'Sports Illustrated' Model Walks Runway While Breastfeeding Her 5-Month-Old

"I’m so grateful to be able to share this message and hopefully normalize breastfeeding and also show others that women CAN DO IT ALL!"

Sports Illustrated models are accustomed to wearing provocative designs as they grace runways across the globe. For Mara Martin, however, her most groundbreaking accessory wasn't an accessory at all — it was her 5-month-old daughter, Aria.

While Martin emerged wearing a sparkling one-shoulder, two-piece gold bikini as she walked the 2018 Sports Illustrated Swim Search, spectators were surprised to see the "Sweet 16" finalist breastfeeding her daughter as she strutted down the runway.

Sports Illustrated first posted footage of Martin's "GIRL POWER!" moment on Instagram. According to Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor MJ Day, the decision to send Mara down the runway while breastfeeding wasn't one that was planned out in advance. 

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"It was very spontaneous," Day explained. "When I was talking with the girls backstage prior to the show beginning, I saw that Mara's baby was sleeping and peacefully nursing. I asked Mara if she would want to walk and continue to nurse. She said 'Oh my gosh, yes! Really? Are you sure?', and I said absolutely! I loved the idea to be able to allow Mara to keep nursing and further highlight how incredible and beautiful women are. For me, I nursed two babies myself, so I find it to be one of the most powerful things the female body can do. It was the easiest decision I have had to make in months."

However, it wasn't until the following morning that Martin discovered she'd made headlines "for something [she does] every day."

"Wow! WHAT A NIGHT! Words can't even describe how amazing I feel after being picked to walk the runway for @si_swimsuit. Anyone who knows me, knows it has been a life long dream of mine," Martin wrote on Instagram. "I can't believe I am waking up to headlines with me and my daughter in them for doing something I do every day. It is truly so humbling and unreal, to say the least. I'm so grateful to be able to share this message and hopefully normalize breastfeeding and also show others that women CAN DO IT ALL!"

However, as Martin noted, she truly couldn't understand why her actions provoked headlines as what she did shouldn't be considered newsworthy anymore. "My story of being a mother and feeding her while walking is just that. Last night there are far more deserving headlines that our world should see," Martin explained. "One woman is going to boot camp in two weeks to serve our country (sorry i don't know your IG handle 🤦🏽‍♀️), one woman had a mastectomy (@allynrose), and another is a cancer survivor, 2x paralympic gold medalist, as well as a mother herself (@bren_hucks you rock) Those are the stories that our world should be discussing!!!!"

Martin went on to thank both Day and the entire Sports Illustrated team for empowering her to embrace her body's natural function on this public stage. 

"THANK YOU for letting all 16 of us be our true selves, strong beautiful women!!! Because of you, my daughter is going to grow up in a better world, where she will always feel this way!!!!!! Lastly, to every single woman that rocked that runway with me. Be proud. I know I am of you! You all have inspired me in ways unimaginable. I love you all!!!"

Fans old and new couldn't help but shower the new mother with praise for her defiant, albeit natural, act on-stage. Instagram user natashalhn wrote: "I saw this article (which nursing my baby, amusingly enough) and came to find you on IG to say 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 I also agree wholeheartedly with your caption. Breastfeeding is the biological norm and it shouldn't need to be headline worthy. Thank you for your work to normalize breastfeeding!"

While breastfeeding, especially in public, continues to receive pushback, Martin's last-minute decision demonstrates that popular entertainment and culture can greatly impact the public's perception. If people are exposed to these types of images more often, they might ultimately come to realize breastfeeding is simply a bonding experience between mother and child that allows the infant to grow healthy and strong.

Cover image via Sports Illustrated Swimsuit / Instagram

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