Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model Ella Halikas shares where she gets her 'delusional confidence' from

"I want to be a trailblazer for all these conversations that no one's willing to have and talk about," Halikas says.

Ella Halikas can't keep her confidence-boosting methods a secret. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Yahoo Life)
Ella Halikas can't keep her confidence-boosting methods a secret. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Yahoo Life)

It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series, delving into the journeys of influential and inspiring figures as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love mean to them.

Ella Halikas won't forget what it felt like when she was turned away from a Los Angeles nightclub in Nov. 2022. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model and content creator was left outside the door as her thinner friends were warmly welcomed by the bouncer. She ran into a fellow plus-size creator who was met with the same up-and-down glare as Halikas was when she reached the front of the line. "Not tonight," is what the bouncer said to both women after surveying their bodies and steering them away.

The two took to TikTok to share the experience, noting that they weren't using their platforms to simply complain. Instead, they were eager to start a conversation about size discrimination and how it continues to impact curvy women.

"I want to be a trailblazer for all these conversations that no one's willing to have and talk about," Halikas tells Yahoo Life. "We need people to get on board. We need people to share it. We need other people to chime in. And that's kind of how it starts."

She calls it a "trickle effect," likening it to her personal journey of body confidence, which has been years of hard work.

"I wasn't always confident, I actually was a lot smaller. I played soccer for 15 years and swam and did basketball and dance, so I was very, very athletic," she explains. "I didn't start getting curvy and develop into a curvier body until junior year of high school. And then in college, I had gained probably 20 pounds as well. So this body is a newer body for me."

Her changing body was something that Halikas was ashamed about for a long time, after years of fatphobic sentiments from family, friends and society at large. "Certain family members telling me, 'You look bigger,' certain people being like, 'Is she OK? She gained a lot of weight recently,'" she recalls.

It made her double down on unhealthy efforts to make sure that wasn't true.

"I definitely struggled with binging where I would deprive myself and just eat only like chicken and rice every day from the dining hall. Then me and my friends would literally have binge episodes because we'd be like, 'We did so well,'" she recalls. "I'd wake up and walk through snow to go to the gym every morning at like 5 a.m. before class, just because if I didn't I wasn't gonna get skinny or whatever. ... I used to think that the more weight I'd lose, the happier I'd be."

Halikas says she would punish herself for eating certain foods and stopping by mirrors for frequent body checks. "It controlled my every waking thought," she says.

The only reason she decided to break the cycle was because she eventually became tired of it.

"I'm tired of not being happy with my body and I'm tired of feeling tired," Halikas remembers thinking when she transferred from her school in Washington to attend college in Hawaii for her sophomore year. "You get pushed to a certain point mentally with these thoughts and patterns that are so detrimental to your mental health and well being, you really just want to end it. I just got pushed to that point, like a breaking point. And then I had that shift of like, OK, I'm done. I'm living today, I'm going to be happy today, I'm gonna love my body today."

Some time has passed between that moment and Halikas's more recent successes — including her inclusion in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2021, garnering 693,000 and counting followers on TikTok and getting signed to Ford Models. That spark, however, is what prepared her for all that was to come.

"I just woke up every day wanting to be happy. I almost had this like strong desire to want to feel good and I think a lot of people do. But you have to wake up and consciously put that effort in," she says.

Although Halikas makes loving yourself look particularly appealing, she finds the most benefit in talking about it transparently — specifically when it comes to the thought processes responsible for the confidence.

"I do what I like to call the light switch method. I basically act like there's a light switch in my head to my thoughts and the second I think a negative thought about myself, I immediately turn it off and turn on a positive thought," she says. "I really visualize a light switch in my head to get rid of these anxious thoughts, these depressing thoughts, these self-deprecating thoughts. It really started to instill this just overall positivity and gratitude towards my body, rather than pushing me down and beating me down mentally."

She continues, "A lot of people don't realize that when they're like, 'Oh my god, you're so confident,' it's all mental. It's like delusional confidence."

Amid controversial conversations about bodies as trends, the pop culture conversation around weight loss medications and the return of late ’90s and early 2000s aesthetics, Halikas feels that she sometimes is delusional in her efforts to practice and preach body acceptance.

"It's hard for me because I'm that voice that's like, 'Love yourself, make your presence bigger, make yourself known, take up space.' But then the world is like, 'No, be better, be skinnier.'"

Despite that messaging — whether implicit or obvious — Halikas knows she's better off in her own journey. Better yet, she's realized that when it comes to her body, she's the only voice worth caring about.

"Once you realize that no one else cares as much about your body as you do, it's very freeing. Your confidence gets to a point where you feel super strong with it and you feel locked in on who you are and what you have to offer. Nothing can shake that," she says. "Getting my voice, getting my image, getting everything out there to the world is consistently hard work but I think my voice is needed and I think people see me as a sense of hope."

Most importantly, they hear her as one.

"All it takes is one person to speak up," she says, noting her experience with a nightclub as an example. "I'm sure a lot of club promoters and a lot of club owners talked that night. I'm sure when that all went viral, people were talking about making a change because we can't have this happen to our establishment, we don't want to get shut down. That's how you make a change."

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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