Like many people, Mara Martin celebrated her college graduation by taking a vacation. But unlike most, that one little trip changed the course of her career — and her life. During the University of Georgia® grad’s post-graduation trip in December 2009 to Miami, she was scouted by a modeling agency. Soon after being discovered, Martin moved there, where she modeled full-time for six years, shooting with brands such as Target®, Roxy®, Kohl’s® and OndadeMar® Swimwear.
The 33-year-old’s breakthrough moment in the industry presented itself when she went through another giant life transformation — becoming a mother to her daughter, Aria (who is now one and a half years old). “For years while I was modeling, I never was able to get the big break that every model dreamed of,” explains Martin. It was months after giving birth in 2018 that she discovered she qualified as one of the final 16 Sports Ill ustrated® models in an open casting call.
That July, Martin paced down the catwalk, with her breast exposed, feeding her 5-month old baby. The world was watching — and applauding. That gig led to more modeling opportunities, including a recent major milestone. During New York Fashion Week™ in September 2019 — about one year after Aria’s S.I. runway debut — Martin and her little one participated in designer Rebecca Minkoff's presentation.
“I have always dreamed of walking in NYFW®, so to do it at this stage in my career — in my thirties, as a mother, as a size 8 — is a true testament that the fashion world is changing,” says Martin, who is currently writing a book and living in West Palm Beach, Florida. “Never give up on your dreams if you want something bad enough,” she adds. “Timing is everything!”
Martin knows a lot about timing — and balancing a busy schedule. Keep reading to learn how she manages it all, from working and motherhood to being in the company of her beau (Aria’s dad), Ryan.
Spotlyte: You accidentally became a crusader for normalizing breastfeeding. What's it like to be the poster child for a movement that is so meaningful to so many women?
MM: Like you said, it isn’t something I meant to happen. Just before they announced the start of the S.I. show, Aria was hungry, so I started feeding her, and then the show suddenly started. The rest is history. It was not planned in any way.
Spotlyte: How did this runway moment align with your personal philosophy?
MM: I am a firm believer in putting your child first, and that a mother has the right to feed their child when they want, how they want, and where they want. I also believe that being a mother is not a weakness, but our greatest strength. There should be no limitations to a mother being able to both work and take care of her child.
Spotlyte: How has breastfeeding your daughter on the runway propelled this position?
MM: I am so humbled that I can help in a small way to advocate and push for the normalization of breastfeeding worldwide. It’s something many mothers have had poor experiences with, especially in public. It makes me happy to see so much more attention to it in the media these days, bringing to light that breastfeeding is a normal and wonderful thing. It shouldn’t be the mother that is scorned when they feed their child. Rather, it should be those that look and speak negatively to those mothers who should be educated and realize that feeding your child should be celebrated.
Spotlyte: You describe yourself as “pro-mom.” What does that mean?
MM: I always say I’m “pro-mom,” meaning, whatever is best for you and works for you is what I support. As big of an advocate as I am for breastfeeding, I also support those who choose not to. Breastfeeding has truly been a magical experience for me, but might not be for others. And that’s OK! We are all in this crazy journey of motherhood together, and should support each other’s decisions as parents.
Spotlyte: What was your family's reaction when they saw you breastfeeding on the runway?
MM: They have all been incredibly supportive and proud of me. I came from a small town, and my whole town has always rallied around me and my career, and has been proud of what I do.
Spotlyte: Who has been your biggest supporter at Sports Illustrated?
MM: The whole S.I. team was incredibly supportive from day one, and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to get as far as I did in the competition. They are a group of amazing people that continue to push and break barriers for women.
[Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editor] M.J. Day, of course, will always be one of the people that forever changed my life. She came up to me moments before I was supposed to walk and said, “If you want to walk while breastfeeding, go for it. I fully support you.” And, after the show, she never failed to support the decision I made to walk to runway with Aria. I look up to her in many ways because she has been a huge factor in the shift of the fashion world, as well as the world in general, for body positivity and inclusiveness.
Spotlyte: Specifically, how does M.J. Day promote body positivity and inclusiveness?
MM: On a daily basis, she continues to push the boundaries and show women and men everywhere that beauty comes in many forms, and that we are more than just our appearance. She also wears so many hats, like many women. She’s a mother, wife, and magazine editor, among other things, and juggles all of them with so much power and grace. She will forever be someone I look up to!
Spotlyte: In your personal life, who has been your biggest cheerleader?
MM: Outside of S.I., [my partner] Ryan has always been my biggest supporter. In everything I do, throughout every crazy dream I have continued to chase, he has always been there to support me. Even before the S.I. runway show — where M.J. suggested I could walk with Aria breastfeeding — he was right there to support me, cheering for me, and telling me to keep going even when it was incredibly tough. I am so lucky to have someone that not only supports what I do, but pushes me to seek new dreams and do more.
Spotlyte: What advice do you have for people looking to break into the modeling industry?
MM: Never stop pushing to make your dreams happen. It sounds obvious. If you want something: don’t stop working for it. The modeling industry can be very hard — not only physically, but mentally. It’s definitely not for everyone. But, if you have a dream, the only person that can stop you from chasing that dream is yourself. I have been told “no” hundreds of times, and it was very hard. Sometimes it hurt, sometimes I wanted to quit. But, if that is the dream you have, stay true to who you are, and keep pushing.
Spotlyte: What products are in your personal beauty closet?
MM: I am really not a big makeup person, but I am learning. My daily life consists of me being at home, so I try to keep a clean face. I will say that having a good mascara you love can make all the difference in looking awake! I also love using blush to brighten up my otherwise makeup-free face.
Spotlyte: What products do you use every day?
MM: I always use makeup removers, even when I’m not wearing much. We pick up so much dirt daily, and it’s always nice to have a clean face before bed. I can’t remember which celebrity said this, but our skin is the one thing we wear every single day, so we should take care of it. It’s so true. I wish I would have realized that back in my twenties, when I loved tanning beds and never washed my face!
Spotlyte: What is your stance on anti-aging?
MM: If you want to dye your hair because you don’t like grey, awesome. If you want to rock the silver fox look, more power to you. Whatever makes you feel best is what I believe in. For me, I’m in the middle right now. I want to look young and youthful, but I also appreciate all my body has been through.
Spotlyte: Do you get facials?
MM: Being so busy with work and Aria, it’s hard to find the time to do facials. Sheet masks are a girl’s best friend!
Spotlyte: Have you tried injectable wrinkle reducer?
MM: I have! I use injectable wrinkle reducer in my forehead and in between my eyebrows! I see Dr. Zarreii in Delray Beach. I had a spot on my forehead that was all I could see when I looked at photos. I tried it and loved the results. Today’s society is getting better at accepting women and men who want to use [injectables]. I’m all about what makes you happy, everyone else’s opinion doesn’t matter!
[Editor’s note: Injectable wrinkle reducers are used to temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face such as the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet. They should not be used more frequently than every three months. Like any medical treatment, they have potential risks and side effects. Be sure to talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you. Have more questions? Chat with our team of trained aesthetics specialists now.]
Spotlyte: What is your mantra, and why?
MM: I have been known to say that we can do it all. Women can do anything they want to do. Every one’s “all” is different, though. Whether you’re a working mom, or stay-at-home mom, whatever fulfills you is your “all.” I truly believe that we as women are so incredible in what our bodies and minds are able to do. It feels like I am doing a million things at once each day. I think how impressive we all are. To this day, I can’t believe that I carried a baby for nine months, birthed her, and am now feeding her with that same body. I feel being a mother is my superpower!