: Scott Leon
“I’ll be there 11:15!” I’m relieved when I find out she’s running late, too. It’s 10:50 and I’m scrambling to find my wallet before rushing over to meet with Charlotte McKinney, the 26-year-old bombshell who’s most remembered as the star of Carls Jr.’s all-natural burger commercial in 2015. You’ve definitely seen it or at the very least, heard about it. It first aired during Super Bowl XLIX when the Patriots beat the Seahawks, and it’s still the most watched game to date with a record 114.4 million viewers. So I believe McKinney when she later tells me it’s been difficult to be known as anything else.
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I arrive at the Santa Monica Proper Hotel just a few minutes past our scheduled time and a hostess takes me to a cozy table in the back. McKinney walks in shortly after, completely justifying my use of the word “bombshell” because she is literally radiating. She came straight from her hot yoga class just nearby and apologizes for having only “two seconds to shower.” Keeping things low-key with a black sweatshirt from her sponsor, Alo Yoga, gold hoops, and a bare face and ponytail, McKinney post-yoga is far from the “hot mess” she warned me she’d look like. We casually chat about Thanksgiving plans — Bahamas with her dad for two weeks — and how “Yi,” my last name and her sister’s, is both the simplest and most difficult for people to pronounce. 

Before moving to LA to pursue modeling at 17, the Orlando native struggled in school and in her early career. Having dyslexia and big breasts before the industry was fully ready to embrace natural curves worked against her — until she landed the cheeky Carls Jr. commercial that would catapult her to overnight fame. “One day, you’re a normal girl and then you’re on ‘Good Morning America’...doing Vanity Fair,” McKinney says. “It was really weird, but I was ready. Now, it’s just kind of keeping up with that, you know?” 

"I feel like I’m sort of in this transition of trying to show that that’s not just me.”

When I ask whether the commercial has forever typecast her as a sex symbol, she answers definitively, “100 percent.” And her role in the upcoming supernatural horror film, “Fantasy Island,” starring Lucy Hale and Michael Peña is only further confirmation. “I’m in a bathing suit running around, screaming,” McKinney laughs.

“[The commercial] was a blessing and a curse because I still carry this box over my head when I’m walking into an audition or I’m trying to work with a magazine. I feel like I’m sort of in this transition of trying to show that that’s not just me.” 

So it was a natural fit to dress McKinney in Billie the Label, our incubated line of elevated essentials for the modern woman that prove you can feel equally as sexy and confident in a blazer as you do in a bikini. “I want to walk into a meeting and be taken seriously but still have that sexy, empowering edge, and I think that’s what this brand brings so much.”

“I have a hard time taking a compliment and I have a hard time feeling good in my own skin..."

When she’s not running to auditions or meetings, she’s prioritizing self-care in the form of hot yoga and family time. The health and fitness enthusiast even adds that she’d probably be a nutritionist or yoga instructor in another life. Despite maintaining incredible physical health and beauty, McKinney admits that her body confidence is still a work in progress. “I feel the most confident when I have full hair and makeup,” she says. It’s a refreshing response and one I honestly wasn’t expecting. Considering how most interviews with a model or celebrity are about feeling good in their bare skin without a trace of makeup on, I was reminded that McKinney, among others, is human. 

“It definitely takes a lot and what people don’t know about me is that I have a lot of insecurities,” she says. “I have a hard time taking a compliment and I have a hard time feeling good in my own skin, so that’s something I’ve definitely been working on because it’s easier said than done. It’s hard for me to find total body confidence because it’s this constant battle. It’s tough.”

On McKinney’s list of new year’s resolutions and arguably the most important one, is figuring out how to get there. “I think until I can love and admire myself, it’s hard to do good work or be the best person because you have to genuinely like who you are,” she says. “It’s definitely something I’m working on and don’t have all the answers to, but I’m trying.”

2020 already looks bright for the model and actress. Before “Fantasy Island” lands theaters on Valentine’s Day, McKinney takes the screen in a larger role in the indie comedy, “The Argument,” which sounds more in line with the direction she wants to take her career. 

“I’m always cast as the chick in the bathing suit,” she says. “So I think my goal for the next couple of years is getting away from that. I have to be grateful for everything, but I’m excited for new projects and people to see me in a different way."

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