Kelly Hughes Makes History as First Sports Illustrated Swim Model to Showcase C-Section Scar

Over the past two decades, Kelly Hughes has witnessed an ongoing revolution within modeling to more accurately reflect the real world. “The industry has done a full 180. When I first started modeling you had to fit very strict sample size/measurements and there were no models under 5’9 except Kate Moss (I love her), so for me breaking into the industry was very hard being that I was not 5’9. They also wanted girls to be sample size with hips 34” or less. Even on my skinniest day I was a 35.5” hip but that was me at 115lb so it would be impossible for my body type to ever be a 34” hip. For some this is their natural body shape, however for many it’s just not possible based on their bone structure and would lead girls to a very extreme diet and unhealthy lifestyle. Thankfully, the industry has taken an incredible turn with inclusion of all body types, sizes, and height and now the doors have been opening for any age as well. People want to feel represented and see someone that looks like them so they can relate.” 

Kelly is also the founder and designer of her own incredibly successful jewelry brand. ”I have a unisex/genderless jewelry brand called HÜES that I started in 2009. HÜES is a spin-off of my last name Hughes because it sounds the same, but hues by definition is the ‘is the attribute of colors that permits them to be classified as red, yellow, green, blue, or an intermediate between any contiguous pair of these colors.’ For me, it was all about representing the ‘in-between’ without any borders or limitations. I wanted the brand to be for everyone where you can have a HÜES piece of jewelry that you identified with or customized yourself. The line is composed primarily of Cuban links in a variety of sizes and mixed metals (sterling silver, brass, gold plated, gunmetal and matte black) with occasional color pops throughout the seasons. We have expanded our line to offer some pieces more feminine in nature including but not limited to pave diamond pieces and solid gold. I still personally hand make/assemble the majority of the pieces but 3 years ago I was inspired by having my son to bring on jewelers for custom molds of our clasps and other machine work I was unable to do on my own in order to elevate the brand to endless possibilities. We sell on our website and at a variety of high-end hotel shops such as The Edition Hotel Miami Beach, Violet & Grace at the One Hotel Miami Beach, BASE Wynwood and Patron of the New NYC. You can find us @byhues on Instagram.” Her many notable clients include JBalvin, Ricky Martin, Chayenne, Zion y Lennox, Alicia Keys, Maxwell, and Young Thug. The bracelets have a universal appeal and can be made as unique as their wearer. “I think being unisex and customizable people feel they connect with the pieces since there aren’t labels on them and the fact that you can create your own and feel you personalized it is so important especially when it comes to jewelry. Funny enough there aren’t as many brands out there that offer this, and people want to own a piece of jewelry that essentially identifies them or their style, so it has to be personal for them to feel comfortable wearing it.”

By far, the Crown Jewel of her life‘s success is her three-year-old son, who was born via C-section following a difficult labor. The complex postpartum emotions were compounded for Kelly by the anxiety to meet the modeling world’s impossibly high standards for post baby bodies. “It was the biggest blessing in the world to become a mother. However, like most moms-to-be I didn’t expect all that I would experience so early on in my first months of motherhood. I think it truly only made me stronger and the bond that I have with my son is unbreakable. Being separated from him for 8 days a few days after birth since I had to return to the hospital with an infection made me value every single second. I think it’s in our weakest moments we learn the most. I didn’t understand why this was happening to me and like many other new moms I struggled with finding the new ‘me’ that I had become in the process because there was no ‘bounce back’ as society puts so much pressure on new moms to do. I think there is so much that could be shared about postpartum because we all have different struggles, some have an easy labor and then struggle mentally, and others struggle physically due to a difficult labor and some struggle with both. However, the mental struggle can last for years when normally the physical can heal much sooner. Being in the modeling industry I felt a huge pressure to be who I was before my pregnancy and that just wasn’t happening as I had planned, and I learned to embrace the process and allow myself to go through every stage at its own pace.”

Kelly’s scar simultaneously represented her most beautiful achievement and her biggest body image challenge. “My scar is how my son came into the world which was the most incredible moment of my life so when I first would look at it, I had mixed feelings and felt bad for not loving it because that is where my son was born from and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. However, overcoming the insecurities and the body changes and truly embracing my scar created a power in me that I have never experienced before. It’s like a superhero power us mothers have, and my scar is my empowerment to always be reminded that I can overcome any obstacle or any difficulty. “It’s quite literally a mark of her perennial resilience. Kelly was able to celebrate her scar in this year’s Sports illustrated Swimsuit issue, ushering in a groundbreaking moment for the industry. “Being the first woman in the magazine’s history to show a c-section scar is a true honor. I was very open with my story about how insecure I was about my scar before I truly embraced it and appreciated all that I went through and who I became by having this scar. So, to come to a point in my life where showing my biggest insecurity in one of the most influential magazines in the world was so incredible for me on a personal level to truly embrace healing from all of the pain I was holding onto. However, to share that with the world and hear that it did the same for so many others is so powerful and truly a complete honor. To look at these photos in SI and see how confident I felt not only in a bikini but showing my scar for the first time and then hearing from everyone how much it impacted them and empowered them made this so much more than any photoshoot I’ve ever done.”

She aims to keep this momentum going with her campaign, #ScarLoveChallenge, in partnership with ESTAS Beauty. “After hundreds of messages and hearing how empowered and represented so many women felt after seeing my photos in Sports illustrated, I felt a responsibility to do something more. I wanted to create a community where we can all come together and encourage each other to embrace the changes in our bodies, especially our scars and I didn’t want to limit it to just C-section scars. I teamed with ESTAS Beauty because they believe in celebrating our scars and taking care of them, not hiding them. I thought how great it would be to create a community where you could see hundreds or thousands of people embracing their scars. The #scarlovechallenge is a place where people can see many photos of others embracing their scars. It serves as a visual inspiration and motivation to be proud rather than ashamed. To join the challenge, all you have to do is post a picture of your scar and #scarlovechallege. We are giving away 3 ESTAS beauty kits and donating $1 per post (up to $1000) to World of Children.” Showcasing public love for scars allows us to be proud of the stories that they represent. “Many times, we hold so much pain in the process and when you truly embrace your scars you can experience the power in them. Every scar has a story, and that story has made you who you are today and that is something to never be ashamed of or hide. My scar means the world to me because I became a mother first off but secondly, I saw how strong I am and not only what I have been able to overcome personally but how my scar has been able to encourage others and it’s such an honor to have been given this opportunity to share my story with you all because so many people are truly struggling inside and overcoming the struggle is in the victory of embracing and loving on them.” The hashtag is the first small step in what will hopefully become a wider embrace of all types of bodies. “I think we need to continue to spread the word and share our stories. There’s a lot of power in social media! I was amazed how underrepresented C-sections are and the fact that 1 in 3 women in this country alone are now having a C-section. That represents a lot of women!! To continue that further there’s even more people with other types of scars and physical differences that we need to normalize in society.” Differences are what make us a vibrant and unapologetically beautiful community. 

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Kelly Hughes Makes History as First Sports Illustrated Swim Model to Showcase C-Section Scar. Photo Credit (in order): Vivian Arthur, Tuto Exposure, Kathy Boos, and Andre Gabb.

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