Kelly Hughes made history with her inclusion in the 2022 issue Sports Illustrated Swimsuit as the first to model with a visible c-section scar. Now, she reflects on how images shown around the world have empowered not only readers, but herself as well.
“To be honest, I had no idea how much this would affect people. But my photo went viral all over the world. That’s something I probably wouldn’t have done before, but I also didn’t see myself the same way. myself now,” Hughes told Fox News digital. “I think it’s beautiful that a magazine likes it Sports Illustrated shows a woman having a C-section and says, “She’s beautiful.” Now, I realize how important this photo is to me because I had no idea how underrepresented she was.”
The model explained that she had long been insecure about the scar and even planned to avoid a C-section so she wouldn’t have to deal with the scar on her belly.
“I’ve never shown my scar before. And I’ve been really open about how I’ve struggled with insecurities around my scar. I didn’t initially want a C-section because the recovery would have been much more difficult as I’m a model,” she said, noting that there are already lot to worry about when it comes to embracing a postpartum body. “Society puts so much pressure on you to ‘flip’. I wasn’t a size 2 anymore. I didn’t do much bikini modeling at first. So it was scary at first to show my biggest insecurity in a magazine like Sports Illustrated. I wasn’t sure how I would be received.”
Before the images even appeared in print, the experience of shooting for the publication made a powerful difference in Hughes’ perspective on her body and perceived flaws.
“I just arrived, editor-in-chief [MJ Day] it just made me feel so confident and beautiful. He turned my insecurity into the most beautiful thing in the world. It just made me feel so much better about my scar. I felt much more confident about myself. I just looked at my scar in the mirror and realized I shouldn’t feel so insecure about it anymore,” Hughes said. “And when it came time to shoot, everyone reacted the same way. They made me feel so empowered and inspired. I imagine how many beautiful women they have seen, and now I can be a part of that representation. The experience was therapeutic for me. It just really helped me overcome my insecurities.”
Hughes was among a few other women who shared parts of their motherhood journeys with the magazine, with Katrina Scott six and a half months pregnant when she was photographed and Hunter McGrady six months postpartum. Seeing mothers celebrated in this way would change Hughes’ own experience as a new mom in 2018.
“I’ve seen the fashion industry evolve over the last year and a half. But that change hadn’t happened when I gave birth in November 2018. I felt this pushback when I tried to go back to work. I didn’t look like I did before. I definitely didn’t have the confidence ” she explained. “I was very insecure. And I don’t think they’ve fully embraced me yet. As a mom, you don’t always have time to hit the gym. Sometimes you don’t have time at all. And food became whatever I had at home or whatever I could grab quickly so I could get back to my son. My diet had changed. My routine had changed. The demands of my life had changed.”
She continued, “You know in the fashion industry, nobody wants to show cellulite. Nobody wants to show scars. But these things are normal and should be normalized. And when you see my picture, you see pure joy. I was so insecure for my scar, but it also represents the most beautiful moment of my life because my son was born. So I have to feel joy.”
Despite how empowered she felt, Hughes couldn’t predict the freedom other moms felt since then. SI Swimming revealed her photos in May.
“I’ve had so many messages from women telling me they felt so insecure going to the beach that they buy a bigger bikini or just choose to wear a one-piece to avoid scrutiny. Show the scar because they are insecure about it. They worry about what people might say or think,” he said. “Now, I get messages from women telling me how empowered they feel and how confident they feel to wear that bikini again after having a baby.”
Hughes also assured readers that the photo “represents so much more than a c-section scar,” as it sheds light on the powerful stories behind each scar that can appear on one’s body.
“I hope that when people see my picture, they feel encouraged to embrace themselves and give them grace. I look at my scar now and I’m proud of what I went through,” she said. “I embrace it. I’m still here. And that’s exactly what my photo shows. I just hope it can encourage others to feel the same.”
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