Sports Illustrated has featured its first model with a visible C-section scar

Kelly Hughes hopes her photo will shed light on postpartum struggles while empowering women to embrace their bodies and see the beauty in their scars.

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue hasn’t always been a source of empowerment for women, but in recent years it has tried to be more representative of different body types and features—and this year’s edition is one for the moms! For the first time in its history, the magazine will be featuring a woman with a visible C-section scar on its pages.

The magnitude of this moment isn’t lost on 42-year-old model Kelly Hughes, a jewelry designer and mother of one. “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!” she captioned an Instagram post revealing the image.

The striking pic, in which Kelly pulls down her bikini bottoms to show off her horizontal scar, is part of an initiative launched in 2022, aiming to empower women of all shapes and sizes and push forward gender equality. The Pay With Change initiative is a commitment by SI to work with companies dedicated to advancing women’s issues and creating change for them. This year’s partner is Frida Mom, a company that offers innovative baby and postpartum recovery products for new mothers, including a newly launched c-section recovery kit. With Sports Illustrated and Frida Mom’s help, Kelly found her strength after a pregnancy and delivery that left her not feeling like herself.

The model has been candid about her difficult birth and the complications she experienced after her C-section—which included the disappointment of not having a vaginal delivery, a 36-hour labour and a terrifying infection that led to a second surgery following her C-section. “They realized I had a terrible infection due to a collection of water by my uterus,” Kelly said in an accompanying interview. “The doctor told me I would need another surgery to remove it immediately. He continued to say my organs were jumbled up, and he wasn’t sure if I would be able to have children again.” Thankfully, she came away from the experience with a healthy baby boy, Harlem, who is now three years old and an adorable fixture on her Instagram.

Still, Kelly was insecure about her scar, especially being a model in an industry that has long been unforgiving of physical diversity. In an Instagram story, she reflected on her journey to accepting her scar and finding the beauty and strength in it. “We all age, we all have insecurities, we all have things in life that we would maybe just change,” she explained. “But the most important thing that I just wanna share right now is it truly wasn’t until I embraced my scar that I experienced the power in it.”

And best of all, Kelly wasn’t the only trailblazer pushing maternal empowerment in the swimsuit issue this year. The magazine also featured its first visibly pregnant model—Katrina Scott, a 38-year-old fitness personality and entrepreneur. Katrina faced a few bumps in the road to becoming pregnant with her second daughter, including a miscarriage and struggles with infertility. “I was talking to my mom who said years ago, when women would get pregnant, they would hide their bodies and bumps. Then postpartum, they were expected to show how fast they bounced back,” said Katrina, “This is a time and place when women should be proud of their growing and changing bodies.”

So let’s toast a moment when stories about motherhood and real female experiences are being normalized in even the most unlikely of places. Both Kelly and Katrina overcame difficult circumstances, choosing to use them to proudly shed light on struggles that are painfully relatable to so many moms. In Kelly’s words, “the storms will come, and these difficult moments will come, but it’s what you do with them that makes the difference.”

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