"It was so much more than just the pictures for me," Wood-Tepperberg told "Good Morning America." "[Sports Illustrated Swimsuit] just exuded this empowerment for women."
Wood-Tepperberg modeled in her early 20s. She said she moved to New York City with a Sports Illustrated planner in hand. At that time she was led to believe that modeling opportunities only lasted while you were young.
The "old version of Melissa ... thought everything was impossible," she noted.
Now, Wood-Tepperberg, 40 years old and a mother of two, told Sports Illustrated: “It really is true that when you align yourself and your actions with the things that you want to bring into your life, you can do anything."
"I have found the more that I embody this belief within myself, it’s truly been this becoming in my life," she tells "GMA," adding that despite life's obstacles, she learned to never lose sight of her goals.
On set with Sports Illustrated
Days short of her 40th birthday, Wood-Tepperberg found herself behind the camera for the 2023 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
"I envisioned this. To the point where I never lost sight of it," she said.
"It was just the most uplifting shoot that I have ever done. [Photographer] Yu Tsai brought me to life in a way I didn’t even know I had in me."
Wood-Tepperberg, who once struggled with an eating disorder, said that becoming a Sports Illustrated Rookie symbolizes all of the love and acceptance she now has for herself.
On turning 40
Wood-Tepperberg explained that there are misconceptions surrounding turning 40. She used to think "it was all downhill from here."
But in actuality, she said she has never felt better.
"It's really this magnificent feeling of knowing who you are," she explained. "And no longer trying to be anything but you. There is nothing more fulfilling than walking around as you are. And not trying to embody anyone but you. It’s exhilarating, it’s freeing. You really live in this surrender of welcoming all of the things that are unfolding right before your eyes."
On physical and mental health
Wood-Tepperberg is the founder of Melissa Wood Health (MWH), a health, wellness and lifestyle platform with a fitness app that launched in 2019. The platform includes Wood-Tepperberg-led meditations, yoga and pilates low-impact workouts, pre-and post-natal classes and more. Wood-Tepperberg has also brought on other creators and instructors to lead dance flows and sculpting classes.
But it all began in her living room.
"MWH is all about making these mindful movements accessible and attainable for all," she said, adding that you don't need to pay for an expensive gym membership to care for yourself.
"My No.1 mission was for people all over the world to feel like this was something they could do," Wood-Tepperberg said.
In her experience, high-intensity workouts only made her anxious. She wants people to show up consistently for themselves in a way that works for them -- whether for five minutes or 30 minutes.
"It's not about time. It's about the feeling that you feel when you do it," she said.
Wood-Tepperberg emphasizes that MWH is not solely about the physical: "It's about building this strong relationship with yourself. And that all comes from strengthening the mind."
She said the consistency of her practice made it so that she didn't have to change her routine, or anything about herself, in preparation for the swimsuit shoot.
She followed a self-created seven-day program "to mentally and physically feel ready for a chapter that I feel born to do."
"The most exciting thing for me when I found out I booked Sports Illustrated was [that] I didn’t go back to those old behavioral patterns or feelings that I needed to torture myself or go on a diet or lose weight or do all of these things that unfortunately society can really train us to think that we need [to do] … I literally was like, I’m ready," she said.
"How bad do you want to feel good?"
Wood-Tepperberg said she asks herself this question every morning.
"For me, it’s that moment of really asking myself: 'How do you want to feel today?' Because things happen in life, but I really believe that we are in the driver's seat of how we choose to show up. For me, it’s taking that one second with myself and choosing – choosing myself and coming back to me."
"Be who you are"
When asked what mantra or affirmation she thinks people most need to hear, she said it's "be who you are."
Though we're constantly flooded with the idea that we have to be like other people we see on social media, Wood-Tepperberg encourages others to "[show] up as you are" and stop "trying to be anything but you."
It's a "sigh of relief," she said.