A Groundbreaking Moment

Model Bares C-Section Scar In The 2022 ‘Sports Illustrated’ Swimsuit Issue

Kelly Hughes tells Scary Mommy, "This photoshoot made me feel more confident than ever."

Kelly Hughes shows her C-section scar in SI Swim 2022.
Fumie for SI Swimsuit 2022

For the first time in Sports Illustrated’s 58-year history, the magazine’s Swimsuit Issue features a model showing off her C-section scar in celebration of the moms who bare them.

Thanks to a partnership with the brand Frida Mom, which aims to positively shift mainstream narratives associated with women’s bodies, the Swim edition features Kelly Hughes proudly showing her scar in a bikini. The photo appears beside the words “all great achievements leave their mark.”

“I have never shown my scar before and it’s very personal to me,” Hughes told Scary Mommy about her experience shooting the groundbreaking photo. “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 bares her C-section scar in an already iconic image in Sports Illustrated.

Fumie for SI Swimsuit 2022

Hughes, who has a 3-year-old son named Harlem, says it took time both mentally and physically for her to embrace the mark, especially while existing in an industry that is so body conscious. Now, she’s fully accepted — and more importantly — embraced it.

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

More than 1.2 million women in America have babies via C-Section every year, which means cesareans account for nearly a third of U.S. births. Yet, despite how common and needed the procedure is, some moms who experience it are left with both a physical and emotional scar — of disappointment, failure, or shame. Unplanned C-sections cause women to mourn their birth plans while cultural misconception labels the surgery as “an easy way out” compared to vaginal delivery. Of course, that’s anything but true.

In continued efforts to support mothers, Frida Mom recently launched C-Section Recovery, a product line designed to improve the maternal post-op recovery experience. By partnering with Sports Illustrated for the Pay For Change initiative, they hope to amplify ongoing efforts to disrupt the traditional narratives about motherhood and acknowledge the power of the female body.

“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, told Scary Mommy of the magazine’s inclusion of honest images of women, including pregnant and postpartum moms.

“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 continued.

Hughes, who had an unplanned C-section at 41 weeks and required another surgery eight days postpartum due to a serious infection, 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 told Scary Mommy. “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. It's my story and I will wear it like a badge of honor for the rest of my life.”

Kelly Hughes and her son, Harlem.

In addition to Hughes, models Katrina Scott and Hunter McGrady both pose in the issue — one during the early days of pregnancy, the other six months postpartum. It’s photo shoots like these that “show honest portrayals of motherhood,” Hirschhorn, who is due to welcome her fourth child any day now, added.

“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 is 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.”

The SI Swimsuit issue is on newsstands May 16.