Kelly Hughes made history this summer when she became the first model to bare her cesarean-section scar for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition in the magazine’s 58-year history.
The outlet partnered with Frida Mom to raise awareness of Pay With Change, an initiative aimed to “positively shift the mainstream cultural narratives associated with women’s bodies – especially when becoming a mom.”
The proud model and mom wore a nude-hued skimpy string bikini for the 2022 issue which features Kim Kardashian, Maye Musk, Ciara and Yumi Nu as this year’s cover girls.
Hughes delivered her now 3-year-old son via cesarean. She joins Katrina Scott, 2021’s Rookie of the Year, who was photographed when she was six and a half months pregnant, as well as Hunter McGrady, who posed for the outlet six months postpartum.
After Hughes’ photo went viral, the founder and designer of the jewelry brand HÜES partnered with ESTAS Beauty to start the #ScarLoveChallenge on social media to spread a feeling of empowerment and change the societal stigma around scars. The challenge encourages participants to reinterpret Hughes’ photo showing off their scars. Every time a #ScarLoveChallenge photo is posted, ESTAS will donate $1 to World of Children, helping disadvantaged children around the globe.
Hughes spoke to Fox News Digital about the struggles she endured during labor, the insecurities she faced after giving birth, as well as how she now responds to negative comments on Instagram.
Fox News: How did you get involved with SI Swimsuit?
Kelly Hughes: One of my friends in New York, who is also a model, saw that they were looking for a girl with a C-section scar, and they were shooting in the Florida Keys, which is close to me as I’m in Miami. I reached out to my agency, they proposed me and that’s how I got the job. It’s so wonderful because my friend is also a mother. And without her, I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity. So it’s beautiful to see one mother supporting another mother.
Fox News: Take us back to your shoot. What was that like?
Hughes: I had a million things running through my mind before I even started shooting. I had never shown my scar before. And I have been really open with how I struggled with insecurities around my scar. I originally didn’t want a C-section because the bounce back was going to be much harder being that I’m a model.
Society just puts so much pressure on you to “bounce back.” I wasn’t a size two anymore. I wasn’t doing too much modeling in a bikini in the first place. So it was scary at first to show my biggest insecurity in a magazine like Sports Illustrated. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be received.
Fox News: How were you received on set?
Hughes: As soon as I arrived, the editor just made me feel so confident and beautiful. She turned my insecurity into the most beautiful thing in the world. She just made me feel so much better about my scar. I felt so much more confident about myself. I just looked at my scar in the mirror and I realized I shouldn’t have to feel so insecure about this anymore. And when it was time to shoot, everyone reacted the same way. They made me feel so empowered and inspired. I imagine how many beautiful women they’ve seen, and now I get to be part of that representation. The experience was a healing one for me. It just really helped me to overcome my insecurities.
Fox News: How important was it for you to show off your C-section scar despite your insecurities?
Hughes: To be honest, I had no idea how much this would impact people. But my photo went viral all over the world. This is something I probably wouldn’t have done before, but I also didn’t see myself in the same way I see myself now. And I think it’s beautiful that a magazine like Sports Illustrated is showing a woman with a C-section and saying, “she’s beautiful.” Now, I realize how important that photo is to me because I had no idea how underrepresented this was.
Apparently, one in three women are having C-sections now – that’s a large number of women. But this doesn’t just resonate with women who have C-sections. This also resonates with women who have scars in general and are insecure about them. The fashion industry has evolved, and they’re finally starting to embrace different women. We don’t have to all look the same. So this photo represents so much more than a C-section scar… I feel a true responsibility to continue this conversation.
Fox News: What went through your mind when you saw your photo for the first time?
Hughes: I just kept saying “wow” *laughs*. I will never forget that moment. We shot with six different bathing suits that day to have options. And for some reason, the moment I shot that picture, I just knew it was going to be chosen. It just shows pure joy. And I think that’s what we should feel when we look at our scars. It represents we overcame something difficult, and we’re here.
You know in the fashion industry, nobody wants to show cellulite. Nobody wants to show scars. But these things are normal, and they should be normalized. And when you see my photo, you just see pure joy. I was so insecure about my scar, but it also represents the most beautiful moment of my life because my son was born. So I should feel joy.
Fox News: Some critics have said, “SI Swimsuit is a magazine of women in bikinis. Do we really need to see this?” What would you tell those people?
Hughes: It’s interesting, I was shocked that about 99% of people that reached out to me have been supportive. Even the press I received after my photo went viral was supportive. Sure, sometimes people like to make their comments – it is Instagram – but I’ve gotten an overwhelming number of positive comments from both men and women. Of course, you still get comments like “who cares?” or “she’s half-naked” or “we don’t want to see this” – all those comments are generic. And the truth is, there will always be people out there who want to dim your light.
All I can say is I don’t understand how someone can make negative comments, especially on someone’s social media posts. There’s no need for it. You don’t gain anything from that. But the overwhelming amount of positive comments from people proves that something like this was needed. This is about representation. Think about those mothers out there with C-section scars wearing a bikini at the beach. Sometimes it peeks out.
I’ve received so many messages from women telling me they’ve felt so insecure going to the beach that they buy a bigger bikini or just choose to wear a one-piece to avoid the scrutiny. They go out of their way to not show the scar because they’re insecure about it. They’re worried about what people may say or think. Now, Sports Illustrated is having that conversation. It was so needed. You shouldn’t need to accommodate everyone else just so they can feel better. You’re so much more than any negative comment someone may have to say.
Now, I’m getting messages from women telling me how empowered they feel, and how confident they feel to wear that bikini again after having a baby. I hope that when people see my photo, they’ll feel encouraged to embrace themselves and give themselves grace. I look at my scar now, and I’m proud of what I went through. 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.
Fox News: In 2018 you became a mom. But it sounded like you endured some challenges. What happened?
Hughes: My son was born in November 2018. During my pregnancy, I had nausea and all the typical things, but it wasn’t anything severe. I had a good pregnancy and I thought I was going to have a natural labor. I have read everything about natural labor, and I was ready for it. I never opened the door to the possibility of a C-section. I just wanted to bounce back as quickly as possible. I knew a C-section meant a longer recovery. But when I was in labor, unfortunately [the doctors] realized that my hips weren’t aligned. They were a bit shifted, which happens a lot in pregnancy. I didn’t realize this until it was time.
I had a very long labor – I was about 36 hours in, and I wasn’t dilating past seven centimeters. That’s when they recommended a C-section. At first, I was like, “no, no, no.” But that was my first lesson in motherhood – you can’t plan for everything. I didn’t want to put my son’s health at risk or of course, my own. So I finally agreed. But two days later after I went home, I became really sick. I went back to the hospital, and it turned out I had a really bad infection. I spent eight days in the hospital and I underwent another surgery to remove the infection. Being separated from my son was so difficult. I wasn’t in the maternity unit anymore, and they didn’t want him in the hospital.
I just felt horrible. Like why did this happen to me? What did I do wrong? New moms especially, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we just want everything to be perfect. And the truth is, I don’t think this is discussed enough. There needs to be more conversations and education on all the million things that can happen during labor. But the most important thing is for mom and baby to be healthy. I wanted this perfect, natural birth to happen. It didn’t – and that’s OK. My son is here and so am I.
Fox News: After you gave birth and were recovering, did you still feel pressure to “bounce back” or look a certain way?
Hughes: I wish I could tell you that pressure went away I gave birth. It definitely didn’t. And I’m very honest about this… I’ve been modeling for 22 years. I have seen the fashion industry evolve in the last year and a half. But that shift hadn’t happened when I gave birth in November 2018. I did feel that pushback when I tried going back to work. I didn’t look the same as I did before. I certainly didn’t have the confidence.
I was very insecure. And I don’t think I was fully embraced quite yet. As a mom, you don’t always have time to go to the gym. Sometimes you don’t have time at all. And eating became whatever was in the house 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. But the truth is, once you give birth to a new person, you are not the same. So you shouldn’t feel pressure to be the same as you were before… It took time to finally embrace my scar and that’s OK. I no longer feel like I should be ashamed of it.
Fox News: What’s motherhood like today?
Hughes: It’s a blessing. I’m still modeling. My son and I did a photo shoot together for a company that offers clothing for breastfeeding moms. He was two months old. It was a little difficult because I wasn’t fully healed. I was still recovering from two surgeries. But it was an amazing experience. We’ve done quite a few photo shoots with him, and it’s been wonderful being with my son. He’s now three and a half, and it’s incredible.
He’s like my best friend. I feel like we’re closer than ever. We’re making up for that time that we were separated while I was at the hospital. I appreciate every single second of the day, and we spend all of our time together. I bring him everywhere I go. I value every single moment.