For the first time in her modeling career, and for the first time in the history of the Sports Illustrated “Swimsuit” issue, Kelly Hughes was asked to show off something she thought she would always have to hide: her C-Section scar.
Partnering with Frida Mom as part of its Pay With Change Initiative, the inclusion of Hughes in the 2022 issue aims to normalize the scars shared by an estimated 1.1 million women who give birth via Cesarean section each year. This method of birthing, sometimes chosen and sometimes not, has a load of stigma surrounding it, especially in comparison to the “traditional” vaginal birth. But Hughes and Frida Mom founder and CEO Chelsea Hirschhorn hope this alters the conversations we’re having about it.
“I didn’t want a C-section because I felt this immediate pressure when I got pregnant. I was very excited, but the first thing you think about is, How long am I going to be able to work up until showing that you’re pregnant? And then once you’re showing, How long is it going to take to recover?” Hughes told the Cut. “My focus was on how I need to recover as fast as possible to get back to work.”
Three years ago, when having her son, Hughes had planned to hypno-birth, but after being in labor for 36 hours, her doctors made the call that she needed a C-section. While she had planned and wanted a natural birth, things changed, and she quickly learned her first lesson in motherhood: “It’s not about me, and I have to make sure that my child is safe.” And she was disappointed, but only because she knew she would have a longer, harder recovery standing in the way of getting back to work.
Not only is the recovery process a complication, but the stigma that surrounds a C-section — like the idea that it is not actually giving birth — can be overbearing. Along with this shoot, Frida Mom’s advertising on the opposite page boasts the message “All great achievements leave their mark.” The brand recently launched a C-section-recovery line, and Hirschhorn’s work on the Sports Illustrated advisory board is part of the reason there was a push for this inclusion. If anything, it’s a step in the right direction for Sports Illustrated, and Hughes hopes this helps women feel proud of themselves for laboring no matter which way they do it.
“I just hope that this normalizes the process of whatever birth method that you choose because the most important thing is that you’re healthy and your baby’s healthy,” Hughes said.