Sports Illustrated features a model with an exposed C-section scar for the first time

For the first time in its 58-year history, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit will feature a model baring her C-section scar to celebrate mothers who have them.

The magazine’s annual swimsuit issue, which will hit stands on May 16, stars Kelly Hughes, 42, proudly showing off her scar in a bikini.

“I have never shown my scar before and it’s very personal to me,” Kelly admitted in an interview with Scary Mommy. “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.”

Kelly Hughes and her son Harlem

Kelly, who has a three-year-old son named Harlem, initially struggled to come to terms with the mark, especially as she belongs to an industry that places a prime on physical attractiveness.

But now, she has completely accepted—and embraced—her scar.

“I truly haven’t felt more empowered by my scar as I do today, and this photoshoot made me feel more confident than ever. 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,” she said.

Kelly Hughes and her son Harlem in Disneyland

This particular Swim edition is made in partnership with Frida Mom, which recently launched its C-Section Recovery product line to help improve the post-op recovery of mothers.

Kelly discovered she was pregnant back in 2018. She had prepared for vaginal delivery and practiced breathing techniques, hoping to reduce anxiety and pain during labor. She also hoped for a speedy recovery so she could quickly get back to work.

However, after 36 hours of contractions, Kelly still hadn’t dilated past 7 centimeters. Doctors said she needed a C-section to keep the baby safe.

“I was hysterical,” she recalled. “I studied so many birthing options, and C-sections weren’t on my list.”

Kelly Hughes wearing a bikini

Over 1.2 million women in the United States deliver their babies via C-section every year. However, despite its commonality, the procedure leaves some moms with physical and emotional scars due to unplanned C-sections and misconceptions that label the surgery as the “easy way out” compared to vaginal birth, which is anything but true.

A day after getting home from the hospital, Kelly began experiencing unbearable pains and vomiting. She returned to the hospital and found that she had an infection caused by fluid in her uterus. She needed to go in for a second surgery, which involved reopening her C-section wound.

Kelly was able to go home after eight days in the hospital, fighting so hard to recover and care for her newborn at the same time.

Kelly Hughes wearing an elegant green outfit

Two months after her second surgery, Kelly flew to Canada with her son to do a shoot for a maternity line.

“We did the job, but flying and moving around was still a challenge. Lifting even my luggage [into] the overhead compartment wasn’t fun,” she said.

Kelly thought that going back to work would help her feel like herself again, but it actually took her four months to physically heal. Mentally, it took years.

But at this point, she has accepted that motherhood has changed her—scars and all.

Kelly Hughes wearing a bikini and showing off her C-section scar for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit

“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,” Kelly said. “It’s the journey that makes us who we are and that’s something to embrace and hold tightly 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,” she continued. “It’s my story and I will wear it like a badge of honor for the rest of my life.”

This year’s issue also features other history-making moments: the first model to show a visible baby bump, Katrina Scott, who is expecting her second child, and curve model Hunter McGrady, who was photographed just six months after giving birth.

It’s so good to see big magazines such as Sports Illustrated making an effort to be more inclusive! Hopefully, more publications take a similar step.

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