'I can proudly say today I look at my scar and it was worth it. I would do it all over again. It's my story and I will wear it like a badge of honor.'
Editor's note: This article was originally published on May 12, 2022. It has since been updated.
For the first time in Sports Illustrated's 58-year history, the magazine’s Swimsuit Issue has a model showing off her C-section scar on its pages. Hitting newsstands on May 19, 2022, the editorial spread featuring model Kelly Hughes proudly showing her scar in a bikini was created in partnership with the brand Frida Mom, which aims to positively shift mainstream narratives associated with women's bodies. "I am speechless and so honored to be in @si_swimsuit 2022 as the FIRST woman to expose her c-section scar in the magazine's history!" Hughes wrote on Instagram.
"I struggled with insecurities from my scar being that I'm a model and my incredibly difficult recovery, but it wasn't until I embraced my scar that I experienced the true power in it," she added. Speaking to Scary Mommy about her experience shooting the groundbreaking photo, Hughes said: "I have never shown my scar before and it's very personal to me. I struggled for a long time truly embracing it, so to show the one thing you’re most insecure about in the biggest magazine in the world brought a range of emotions." The model revealed that although it took her a lot of time both mentally and physically to embrace the scar—especially when working in an industry that is so body conscious—she has now accepted and embraced it.
This year SI Swimsuit is celebrating all moms who bare C-Section scars by featuring Kelly Hughes in #SISwim22- a FIRST in the magazine’s history! That’s why we’re proud to partner with Frida Mom through our #PayWithChange initiative.— Sports Illustrated Swimsuit (@SI_Swimsuit) May 11, 2022
Photographer: Fumie Hoppe pic.twitter.com/5oovFYCKiD
"I truly haven't felt more empowered by my scar as I do today and this photoshoot made me feel more confident than ever," Hughes said. "There's an incredible shift happening in the world today with inclusivity and normalizing the changes our bodies go through and experience, so to be a part of this moment is so incredible and liberating." Despite cesareans accounting for nearly a third of all births in America, individuals often experience disappointment or shame when having their babies through unplanned C-sections, since cultural misconception labels the surgery as "an easy way out" and celebrates natural births as the "optimal birthing experience."
Along with the spread, Frida Mom has also launched C-Section Recovery, a product line designed to improve the maternal post-op recovery experience for people who have had C-sections. Partnering with Sports Illustrated for the Pay For Change initiative, it hopes to amplify ongoing efforts to shift cultural narratives associated with motherhood. "I was approached to be on the Sports Illustrated Swim advisory board to continue to positively shift the conversation around women," Chelsea Hirschhorn, founder and CEO of Frida, said of the magazine's inclusion of honest images of women, including pregnant and postpartum moms. Hirschhorn, who was due to welcome her fourth child, said it's photoshoots like these that "show honest portrayals of motherhood."
"We're thrilled that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit appreciates the importance of highlighting these women authentically–C-Section scars and all–and welcome the progress we will make together as a result of this shared commitment," she added. Hughes, who delivered her now-3-year-old via an unplanned C-section at 41 weeks and required another surgery eight days postpartum due to a serious infection, said she is thankful brands like Frida Mom exist to try and help normalize the reality of recovering mothers.
"The idea of being what you were before you had a baby for many is not realistic—in a sense, we give birth to our new selves," Hughes said. "It's the journey that makes us who we are and that's something to embrace and hold tightly to no matter what stage we're in. I can proudly say today I look at my scar and it was worth it, and I would do it all over again. It's my story and I will wear it like a badge of honor for the rest of my life."
The 2022 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue also features models Katrina Scott and Hunter McGrady at different stages of pregnancy—one during the early days of her pregnancy and the other during her six months postpartum. "When I started modeling over 20 years ago, this industry was a totally different world—and it was so limited," Hughes concluded. "To see Sports Illustrated embracing pregnant models, mothers and women of all ages and sizes are beyond incredible. Women are all different and we don't all look the same, which is what makes us so beautiful. I wouldn't have a career anymore if it wasn't for this movement. I think the impact is empowering and long overdue."