Model & Advocate
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Sweet 16
Mom to Aria
We’ve been developing a friendship with the lovely Mara, and couldn't be more grateful for her work as an advocate for all moms out there. You probably know her from going viral when she breastfed her beautiful daughter, Aria, on the runway at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit competition in Miami this year.
Throughout this experience, Mara has been humble and still shocked that she made headlines with something "women do every single day for their babies." We are proud to call Mara a friend and to share her story with all of you. She is real and authentic, and shares what her unique return to work was like including advice for all working moms out there.
The Returnity Project: Tell us about yourself and about your experience returning to work after having beautiful Aria.
Mara Martin: Hi everyone! My name is Mara Martin, and I am the mother to my beautiful 10 month old daughter, Aria. Years ago I obtained my Bachelors degree from the University of Georgia. Right after graduation, I was scouted by a modeling agency and moved to LA to pursue a life long dream. Eventually I moved to Miami where I lived and worked for 6 years as a model. During that time, I met my fiancé, Ryan who is Canadian, and I decided to take a much needed break from modeling and move to Canada with him. After a couple of years, we decided that we wanted to start a family together, and nine months later Aria was here! I wanted to raise Aria in the States so we moved to Florida when she was born. At first I wasnt sure about returning to work after having her, because I was trying to figure out the new mom thing and wasn’t sure what I would do or could do. To be honest I didn’t want to go back to work. I didn’t know how I could be a mom and something else. It seemed like it would be impossible. But then, opportunity knocked on our door and I had to take it. Because modeling is not like a typical 9-5 job, you have to really put yourself out there and take chances. And when I heard about the Sports Illustrated first ever open casting call, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t go. That casting was my first day as a model and a mom.
TRP: Did you find that your views about work and career changed after having Aria?
MM: For me in my profession, I have never been more motivated than now. Having my daughter has made me want to be the best version of myself, for her. She is my ultimate reason for everything I do. With that being said, I feel like for me there has to be a balance of work and motherhood. At the beginning when she was very little, it was hard for me to see myself as anything but a mother. But as she has gotten older, I have become so much more aware of one fact: that every mother is so much more than that. We are multifaceted people and I want to celebrate that. We are mothering and working and doing so much more in a way that is a fit for both ourselves, and our family.
TRP: You made headlines when you breastfed your daughter on the runway at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit show in Miami this year. You wrote a heartfelt post on Instagram the day after your catwalk appearance saying you couldn’t believe this was a headline. We are proud of you for normalizing the stigma of breastfeeding so thank you for advocating for all moms! Will you tell us more about this experience and the momentum that has followed?
MM: This story is becoming one of my favorite stories to tell. I have to start with a little background information first though. So, as I stated earlier, prior to getting pregnant I was a model for 6 years. I took that much needed break when I was pregnant and wasn’t sure I would go back after having her. At about five months postpartum, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit decided to hold their first ever in person open call casting call in Miami. Coincidentally, we had just moved to Key Largo, Florida which was about an hour and a half away. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit was always this pipe dream of mine as a model, so the fact that they were offering an opportunity to be casted for their issue was something I could not pass up.
Being new to our area, we had no friends or family, and to attend this casting I would have to take Aria with me or not go all together. I decided to take her. The first day, Aria and I showed up at 6 am and to my surprise, 5000 other girls were also there. I waited in line with a diaper bag and Aria in my hands and waited my turn. It was a long day, I think it ended up being 11 hours. I went home that day feeling so accomplished. Not only did I attend a casting for my dream job, but I was there with my daughter. I breastfed, changed and carried a 20 lb baby in heels all day, and by the end of the day I had met with the editor, MJ Day, for my dream job. It was a day I will never forget and I remember thinking about how excited I was to share the story of this day with my daughter one day. Little did I know that this was just the beginning.
That night we got the call that we made it to the next day of the casting, where just 67 girls out of thousands were asked. We were elated to say the least. Ryan was off work so he could come with me to help with Aria this time. Because she is exclusively breastfed, she was a part of the 2 day casting process, and the crew and other girls got to know her well! After a morning of interviews, I found out that, to my disbelief, I had been chosen as one of the 16 finalists and we would be doing a Sports Illustrated Runway show the next day! Because Aria was a part of the process, the editor asked if I wanted to walk with her in one of my looks. I thought it was an awesome idea because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we could do together.
So, the day of the show comes and I get her ready in her little bikini with me and patiently waited backstage with her, waiting our turn. The show kept getting pushed back and she began to get hungry backstage, so like I did throughout the casting process and every day, I breastfed her. Shortly after I started, the show was about to start, and just at that moment the editor saw me and said that if I wanted to walk out while nursing, that she supported me! So I went for it. I truly didn’t think about it or what it would do but I am so glad I did it. That moment impacted so many women around the world for many different reasons. It wasn’t just about normalizing breastfeeding, it was also about a mother being confident in her postpartum body, chasing a lifelong dream, working, while taking care of her baby. Showing everyone, that women can do it all.
Since that moment it’s been such an incredible experience for my family and I. We have interviewed with every major magazine, TV station and radio station, and have received letters, emails, and gifts from people around the world thanking me for what I did. So much love and support has been shown to my little family. So many doors have opened for me career wise, and I am running through them! It’s been and continues to be such a rewarding experience for me!
TRP: As a new mom, how did you go about advocating for yourself and your needs as a mother and professional in the modeling world?
MM: It was very difficult to even think about doing something for myself that didn’t involve having Aria by my side. And still for the most part, she always is. But it is important to make sure as a new mother that you know putting your professional needs first doesn’t mean you are not being a mother too. So many times, women are expected to just be a mother or just be a working professional, but not both. But we can have both if that’s what you want.
Having a career is showing your child that you are putting them first and setting an example for them to follow. Everything I do at home or in regards to work has to do with Aria in some way, shape or form. If I am home with her, she is what I’m taking care of, but if I am away working, she is what I am working for. Everything I do will always be for her. I hope by doing this, Aria one day will see me as a role model to pursue her dreams no matter what stands in her way.
TRP: What is the one piece of advice you’d give new moms coming back to work?
MM: Whether you decide to be a stay at home mom, go back to work a few weeks after having your child, or spend a longer time at home before returning to work, if you are doing what you think is best for your child, yourself, and your family, then that’s all that matters. Of course it is normal to doubt if you are doing what is best for your child. That is only because you love and care for them so much. Just know that there are so many women out there that have those same doubts and worries. You are not alone in these thoughts! Never forget that by you going to work, you are setting an incredible example for your child and are doing what’s best for your family.
TRP: Anything else you want to share?
MM: To all the mothers out there, whether you are balancing a job and motherhood or you’re a full-time stay at home mom; I see you and see all of your hard work. You are doing an incredible job and never forget that! I hope as mothers we can join together and be each other’s biggest fans. We are in this together!
Model & Advocate
Learn more about Mara via her Instagram handle @_maramartin_, and visit her newly launched website "A Model Mom" here: