SI Swimsuit model challenges Victoria’s Secret in provocative photo shoot

Ella Halikas did not flinch when she was asked to strip down to nothing but lingerie and angel wings on the streets of West Hollywood.

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model and body positivity activist recently went viral on TikTok for channeling her inner Victoria’s Secret Angel in a daring shoot with photographer Henry Jimenez Kerbox. The former Swim Search finalist is known for recreating the looks of thinner stars on social media.

“I thought we [needed] to shoot and recreate a Victoria’s Secret fashion show catwalk, but on my body with my lingerie,” Halikas told Fox News Digital. The model pointed out she was inspired by veteran Angels Adriana Lima and Candice Swanepoel.

Ella Halikas, pictured here, and Henry Jimenez Kerbox teamed up for a Victoria’s Secret inspired photo shoot that went viral on TikTok. (Henry Jimenez Kerbox)

“It’s refreshing… like, that is what a size 14 healthy, normal body looks like in lingerie, rocking it in public mind you, which is so scary to do, but it took a lot of confidence,” said Halikas. “But what was really cool was just seeing how supportive everyone was watching it. They were cheering me on, taking photos of me. That kept me going throughout the shoot.”

Halikas recalled “blacking out” as she strutted down the street in broad daylight rocking lace, feathers and not much else.

“I think at first you kind of overthink it,” she chuckled. “When reality hits, you’re like, ‘What am I doing? Oh my God, I’m in… the street wearing lingerie in the middle of West Hollywood. What is going on?’ I think after a while though, I got to a point where you just black out. You black out the noise [and] you zone into… why you’re doing this.”


A split image of Candice Swanepoel in gold lingerie and angel wings with Adriana Lima in red lingerie and red angel wings

Ella Halikas said she was inspired by veteran Angels Candice Swanepoel, left, and Adriana Lima, right. (Getty Images)

“I think everything that we do, or everything that I do specifically, goes back to my why,” she continued. “Like why am I doing this? It’s not for the attention, it’s not for that. It’s simply to show that you can be healthy and happy in a size 14, living and existing in a bigger body while still being extremely confident.”

Halikas noted that while she received an overwhelming response from shocked viewers, “99 percent were positive.”

Ella Halikas wearing a red dress

Ella Halikas, a body positivity activist, is known for recreating the looks of thinner stars on social media. (Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

“I think it healed my inner child – I think it healed a lot of other people’s inner child seeing it,” she explained. “I had a lot of comments [from] people crying and saying how emotional they got watching it, how much we needed to see that because growing up, we didn’t see that on the catwalk. And even now, it is hard to get that inclusivity on the runway… I’m trying to break the mold and push the boundaries and the barriers here and show that you can exist in a bigger body. You can still feel beautiful, sexy and confident – just like a Victoria’s Secret Angel.”


Ella Halikas in white lingerie and angel wings with her arms stretched out

Ella Halikas was photographed on the streets of West Hollywood. (Henry Jimenez Kerbox)

“I didn’t really hear anyone saying anything nasty, which was surprising,” she shared. “Online, I’ll get hate comments, but in person, of course, it’s all positive – everyone wants to hide behind their keyboards. But I think everyone was very, very positive… If I dove deeper into the comments, I’m sure there’s some hate in there. There’s some like, ‘Put your clothes on,’ or, ‘What are you doing?’

“There was one comment like, ‘Why do we need to be half-naked to get attention?’ But that’s not the point. The point was to recreate a Victoria’s Secret Angel runway show but on the street. So it is bold. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Some people aren’t going to like it and they can look away. But overall, the majority of the comments were super uplifting and very emotional like, ‘I needed to see this today. I can’t stop watching this. You killed it. This made me so happy.’”

A close-up of Ella Halikas in white lingerie and angel wings

Ella Halikas said she was overwhelmed by the feedback she received from her bold photo shoot. (Henry Jimenez Kerbox)

Victoria’s Secret was founded by the late Roy Larson Raymond in the late 1970s after he felt embarrassed about purchasing lingerie for his wife. Les Wexner, founder of the then Limited Stores Inc., purchased the brand in 1982 and turned it into a powerful retail force. By the mid-1990s, Victoria’s Secret lit up runways and later filled the internet with its supermodels and an annual television special that mixed fashion, beauty and music.


A line of Victorias Secret models

Victoria’s Secret CFO Timothy Johnson announced in March that “a new version of our fashion show” would be returning “later this year.” (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

Failing to adapt to changing tastes saw sales tumble, however, and its annual show was canceled in 2019. There was also increased competition with rival brands like Adore Me and ThirdLove, which have sprouted up online and marketed themselves heavily on social media platforms. The competition also focused on fit and comfort while offering more options for different body types. American Eagle’s Aerie lingerie chain, which partners with activists like Manuela Baron, also lured customers away from Victoria’s Secret.

But after a four-year hiatus, Victoria’s Secret CFO Timothy Johnson announced in March that “a new version of our fashion show” would be returning “later this year.”

Halikas said she would jump at the chance to be part of the star-studded catwalk to help showcase diversity and inclusivity.

A side-by-side photo of Ella Halikas modeling white lingerie and angel wings

Ella Halikas said she would be open to appearing in a revamped version of the televised Victoria’s Secret fashion show. (Henry Jimenez Kerbox)

“Absolutely – that would be a dream of mine,” she gushed. “I have always wanted to walk on their runway and showcase and represent the curvy woman out there and just feel so sexy and beautiful while doing it… Crossing my fingers that happens. We’re manifesting here… I would love to do that, and I would love to see them include… more size inclusivity all across the board… I would rather not be a token [girl]. I think we should all be there. We should all be blended in. We should all feel beautiful. But If I have to break the mold and be the one girl that they take a risk on to be curvy, I would love to do that too.”

Halikas credited SI Swimsuit for celebrating various types of bodies in their annual issue. She previously made a splash in the 2021 issue when she was photographed by Yu Tsai.

“It had such a huge impact because it made me feel like I can do this,” she reflected. “And that was breaking into the modeling world. I had only maybe two years of experience modeling before I got into the magazine… It was such an amazing feeling. I feel like Sports Illustrated has taken such strides to be more inclusive… and I think it shows other publications and brands that… they’re leading the way.”


A side by side photo of Ella Halikas modeling bikinis on the runway

Ella Halikas walked the runway during the 2021 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Runway Show during Paraiso Miami Beach at Mondrian South Beach on July 10, 2021, in Miami. (Getty Images)

However, being a curvy model comes with its challenges. In November, Halikas and fellow model Alexa Jay alleged they were denied entry from Los Angeles club The Highlight Room due to their size. A spokesperson for Tao Group Hospitality, the parent company of the venue, announced in a statement that they were “aware of Ella and Alexa’s experience and are actively engaged with them to discuss the incident further.”

“We are always appreciative of feedback on our operations and continue to work on how to improve our guest experience,” said the spokesperson at the time. “Our company does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”

Halikas claimed there have been moments when a photographer at an event would overlook her in favor of thinner models. She admitted the experience can be “humiliating.”

Ella Halikas wearing a pink satin dress

Ella Halikas poses backstage for the 2021 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Runway Show during Paraiso Miami Beach at Mondrian South Beach on July 10, 2021, in Miami. (Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated)

“I’m not going to try and scream from the rooftops, ‘See me, appreciate me because I’m curvier,’” she said. “I’m just not going to do it anymore. I stay silent, but I will speak on it in interviews and podcasts to push that message out there. But we’ve got a long way to go.”

“I want to make it clear, I’m never against someone wanting to get on their own health and fitness journey,” she shared. “If you want to lose weight, great, I’m never going to knock that. What I do think becomes a problem is why we’re constantly trying to make ourselves smaller to feel worthy, to feel seen, to feel beautiful… That’s what I’m trying to break.”


A close-up of Ella Halikas in white lingerie and angel wings

Ella Halikas hopes her photo shoot will inspire others to celebrate their bodies. (Henry Jimenez Kerbox)

“You can be happy, confident, healthy, take care of yourself… live in a bigger body and love your skin,” Halikas continued. “Everyone’s best self and most beautiful self looks different on everybody. And for me right now, that’s me being a size 14. To someone else, it’s a size 6 or 16, 20, or 2. It just depends on the person… I’m just really trying to shift people’s perspectives.”

“I’m going to wear that swimsuit, I’m going to wear that dress that I didn’t think I could wear,” said Halikas. “I want people to look within themselves and find that confidence. That’s what I’m here to do.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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