Kelly Hughes Chats With Us About Modeling, Motherhood & Making History In Sports Illustrated

Kelly Hughes’ Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue shoot

If you pick up a copy of Sports Illustrated these days, you might be surprised what you see when it comes to the diversity of models being chosen to grace the covers. Taking note of the cultural shift that is happening in the wider beauty and fashion worlds, the magazine has been making a huge effort to be inclusive, and start cultural conversations about the need to showcase different types of bodies as beautiful.

One of the models recently featured was Kelly Hughes, whose image went viral for a very special reason. The model from Miami, FL, broke barriers in this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue being the first model to highlight her cesarean section scar, which has never happened in the magazine’s 58-year history! This is a big deal not only for representation, but because of Kelly’s personal story of how she ended up needing a C-section.

When she found out she was pregnant, Kelly immediately started realizing her birthing plan. After weekly birthing classes, and countless doctor visits, the most important day of her life had arrived, and she was ready to give birth. Kelly quickly realized that her birthing plans would have to shift as she had a lengthy labor. She and her doctor ultimately agreed that a c-section was the best choice for her and 30 minutes later she met her beautiful, healthy boy for the first time. She was sent home with a clean bill of health. However unbeknownst to her she had a serious infection and had to be rushed back to the hospital 2 days later.

Kelly had to have emergency surgery to reopen her c-section which was successful but it left her with two additional scars. Even though Kelly’s birth experience was far from what she was expected, knowing her son was healthy was all that mattered to her, and she is thankful that her c-section was able to keep her baby boy healthy and allow him to be delivered successfully. This is why having more visibility about her scar and the subsequent conversations happening are so impactful.

Along with being one of this year’s most talked about swimsuit models, Kelly is also a single mother to her 3-year-old son as well as the founder and designer of the jewelry brand, HÜES. Her designs have been worn by JBalvin, Ricky Martin, Chayenne, Zion y Lennox, Alicia Keys, Maxwell, Young Thug, and many more.

Now, the model is continuing to embrace the outpouring of love she’s received from the mama community to showcase others and lift them up. She has 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 Kelly’s photo showing off their own scars using the # and challenging their friends to join the movement. Every time a #ScarLoveChallenge photo is posted, ESTAS will donate $1 to World of Children, helping disadvantaged children around the globe.

We had the opportunity to chat with the model mama about her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue shoot, how motherhood changed her perspective and mission in her modeling career, and what she hopes everyone with scars will love about themselves more after reading her story.

Kelly Hughes’ Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue shoot

Can you first tell us how your modeling career began? 

I was 17 years old working in a salon and one of the makeup artists there asked me if I wanted to take some photos. At that time I didn’t know anything about modeling or the industry. They told me to submit the pictures to some local agencies so I gave it a try and one of them took me on.

We were so excited to see you featured in Sports Illustrated, bearing your C-Section scar proudly! How did this opportunity come about, and did you ever have doubts about showing this part of your body?

This was an incredible story because a friend of mine who’s a model and also a mom that lives in NYC (Erin Williams) mentioned to me that Sports Illustrated was looking for someone with a c-section scar for their next photoshoot. I mentioned it to my agency and they reached out to them and later I found out I got the job. I was up for doing the shoot because Sports Illustrated is one of the most prestigious magazines in the industry, however, I definitely had my doubts and concerns because I had never shown my scar before.

The first time I even took a picture of my scar was when I submitted photos to my agency to be cast for this job. I was very open about the fact that I was very insecure about my scar, however, I was up for the challenge and was hoping it would help people as well. When I got to the photoshoot, MJ Day, the editor of Sports Illustrated made me feel so incredibly comfortable. She made my biggest insecurity feel like the most beautiful thing in the world and this made me realize that our scars are beautiful and I shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to show them. In turn, it resonated with so many others feeling the same way.

What does it mean to you personally to see so many moms respond to your image, sharing their own motherhood stories and body image stories?

It was so much more than any other photoshoot I’ve ever done because it wasn’t just a pretty picture in a magazine. To hear from each and every person that DM’d me on my Instagram, (@kellyhues) or came up to me in person and shared their story (and it wasn’t only moms it was people with all types of scars or just insecurities about their bodies, etc) meant the world to me.

This is the type of impact fashion should be having on the world as I struggled with it for so many years and no one was talking about it. The fact that these photos inspired, encouraged, and empowered so many women meant so much to me personally and really was a game changer in the industry because it was so underrepresented.

SI has been doing some groundbreaking work in the representation of its models. What do you think will be the long-lasting impact of showing more diversity of human bodies and experiences on their covers and pages?

They are truly paving the way for the fashion industry and they are such an incredible positive driving force that is representing such a beautiful shift and movement in society. I think we still have a long way to go for the entire industry to truly embrace the change so I think the more we continue to show diversity and continue this conversation representing all women and bodies, there will be a long-lasting impact that changes people from the inside out.  

I think it will change people’s idea of what beauty is. The fashion industry has ingrained in us such a narrow idea of beauty in their marketing that it made women feel bad about themselves. So this was a much-needed change. 

There is still such stigma around scars, and “imperfections”, which the advertising and fashion world has a lot to answer for. How can beauty images play a role in dismantling this stigma for everyday people?

Fashion plays such a huge role in people’s lives whether it directly impacts you or if it’s more of a secondary impact. However, we are all influenced by it. In the past, fashion had a very narrow view of a woman’s body type that not many could relate to it at all because there was no room for imperfections, and that’s not realistic for most of us because we all have them.

For example statistically 60-80% of women feel pressure to be skinner and this comes from the influence of what fashion is portraying. With fashion embracing and normalizing all body types and not retouching scars or other imperfections I think it will make people feel seen and represented and more people will feel beautiful the way they are because we won’t feel the pressure from society.

There’s also the motherhood factor – where so many women are invisibilized or brushed aside once they become moms. Bearing your scar is a proud symbol of your motherhood. Can you tell us more about the need to showcase mothers as sexual, beautiful, complex, flawed and whole human beings in mainstream magazines? 

This is something that is extremely under represented in the market. There is a stigma in society that life is over when you have a child. I feel that it comes from the past where a woman stayed home and raised children, and that’s primarily what we did. We weren’t allowed to be honest and say we had flaws, or weren’t holding it all together perfectly, or needed help or we would be judged and frowned-upon. However, today women are now not only mothers, but we are entrepreneurs, top executives, creators, actors, models, wives, writers, etc all while also being a mom.

Life definitely doesn’t end when you become a Mom, I feel like it’s a new start at life all over again. We juggle so many aspects of life and wear many hats. I think that a woman can be so beautiful and sexy and be allowed to have accomplishments and then have imperfections. We also need to allow grace and understand that moms definitely can “do it all” and that should be cherished. It should be seen as “sexy” what we as mothers accomplish, not just the way we physically look.

Model and business woman Kelly Hughes with her son.

You are the owner of a super successful jewelry line called HÜES. Can you tell us why you started the brand, and some of the celebs who have worn your pieces?

I was a full-time model and there was a pullback in the economy in 2009, so I started working in a restaurant one day a week for extra income. It was there that I realized I had a god-given talent to make jewelry I didn’t even know I had. I loved to create and make things that I couldn’t find in the stores, so I made my manager a bracelet because I was so inspired by the bracelets he was wearing from Greece. I wanted the brand to be unisex because I knew if I made pieces for men, then women would wear them.

However, at that time they didn’t have anything that was gender neutral and I always went to the mens section to find accessories and watches, etc so I didn’t want to put any gender label on it. I wanted it to be a brand for everyone without limitations. Celebs that have worn it have included, JBalvin, Maxwell, Alicia Keys, Romeo Santos, Daddy Yankee, Ricky Martin, Chayenne and more. HÜES can be found at www.byhues.com

As a single mom juggling a thriving modeling career and your own jewelry business, what is the legacy you want to pass on to your son, as well as share with the world?

My hope is that I raise my son first and foremost to have strong values and that he should fight for what he believes in and never quit or stop because someone says no.

For anyone reading about your story, and seeing your SI image for the first time, what do you want them to know, or think about when it comes to their own body image?

I want them to know there is power in embracing your scars and/or body changes in life and to feel beautiful, represented, and not alone in their journey!


You can follow along with Kelly Hughes’ inspiring journey in motherhood, modeling via her Instagram, and follow all things HÜES on Instagram and their Website.

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