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The Entertainment Industry can be Sketchy AF
Between exploitation, shady contracts, and scam artists taking advantage of big dreamers, it’s no wonder so many people end up burnt out before they’ve even begun.
Today, we’re chatting with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Ella Halikas about how she’s learned to navigate the modeling, influencer, and content creator industries. Ella shares candidly about her journey to becoming a model, just how much it can cost to be “pretty” and about her run-ins with an industry that commodetizes talent.
This is a great episode for you if you’ve ever wondered what it takes to be a model, how to become a content creator or handle finances if you have a fluctuating income.
Ella Halikas is a small-town girl from Walnut Creek, CA turned 2021 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model. As a curve model and influencer, Ella has built an online community on both Instagram and TikTok with the goal of spreading confidence and inclusivity.
In addition to being a world-class model, Ella’s mission is to share her insights as the “CEO of Confidence” and inspire people around the world to live confidently, positively, and unapologetically. The self-made model and entrepreneur hopes to inspire others with her journey and online community.
Hello! Hello! Hello, Financial Feminist. Welcome back! Welcome back! Welcome back! So excited to see you, as always, thank you for being here. We are taking a short break from #stockgirlsummer and going back to the OG, the default, #hotgirlsummer, because this episode, oh my goodness! This episode you all, I can’t even begin to describe how good it is. If you have ever wondered about how the entertainment industry works, about how the modeling industry works, about how the influencer industry works, you are going to be floored by what our guest shares today. She brings the heat. She literally tells us stories that recording live, she said, “Oh, I don’t even, I’ve never talked about this, am I supposed to say this? I don’t care, fuck it.” It’s so good and I’m so excited for you to hear it.
Today’s guest is small town girl from Walnut Creek, California turned 2021 Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, Ella Halikas. As a curve model and an influencer, Ella has built an online community on both Instagram and TikTok with the goal of spreading confidence and inclusivity. In addition to being a world class model, girl, she’s so good. She looks so good in every fucking photo. She’s so talented. Ella‘s mission is to share her insights as the CEO of Confidence and to inspire people around the world to live confidently, positively and unapologetically. The self-made model and entrepreneur hopes to inspire others with her journey and online community.
We’re going to take a peak behind the curtain today of the modeling in the influencer industry. We’re going to talk about confidence. We’re going to talk about the true costs of being “beautiful”, how to financially prepare when you make an inconsistent income, we’re dropping that shit today, and so much more. Don’t forget to check out our YouTube channel linked in the show notes for behind the scenes and extra footage from every guest interview. We’re dropping at least like five to 10 minutes of every interview, so you can actually watch the video as well as listen. Without further ado, Ella Halikas. I’m so excited here, this is the we’re going to talk about today and I’m so excited. Can you tell me your backstory of getting into modeling? Was that ever a thought of, “Oh, I’d want to do this?” Was that part of the plan?
Yeah. Funny, when I was a kid, actually I would always get dressed up and take just iconic shoots in my backyard with my older sister. My parents never pushed me in that direction, none of my parents really did that. It was just a thing that I love to do. Then, as I got older, I got thicker and curvier, and after high school, I’d gained like 20 to 30 pounds. I was always athletic and I never had the stereotypical very thin body anyways to begin with, so I played soccer in sports and modeling was just never in the cards. Then, when I went to college, I went to University of Hawaii, I was just on the beach in swimsuits taking photos and people were, “Why are you not modeling? You clearly know what you’re doing. Camera turns on.”
I was just, “I don’t know. It’s just fun for me. I just did it for Instagram just for fun.” Then, it was more of my friends, honestly, pushing me, “You should actually do this.” I was, “You guys are crazy. I’m a size 14, no way.” Then, I saw Ashley Graham blow up with Sports Illustrated on the cover and all these other plus size models, and I was, “Wait, there’s a huge market now for this.” Then, an agent reached out on Instagram and that’s how it all unfolded was my last year of college. Then I moved home and I was, “Well, it looks like my goal now and dream is to move to LA and do this,” but I wanted to like save money first and served a
t a restaurant to save money living at home and then moved here May of 2020.
Can you define for us what is considered “plus size” in the industry? Is that the term you prefer or is it curve model? What do you find is the difference?
So interesting, because there’s not one concrete answer or concrete box. Everyone could say, “Oh, if you’re over a size eight, you’re plus size.” Someone else could be, “Oh, absolutely not. If you’re over size 16, you’re plus size.” There’s always different explanations and whatever. For me, what I learned throughout the industry is that there’s this range of mid-size that doesn’t really get represented and that’s a whole different story. If you’re usually below a size two or four below, it’s called straight size modeling, and that’s what we were growing up and watching and seeing. Then there’s that midsize, and then after size 10 to 14 or 8 to 14 is more like curve. Then, after 14, 16 is plus. It’s how I learned it to be. I’m at that cusp. Whatever someone wants to call me is what they’re going to call me. I would say I’m more curve than plus size, but also people will look at me and be, “No, you’re a plus size model.” I don’t know. Same, same, but different thing.
Do you find that plus size has a certain negative connotation to it?
What’s funny is when I first got into the industry, I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be called plus size, and I think that’s what we were so ingrained in our heads that-
Right, it’s very [crosstalk00:05:18].
… plus size was, yeah, a hundred percent. That’s just what I was like. We were all just growing up in society, so yeah, at first I thought maybe it was insulting and now I’m like, “I don’t give a shit. You know what I mean? Why is that even insulting? It does literally not matter.” Yeah, I’m not insulted by it. I think there is still a negative connotation to it, because it’s also, you don’t say straight size models. People don’t say that, they just say a model, and then plus size model, so why are you giving me an extra name and not just model? That’s what I’ve had a hard time, because I’ve even noticed myself, I’m always saying on Instagram, curve model, TikTok, #curvemodel, and I’m, “I’m actually having a hard time breaking out of that because my friend sat me down was, ‘Dude enough with the whole curve thing. You’re a model. Just say you’re a model,'” and I’m, “Oh! I guess I could.”
When I meet someone at a bar, I’m talking to a guy, “Oh, what do you do?” “I’m a curve model.” I can never just say I’m a model because immediately they’re like, “Oh, are you?” and look at me up and down. I’m like, “Well, there’s curve, okay, or there’s plus size.”
Right. It requires you to instantly apologize for something you don’t feel. It’s like when people go entrepreneur and then they go, “Oh, you’re a female entrepreneur,” and I’m like, “No.” It’s the same thing with girl boss. “I’m a boss” or “You’re a girl boss.”
Yes, that’s so true. That’s so true. I didn’t even think about that. Yeah. It’s like you can’t even, you have to justify what you do or who you are with … yeah, you’re just trying to justify something. Why can’t you just say, “I’m a fricking boss, I’m a leader or I’m this, I’m a model.” It always has to be an underlying explanation. It’s annoying.
Well, and for curve model in particular, it almost feels like an apology for who you are. It’s almost like a justification, especially in that example of going out on a date, it’s “Model.” “Oh, really?” and then looks you up and down. It’s like, “Oh, well I’m a curve model.” That’s a justification. Also, what other industry do you have to tack on how you physically appear in order to be taken seriously? It’s a justification plus almost an apology or a descriptor that you don’t even need.
Right, because you’re almost, “Well, this is going to be uncomfortable,” because what we were grown up to think is a model is skinny or that a boss is a male. We’re so accustomed to think these things that we’re going above and beyond to explain why we are that, how did we become that, it’s weird. Even engineers, I’ve seen #femaleengineer and #womaninrealestate. I’m like, “You’re a realtor.” We always have to add the gender. It’s like, “Wait, what?” Ugh, it’s annoying.
Yeah. I get it from a marketing standpoint, because you’re trying to help other potential people find someone tha
t they either feel more comfortable with. For me, it’s very much like, yes, I’m an entrepreneur regardless of my gender. However, I know that for many women, hearing about money from another woman is going to make the experience better or more inclusive or whatever that looks like. But yes, on the point of why are we immediately justifying or bringing in gender or bringing in size to, yeah, immediately asterisk ourself. It’s like, “Oh, entrepreneur, but female entrepreneur.” Yeah.
Right, right. I do think that is a good point because especially with like hashtags and whatever, it’s helpful because then people can find you in other ways. Or, if they’re trying to search for size 14 clothing, it helps when you have that. But sometimes it’s like, “Why do I even have to say it?”
Right. Well, that brings us back to inclusivity, because if I’m looking at clothes to figure out how I should dress, if I just type in model, I’m probably getting a bunch of stuff that, A, will not fit me, B, will not look good on me, versus if I type in mid-size model or curve model, I’m more likely to find, of course, content from other people who have a similar body type to me.
All of this is very cyclical. Yeah, we can say, “Oh, why do we have to put curve in front of it?” I agree as an industry, that makes no sense, but it’s also, if you’re trying to create a community around these sorts of things, it almost does. There’s an additive thing that happens when you do put the asterisk on it, because yeah, I know if I’m searching … I don’t know if I’m searching recipes and I type in “vegan recipes”, it’s going to be more specific to what I actually want or the content I actually want, and this is an algorithm problem too. It’s really interesting.
Yeah. It’s more of like a niche. I think it’s interesting you say that, because I have to give credit to you, because I was just thinking the other day, because I’ve always found financial literacy so interesting and I’ve always wanted to study and learn more, but I was learning all from men, but they all had such different feedback and advice. Then, it’s so cool that you are the financial feminist, because now I know I’m going to go to you to get such a different array of insight and knowledge that a man, I don’t know. In this regard, it is nice to have a female entrepreneur and a financial feminist, because we don’t get that all the time especially in that industry. You definitely do stand out in that way because I’m running to your podcast to learn as much as I can when I just feel like I’ve been getting so much different advice from men.
I appreciate that. Well, I feel the same about you. It’s the same thing. It’s the whole representation matters thing. For me, I’ve only started just coming to terms with my body and with my curves and with all of these things. Of course, looking at you out here fucking killing it, I’m like, “Yeah, great. Let’s go.”
I feel the exact same way.
I love that.
Yeah. It’s interesting, and maybe it’s more about if you’re calling yourself that versus somebody else calling you that, I’m trying to figure out what the actual distinction is between when it feels like you’re nicheing in an important way or in a helpful way versus when you feel like the symbol shit, you know what I’m talking about?
That’s so true.
I don’t know what it is.
Yeah, because if you
say it yourself, it’s more like, “Yeah. I can call myself a financial feminist or a female entrepreneur, but the second they’re like, “This is Tori. She’s a female entrepreneur.” You’re like, “I’m an entrepreneur. Let’s get to the point.”
Right. Like on this hypothetical date where you’re like, “I’m a model” and everyone’s like, “Are you sure about that?” You’re like, “Oh, curve model,” because you have to justify it to him.
Yeah. If I was on a date and they’re like, “Yeah, she’s a plus size model.” I’d be, “Bro, just say I’m a model and an [crosstalk 00:11:44] or whatever.
Fuck off, yeah.
Fuck off. Keep it short and sweet.
Totally. Yeah, yeah. No, that’s exactly right. Yeah. No, it’s really interesting. I don’t know if there is an answer, but yeah, it’s funny because some of the time I’m super pissed off, but I understand if you’re going by a hashtag or if you’re trying to find other people to inspire you or think the same way or at least give you some representation then sometimes you need that specificity.
Totally. It’s how we brand ourselves too. We branded ourselves like this online.
Totally, right, and back to the algorithm and the Instagram, right, right. You’re doing hashtags and those are the whole point is to compile all of those different things together and the algorithm’s hoping that it can feed you what you want or what you’re looking for, so the more specific you can be, in theory, the better the content is or the more accurate the content is.
Oh, yeah, for sure. Makes perfect sense.
What hidden costs come up for you if you’re a model? I’m not a model, I think the vast majority of people who are listening are not models, what are the costs of modeling that people are surprised that you have to foot the bill for? If I’m just an average person and I’m like, “You pay for that?” What are those kind of costs?
Hmm, interesting. I would just … that’s a good question. I would say it’s all just self-care and maintenance and hygiene, everything. It’s like what we all pay for, but I literally, always have to get my nails done because they always have to be a certain way for a shoe, and it’s like, “Oh, you’re getting your nails done again?” I’m like, “No, I literally have to for my job. They have to look nice.” Then, you have to make sure your skin’s nice. Then, you’re paying for, I’m getting sprayed tan all the time, because when I’m doing swim shoots, I want to be a little bit more golden. It just becomes a lot more of those type of appointments and now I’m hooked on blowouts, because I’m like, “Well, I don’t have to do my hair for shoots. It’s just blown out and it’s just done, so that’s an extra fee every week I’m doing.”
I would just say it’s more stuff like that, honestly, because modeling is just appearance, honestly, and it comes down to how you take a photo. It’s stuff like that I feel when I didn’t have that job, I wouldn’t get this all the time. I wouldn’t need to always make sure I’m doing this or I have a personal trainer. But that’s also a personal choice, you don’t have to. But I would just say a lot of it is just maintenance and appointments and just getting your makeup done, booking photographers, stylist, creatives, styling your outfits. There’s so many people on set when you’re setting up a test shoot that model’s paying for it. I’m paying for the photographer. I’m paying for the makeup artist, the hair artist, sometimes a creative director on set. A lot is coming out of the models’ check. Yeah, and I’d say a lot falls on the model.
Ella, when you say a test shoot, what do you mean?
Test shoot is what you do like a photoshoot for your portfolio. There’s obviously shoots that you do that’s paid work through a brand, this brand booked you and this is your rate. Or, a test shoot is like, “Hey, we need more photos, lifestyle in your portfolio.” Well, looks like you got to set up the shoot, and that comes on the model. Yeah. That’s a test shoot. I’m not getting paid, but I’m having other people help. Some
people want to collab. Photographers like, “Let’s shoot,” and you collab. Makeup artist, “I want to do your makeup, let’s collab.” That’s fine, but majority of the time when you’re doing a test shoot, the model has to pay for all of it.
Yeah. It’s almost like actors doing head shots.
You’re paying, you’re footing the bill in order to get more work in theory.
Well, I’m thinking about … we’ll talk about this later, but obviously, the Sports Illustrated cover or the Sports Illustrated photo, I’m thinking of the waxing.
In the theory, unless you are trying, unfortunately, trying to prove a point, you have to largely be hairless in all of the places they expect you to be hairless.
Right, right. No, I have a shoot after this and they’re like, “Make sure you’re shaven, because we’re doing swim shots too.” I’m like, “Well, now I have to go shave every inch of my body.” There’s always, yeah. I just started doing laser now, because with swimsuit too, I don’t want to have to keep shaving, so I’m going to try doing laser. Yeah, there’s a lot of little stuff like that that people don’t realize and it’s weekly too, so it’s a lot. It’s a lot.
Right, because you can’t have the 5:00 shadow. You’re not going to be able to see this, but my nails are grown out. I’ve got shellac nails and they’re grown out, so this would not be allowed, and they still look relatively fine, but they’re grown out. It’d be like, I can’t wait the week or two that I normally would, I would have to go in and get them redone.
Right. It’s crazy because this industry is so last minute, so you always have to be prepared. Even if you don’t have any shoots this week, you can get a call and you have a shoot tomorrow in New York. Or you have a shoot in two days in San Francisco. I don’t know my schedule ever. It’s really hard to plan anything more than three days in advance, because everything is changing. Yeah, it’s very inconsistent. I just got my nail done before this, because I have a shoot after and they were super outgrown. This one fell off this morning like it was a mess.
I knew I had a shoot or sometimes I don’t, but I just always have to be prepared. Then, you can’t get them too long. You either can do all nude. They actually should probably be nude, but I just did a white French tip, but you can’t get colors. I used to love getting browns and pinks and fun spring colors. In summer, no colors, all nude or white. Nude toes, you always have to get a pedicure, nothing could be chipped. Everything has to be shaven and tan and hair has to look nice. Usually, there’s a makeup artist, but if there’s not, you have to do the makeup, so then you’re also buying all the makeup products.
It’s a lot. We’ve talked a lot about the show on the everyday cost of being a woman and the expectation of how you look and especially it’s worse for women of color, and we know this. If you’re a model, oh my God! That is amplified to the nth degree.
Everything has to be shootable, it has to be picture perfect.
Which I think, also going back how inconsistent too this lifestyle is, I think that, I was so excited to talk to you too about this today, because of how inconsistent our income is, and that’s something that I’ve struggled with.
Talk to me about that.
Yeah. You literally could book five shoots one month and make great money or whatever and then, you might not book another shoot for two months. You have to be so good with your money when you do get paid, because you do not know when your check’s coming next. That’s really hard. I’ve been trying to find different avenues and different streams of income that I have more control over, because I do want financial freedom. It’s hard for models to save and learn how to, what to do, manage your money because you get such a large sum at once sometimes if you’re lucky and whatever, we’re blessed. But then, you sometimes go months without it and it’s a dry season.
You’re waiting 90 days to get paid from a client. You better have all this money backed up for the next two months just in case. That’s been, I think, a challenge. I’ve always been really good at saving, I’d like to say and be proud of myself for since I was a little kid, so I feel I’ve been able to manage it. But I’ve also seen models go broke really quickly, because they have to keep up with this lifestyle, always getting everything done, but also going out to the nice dinners and whatever. It’s like buying themselves that nice bag, which is all great and treat yourself, but it’s also like this, you might have a dry spell or sometimes the modeling industry doesn’t want … I don’t know how to word this.
Sometimes you’re not a hot commodity in the modeling industry. I’ve had a dry spell recently too, because I’m having a hard time with my body where I’m not big enough for a lot of jobs, but I’m also not small enough. I’m in this weird ground of I’m not what the industry’s really looking for right now. They want someone actually edgier-looking than me, a little bit more diverse looking than me right now. The industry is always changing what they want, it’s so interesting so I have to be prepared for. The industry might not want you as a model right now. Can I model the clothes still great? Yes. Can I still get a great photos and all this? Yes. It’s literally not personal to me, it’s just what the industry wants at the time. You also have to be prepared for that. There’s so many things.
Does that hurt your feelings? Does that make you feel bad?
I would say at first I was more, it’s discouraging. Yeah, it is, because you go into a casting and you get shot down. You’re getting told no so many times. I’ve literally never been rejected more. I’ve been told no so many more times, but I know that one yes is going to be huge and it has, and I’ve seen it. But I have to understand that all of this isn’t personal. It’s hard to get there, and for so long I struggled with that I’m like, “Well, what should I do?” I would tell my agent, “What can I do better? Should I get extensions? Should I lose the weight? Should I gain more weight? What do I do?” At the end of the day, do what’s best for you and what makes you the happiest. Be the best version of yourself is what I always preach or try to be the best version of yourself is my motto.
Then, if they want you, great, and if they don’t, you’re still going to find a way to make it work. Because it’s always changing, the hype is always changing, what they want is trends, styles. Everything’s always changing in this industry, it’s like being patient, because your time will come. That’s how I’ve had to look at it.
Yeah. Kristen, who’s our podcast producer and myself, we both come from theater backgrounds, and I’m finding a lot of what I have experienced and I’m sure she is too, she’s probably in the background snapping her fingers. It is very much like you put yourself out there very vulnerably and then there’s a million reasons why they might have told you no. You have very little control actually over the reasons. I think, if you’re talented, it’s very often, the reason that you are not getting booked for something is yeah, you and the other person that they’re going to cast don’t have chemistry or you are too tall for the other person they’re trying to cast or they already have somebody who “looks like you” and they’re trying to find somebody else. It’s very rarely, “Oh, you don’t fit the part because you’re not good enough.” It’s not that. There’s a million other factors and it’s so easy to take that rejection personally. One, when you really care about your work and two, when it’s often your physical attributes or the way you present yourself.
Right, a hundred percent. It’s hard. Like I said, at first, I was very upset and I didn’t understand it. It made me feel like I needed to change myself. I think once you realize that majority of things in life in general, honestly, aren’t personal to you, the happier you’ll be and the more confident you’ll be. I just try not to take almost anything personally. Especially in this industry, I have to understand that it could be something as small as like we just really wanted a blonde for this role or it could be something like you’re so great and beautiful, but we wanted someone a few inches taller than you. You know what I mean? It literally could be the smallest thing.
It’s like, I just don’t fit like this exact what they’re looking for, for this exact job, but there’s so many jobs that will come, I’m not worried.
Yeah. What you touched on, I think, a lot of people experience, regardless of whether they’re models or not of this inconsistent income of making bank one month and then having a dry spell for three months or six months. I have my own strategies around how I teach people to manage that. What has worked for you in terms of budgeting, paying your expenses, both for months where you’re killing it and there might be an impulse to spend more versus months where not a lot of work is coming in?
I’d love to hear your advice before mine, because my advice is not really that knowledgeable.
A lot of it is about reserves.
A lot of it is about understanding that just because … we do this actually as business owners. I’m doing this right now. Actually, a lot of people might not know this, we are recording this May 2. We’re in a dry spell right now at [HOK 00:23:52]. We’re still doing fine, we’ll be fine, but yeah, we’re in a dry spell. April was our lowest month of revenue in about a year, a long time. What I’ve had to do as a business owner is be strategic, and the months where we were making bank, I just held a lot of money back. It’s called reserves. You put money in your reserves for investing in the business further or for when you don’t have such great a month and you still have to make payroll and you still have to pay your bills.
That’s the thing that’s strategic for me. Then, when I teach it, I call it your ramen noodle number of like, what is the bare amount of money you need to make in order to afford your life, bare bones expenses and making sure that you have at least that amount for expenses every month is the other thing I am strategic with for business owners. I would love to hear what you do. There’s no shame or judgment here.
No, and I love how transparent you are, because I think a lot of people wouldn’t even admit that, and I think that’s so lame, and I think that’s so cool that you just said that, because I also went through a dry spell with modeling agencies. I’m still trying to find an agency in LA and I have some meetings lined up, but I’ve also been rejected by a ton. People might go on my Instagram and think, “She’s killing it, she’s with this person and this person, she’s shooting every day,” and I’m like, “I’ve actually had a very dry spell and I’m having a very hard time to find a good fit here in LA.” No one would know that unless they’re listening to this right now, and I think that there’s so much power in being vulnerable and open because so many people can relate. Are you kidding? Dry spells happen all the time.
Well, and for me too, it’s a lot of realizing to your point about I’m not getting paid for 90 days or 60 days or 30 days. It just happened to work that a lot of our invoices, we invoice during April and won’t get paid till May.
That’s the other part a lot of people don’t think about when you’re running your own business, and you are. You’re running your own business as a model. You are running your own company, you’re running your own business.
When you’re thinking about … the dry spell isn’t just because, there’s a couple of factors for us. One of them is the fact that we just build a lot in April, so we won’t actually receive it till May or June, so we’ll have bigger months in May or June, but it just happened to work out that April was not a great month for us.
Totally. Same thing happened. January, killed it, best month I’ve ever had, because I had all this back order of money coming from November. January was a
fat month and then the same thing, February we invoiced and whatever. My biggest income right now is actually influencing, so I’ve been lucky enough to have a great social team and do a ton of influencing as well for different brands. But yeah, the whole waiting 30 to 60 days, sometimes 90 is just so ridiculous. What I do, honestly, is the same as you. I just know when I have a great month, I see it, I respect it, I’m super happy and grateful, and then I know to save a huge chunk of that. Then, also spend a little bit at a time. I rarely go out and just drop a huge bag.
I’ve been pretty good at knowing that and seeing that and then also holding back a little bit. When I get to a point where I don’t have to hold back as much and I want to treat myself more and whatever, that’s great. Yeah, I would say I’m pretty good at it and I always invest back into my career and invest into myself. I feel there’s one thing I’ve struggled with is not really knowing exactly what to invest in. I’d ask my dad and I’d ask all these other financial gurus and listen to podcasts and read all the books and listen to Gary V and Grant Cardone on real estate. I just didn’t know where to invest my money, and my dad always just say, “The number one thing is invest in yourself.” I’m literally where I’m at today, because I did that. I took the risk and I moved to LA and I saved that money. It’s a challenge. Some months are harder than others, for sure.
Totally. Do you get paid for a commercial shoot or a cover shoot? Do you get paid for those kind of opportunities?
It depends for what. I’ve never had a cover shoot. SI was just in the magazine, but it was a full page. We got paid for the shoot with them that day.
You did? That’s what I was wondering.
Yeah, we got paid. It’s not as much as you would think probably either, but I think sometimes you get paid less for a bigger brand and a bigger opportunity because it’s the name.
Right, which is so funny, a lot of people don’t realize that. The amount of times Amazon has been in my email asking me to speak and they have the most minuscule budget, if they have a budget at all. Amazon has a shit ton of money. All these brands have a shit ton of money, but they’re like, “Oh, we know that you want us on your resume.”
Right, and they use that [crosstalk 00:28:22].
We know you want us, so you’re probably going to take it.
Totally. But then, the small brand and the small business that really respects you and your craft will book you for your rate, if not more, because they value you so much. But they’re the ones that don’t even have the biggest budget and here they are fronting all this money, where someone like a huge brand, like you said, Amazon, or all these other big companies, will get away with paying you literally minute because they know you’ll do it or anyone would do it for free, basically, is how they look at it.
Which is so much bullshit. Do you know or either know or feel you make less money as a curve model or is there less opportunity?
Funny enough, I actually heard from many of my smaller friend models, straight size models, that they actually get less for a rate than their curve model competitor. I don’t even know, I want to say the word competitor, which I found really interesting, because I didn’t know that, and that’s such another thing that you talk about how money is so taboo to talk about. I don’t really talk about rates with my friends really, because it’s just this weird thing you don’t talk about, which is bullshit in itself.
I didn’t realize till recently that brands actually pay curve and plus size more because I think they need it more and there’s less of, what’s the word? Competition or pool of a market.
Yes, whereas straight size models are, everywhere you look in LA there’s one, everywhere. Whereas, curve and plus size, there’s few and far between and that fit their size and their clothes well and model it well maybe, so it’s harder to find a great curve plus size model that the brand always wants to book, so they’re willing to pay more, because they offer such a different diversity to set than just a straight size model is like, “Well, we see a lot of them.”
Do you feel there’s a plethora of straight size models, or do you feel it’s a lack of plus size models?
I think there’s a plethora of straight size models, especially here in LA, in New York, in those big markets. I think there’s a good amount of plus size and curve too, but I think this industry is newer. We haven’t seen curve plus size until what? Five, six years ago? Six, sever years ago? If you got in at that time like the Ashley Grahams and the other big time plus size models, they got in at the very right time where that shit boomed and they popped off.
Right, it became mainstream, right.
Right. Now, when you want to get into it, I would recommend anyone and everyone. I always want to motivate someone to do it, but it is harder now because there is more competition. Yeah, I would say there’s probably more straight size models honestly still, because it’s still a newer market.
Yeah. Well, if it’s supply and demand, and a hundred people going after one job versus 50 people going after one job, yeah, you’re more likely to book the job. If there’s a bunch of straight size models going after one job and there’s another job for plus size and there’s only 50, I said only in quotes, but there’s 50 plus size or curve models, yeah, you’re more likely to book the gig if there’s less of your body type going for the same role.
There’s a lot of brands too that get more hate for not including the diversity of body inclusivity. Brands are getting that pressure from society as well to include that more, so I think they’re willing to front more of their money into that person. Whereas, a straight size model, people aren’t like, “Why aren’t you putting more size twos in there?” That’s not what the message is right now. Times are always like this, the industry’s always like that, but that’s, right now, is necessarily not really what they want, so they’re willing to front more of their budget into a curve plus size is what I’ve noticed.
Yeah. Myself as a creative, we’ve had multiple musicians and different creatives on the podcast, and I know as a model, we are all paying agents and/or managers a cut of everything we make that comes in for us. Can you talk to me a little bit about the process of getting an agent and what that cost is to you before you actually see any money that comes in?
It’s pretty standard across the board of 20% that a manager or an agent would get. I would say that it’s confusing, because modeling, there’s also mother agents. A mother agent is when they help you get signed to an agency. I have a mother agent in New York. She’s helping me get signed to other agencies in different markets. Once I sign with that agency in, let’s say, New York or London or LA even right now, she then, my mother agent, will get 10% of every job I do with them, because she placed me with them.
I know. Then that agent will then get only 10 rather than 20 because they split their 20 with my mother. They’re both getting 10. I just signed with an agency and normally, like I signed with Elite Miami, they get 20% because that’s just the normal agency standard fee. The client then pays the agency, the agency then sends the check to us. There’s a lot of hidden fees in there. There’s a lot of website fees they’re charging models. If you want to stay in a model apartment, they’re charging you for that.
Printing fee for printing your comp cards, which is like your portfolio card. There’s a lot of fees that they put in there and what’s interesting is a lot of agents don’t really like me, because I feel like I’m a boss in itself, where I’m asking the hard questions, I’m asking what those fees are. A lot of agents don’t want to deal.
As you should.
Exactly, and you’ll appreciate this. A lot of agents don’t like dealing with models like me, because they just want to model to show up, look pretty, take the photo and you’re done.
Yeah, that’s called exploitation. That’s called them having knowledge about something that you don’t and then them getting upset when you have the audacity. That’s, yeah, predatory, exploitative, yeah, huh?
Oh my God, mic drop. I could literally go on about this for so long, you have no idea. Yeah, it’s literally manipulation.
I’m here for it. We got an hour baby, let’s go.
Yeah, literally. It’s so messed up how agents manipulate and take advantage of models, because they think that these models are just pretty faces that aren’t going to say anything. I’m like, “That’s not me. You have the wrong girl.” I think a reason why I’ve also been rejected by agencies lately too is I think I come off very strong when I have meetings with them and I don’t think they like it, because, one, it might intimidate them. Two, they don’t want to deal with me because they know I’m going to be a lot AKA on my shit. What’s up? What are the castings this week? What do we have going on? Where’s my payment from 60 days? The contract said 30. I’m looking at this stuff and they hate me for it.
Can’t wait to, one day, have my own agency and pop the fuck off, but-
We love it.
Yeah, it’s really hard to get taken advantage of in this industry and see other models just be like, “Oh, I don’t know. My agent just said it was this rate.” I’m like, “Wait, what? You don’t know if that was their budget? Did you try to come back with a higher rate?” No one’s negotiating for themselves.
I’m like, “What are we doing here?” No one teaches us this.
I feel the same way. No, I feel the same way for creatives, because I only just signed with an agent late last year, because we had actually, our agent brokered our podcast deal. I could not have gotten the deal we did unless I had an agent. But prior to that I had, I could have gotten an agent far before I actually did, but I knew that that wouldn’t have been the smart move, because I was going to advocate for myself arguably better than anybody else could, A, and B, it was like I saw so many creatives, so many people who were very right brain, defined as both Creatives, but also as the attribute creative, who were just good filmmakers or just good actors or just good influencers, but didn’t understand the business side, and so they’d hire an agent and/or a manager to do it for them. But what would happen is yeah, to your point, they wouldn’t know the type of questions to ask or they’d have people.
Right. Or the small print, there’s so many things, oh my God. I’ve had agents that don’t have my best interest in mind. I’ve gotten to this huge, I just want to say it, I’ve never publicly talked about this, but I got dropped from my last agency here and this woman, the owner, is a very unlikable woman in this industry.
Define unlikable because I hear unlikable and I’m like, “Mmm, that’s the word that’s weaponized,” so yeah, define it for us.
Okay. Very fatphobic, very manipulative, ego-driven, does not have the model’s best interest in mine, very demeaning, puts t
he models down. She would make girls weigh themselves back in the day and step on a scale when they walked in. She’s cutthroat and I, me and her, did not see eye to eye, and I had every right to ask a question about a contract. I actually did not sign, in which they thought I did, asked her a question and it triggered her ego so bad, because it made her look bad in front of another agent, because she was wrong and I was right. I asked her one question and within one fucking minute, she dropped me from the agency. Within two minutes, my photos were down from the website, completely gone and vanished, and she emailed me back and basically said, “Wishing you all the best. I think it’s best you continue on the path without us. Thanks so much. XOXO.” I never heard from this woman again and she dropped me-
Gossip girl, wow.
With no notice.
No 30 days, whatever, no, and that’s what’s in the modeling industry, because we have no rights, we don’t get any type of notice of job removal and getting fired, basically fired, for no good reason at all, by the way. I was so respectful, so nice, I told everyone what I wrote in my email, and everyone was, “Dude, you said nothing wrong. You literally just asked a question about what you signed.”
Right. As much as that experience sucks, she showed you true colors, and you probably would not have wanted to work with her anyway. As much as that sucks, do you, and this might be my own naivete, again, with acting, you have unions that you get and you have equity that you get to at a certain point. Does that exist for models?
No, and if it does, I haven’t heard of it.
There’s no union for models? Oh, who do we have to call? Ella, let’s go to Washington DC. That’s such bullshit.
There’s no union. There’s no rights for models at all. At all.
No protection. How is that legal that I got literally dropped because it triggered her ego with no notice dropped like it was nothing, unfollowed off Instagram, photos off the website, done, like I didn’t exist there.
Literally, I have not been signed in LA since that happened. She really me over. But it’s the best I’ve ever been doing with other social and other income, so I’m actually doing great so she can go whatever. Ugh!
Uh-huh (affirmative). No, go ahead, say it. I appreciate you sharing. You could argue, I’m playing devil’s advocate of a listener who’s going like, in most corporate companies, especially depending on the state, for me I’m based in Seattle, it’s an at-will employment state, where you can get fired or let go with no particular reason and no particular notice. It’s like at-will employment. But yeah, when you own your own business, it’s more … I don’t know if you have a legal case against her, it’s more just that’s not how you do business. That’s just super, super not cool.
But then, the natural extension for me is, is there some protection out there? With Broadway, I’m in New York right now recording this, if you were equity, if you were SAG during the pandemic, a lot of people still got support during that time, because they were part of a union. If that doesn’t exist for models, what the fuck does that mean for you all?
Yeah. No, no, no, models did not get any help at all with COVID, nothing. It was just one day your work was gone. That’s why I’m always trying to think outside the box of just buildi
ng out more of a brand for myself and other streams of income, because F, relying on just one, especially something so inconsistent like modeling.
Talk to me about those streams of income. What, for you, have you established besides modeling gigs that are bringing in money for you that you can control?
This one, I’m not as much in control of, I would say, but I love it. I have a great social team. I have a manager that pitches me to brands and all that stuff, like you have BTA. Yeah, I have a talent agency that’s great, and I would say that’s probably my biggest stream of income is doing brand deals, and then I have modeling. I do want to get … I want to create something where I have more control over where it’s under my name and my brand. I’m in the works of building out more of confidence coaching.
Cool. Love it.
But I’ve never really talked much about it. Yeah, I’m in the works of building that out and just building out more of a community feel. I really want to build like a safe space community for my followers and audience to just literally try to become the best version of themselves and help me work with them and grow that community out more, so I’ve been working on that. I’ve done some entrepreneur stuff with another swimsuit company, which that didn’t turn out that great, but that’s a different story, but I did design a line with them, stuff here and there, but I would say mainly, it’s just social media and modeling right now that’s my biggest stream. But I’m always thinking of ways, whether it’s selling my clothes, I feel like I’ve always been an entrepreneur by spirit, but more stuff is in the works, I think.
See, my business coach, the business coach in me is immediately, sell a $10 ebook about how to pose.
Sports Illustrated. My New York Times feature feels like your Sports Illustrated thing, where I have been chasing the New York Times, especially a feature, for years.
I saw that.
I have been squeaky wheel until I got the grease. I feel that’s how you were with Sports Illustrated. You wanted the thing and you were, “I am going after it.” Can you talk to me about the perseverance to get it? Also, what was the process of trying to pitch yourself until you finally fucking got it in 2021?
Okay. Congratulations, by the way, about the New York Times.
Thank you, and congratulations. You look so good. I was looking at it the other day and I’m, “God, she’s fucking hot.” She looks so good. You look so good.
Thank you. I was so happy. I was so happy. No, it was a journey. It was about 3 1/2 years of trying out. I first started in Hawaii. I was working at a restaurant and I actually got fired from my restaurant job and I was heartbroken. It was so political and stupid and I just didn’t get along with the manager. It was just horrible. I remember just being like, “You will regret this decision and I’m going to blow the fuck up.” I was like, “I’m going for Sports Illustrated,” and I wasn’t even a model, I had no followers, wasn’t an influencer. I had maybe a thousand followers at that time, and I was, “I’m going to get Sports Illustrated.” Never modeled a day in my life. Took photos, the video was blurry, it was the worst video ever, but it’s so cute to look back on, and obviously, I didn’t get it.
I put myself out there 2018. 2019 comes along. I actually had been doing some modeling jobs on my own, just freelance stuff in Hawaii for bikini companies. Had more experience modeling and posing in front of the camera, and I had more of a message about confidence and body positivity. I hired my friend to do the video, it was a great quality video. It was actually great, I’m so happy with this video until today. I didn’
t get it, but I remember sitting at a restaurant in Hawaii and I saw that SI posted my video. At this time, like I said, I had no fault, this is huge exposure. I literally remember dropping my phone, bawling my eyes out, everyone at the restaurant was, “Are you okay?” Ran out of the restaurant. I called my family, I was, “Sports Illustrated just posted me. Oh my God.” Literally shaking on, I was, “I think I got it.” That just showed me, I literally thought I was going to get it.
Fast forward, I didn’t get it, but I didn’t stop there. I was, “There’s no way. I’m going to get this.” Last minute, they said they’re doing an open casting in Miami. “If you want to come whatever, it’s dimes on you, just come out here, whatever.” I had maybe a thousand dollars by name, serving at a restaurant in college, and I dropped probably $700 within a day’s notice, dropped everything, went to Miami, got the hotel, did the whole thing, waited in line at 4:30 in the morning. The whole line wrapped all the way around this massive building, this hotel in Miami. Waited in line, had a comp card, which at the time I wasn’t with an agent, so I had no idea how to do it. I went to your local printing station in Hawaii to print out four photos next to each other to make a comp card so cute.
Waited in line, got to the front after six, seven hours and I had my meeting or my interview. It was just not the most genuine interview. This model had her phone out with the timer on. You only had two minutes to sell yourself and then the timer goes up.
I just couldn’t sell myself, I was so nervous, I was freaking out. I lost a little bit of an identity. I don’t really know, I just got to my head and I overthought it all. I don’t think I did well. I left, I was pretty upset about it and I didn’t get it. Fast forward to 2020, COVID hit. Everything gets pushed back. I don’t even know if they’re doing it this year, but I’m like, “I’m going to get it.” It was on my vision board three years. I know I’m going to get it, it’s just a matter of when. Then, they ended up announcing that they were doing it, but online. I was, “Great, da, da, da.” This time, I just moved here, invested even more money into a videographer, a makeup artist, hair did the whole thing, shot the whole video, great audio, great video footage. Then, I didn’t really hear anything, but I kept pushing. On TikTok, I was tagging them every day. Ever y single day for the last four years, I think I’ve tagged Sports Illustrated in every photo.
Not anymore now, because they know me and they’ve noticed me. But for them to notice me, it probably was three years of tagging them. Ashley Graham, Hunter McGrady, Tara Lynn, all these big time plus size models. Finally, I got more of a social media presence. They knew about me, they saw me on TikTok, they would comment on my stuff, and at this time I was, “My time is now. It’s going to happen.” It took so long to hear, but then I finally got a callback. Freaked out, cried, did the whole thing. I could not believe I was going to sit face-to-face and talk to them. Talked to them, thought I crushed it, was super nervous, don’t know, whatever, it’s not in my hands anymore. Didn’t hear for another two, three months. Finally found out I got another callback.
I’m like, “What the? Oh my God, no way.” Freaking out, I was, “I have another callback.” We get on the call back. I want to say it was either March or April of 2021 last year and I was leaving for Hawaii that day. I changed my flight obviously, had to be here, figured it out, whatever. I get on the call and it’s with 15 other girls and then the editors and MJ is the main editor. MJ gets on the call and she starts it with, “Hi, guys. I just want to let you know that you’re looking at the top 15 finalists of Sports Illustrated 2020,” and we’re like, “Ahhh!” Screaming and bawling, everyone’s crying, and that’s how I knew I got it. It was crazy. That’s four years summed up in five minutes.
Ella. I’m riveted. You look so good. Literally, that was … my mom told me all the time, squeaky wheel gets the grease. Granted you be polite, you be polite and you don’t push people, but if you want something, you chase it. Fucking chase it.
Like nothing was stopping me, nothing. I was, “I’m getting this.”
I love it.
Literally, I was … at this point, they almost probably had to or else I was just going to keep hounding them in their DMs and tag posts.
Right. You get to the point you’re, “I don’t care how I get in here. I don’t care. If it’s slightly annoying you, so you get me to shut up, fine. Fine, that’s fine. You’ve given me grease, I don’t care how I get it.
I don’t care.”
That’s the persistence that you need for anything that you want in life. It’s that persistence and consistency. Like I said, I never missed a day of not tagging them. I never-
I was really consistent, you could say that. Then that’s when Ashley Graham followed me on TikTok and she noticed me, which was huge, because she’s my biggest role model. That was a really big moment for me and it was actually really cute. On my shoot day in Atlantic city, we were shooting because COVID, we couldn’t go abroad, unfortunately. We shot in Atlantic city and that day, I had stayed up all night, the night before watching Ashley Graham’s YouTube videos of her modeling to learn from the best basically. I remember sending her a message and I was like, “She’ll never see this on Instagram, because she didn’t follow me or anything.”
I was, “I just want to let you know you’re my biggest inspiration. I’m literally staying up watching your videos. Tomorrow’s my biggest day ever, I’m shooting with Sports Illustrated,” or whatever. She literally sent me a voice message back when I was on my shoe, and I literally lost it. I showed MJ, I was crying. MJ got emotional and it literally was like an audio, and she was just, “I am so proud of you, Gabriella. You should be so proud of yourself. Your time is now. I’m so excited for you. Go out there and kill it.” I was bawling and I was, to hear from your role model on set for the biggest shoot of your life was something that I will never forget.
I didn’t want to tell the other girls because I wanted to keep that very private for me. It was just so special to hear from her and I just went out there with insane confidence. It gave me such a different level of confidence to know that my idol just said that I deserve to be here.
Yeah. I’m tearing up, because she paved the way, she and many others. Unfortunately, would you have been there that day? Obviously, so talented and beautiful and all of those things, but so much of this industry has been usurping what we define as beautiful or what we define as “worthy” of putting on a magazine or putting in a magazine.
Right. She totally paved the way, and I think what’s really cool is to see how full circle a lot of it is, because now I have people saying, “I’m their Ashley Graham, and I’ve been on a lot of girls’ vision boards, which is so cool. Girls telling me that I paved the way for them to do this and for them to wear the bikini and it’s like, “That was Ashley for me.” That’s cool that I can be someone else’s Ashley in a way.
It’s such a full circle moment, the whole experience, and I’m just so glad to be able to say I did it and it was such a great experience and I hope to work with them again. But every year, it’s situational and who they choose that year. I feel like I did it. I feel like I won. Even though I didn’t necessarily get rookie, I still feel like I did it, I’m in the magazine.
It was crazy.
That’s so wild. Sports Illustrated was largely for and by men for a long time, and it seems like now women are embracing the magazine. Why do you think this is? Do you feel like it’s a positive direction that we’re moving into?
Yeah, I do. I think for so long it was what men wanted to see and it was just tailored towards that audience and I think now it’s like-
Right, it was very male gaze. Yeah.
Yeah, for sure. I would say it
‘s now way more inclusive and it has been for the last, I would say, six, seven years, way more so now than before, but they were the start and that’s why I wanted to be in SI so badly. I never wanted to, let’s say necessarily, really be in Playboy at that time, because I didn’t really see them doing much inclusivity thing. But it was the SI magazine was a team that always preached confidence and inclusivity. They had the most beautiful, diverse models, so that’s why I was, “I want to be there. I want to be where those people are doing it.”
They have been doing it for a while, I would say way more now than before for sure, the times and everything. I think it’s awesome what they’re doing and I think they really are making a change in taking a stand. I think with that comes a lot of hate and backlash, and I’ve seen a lot of, on the flip side, a lot of haters and a lot of guys saying, “What is this? This is not what a model should look like.” I think they know what they’re doing.
Yup, there’s always those.
But I think, yeah, I think it’s moving in a positive direction, for sure.
Do you feel you’ve “made it”?
Ooh! That’s a tough question. That’s deep. I would say I’m super proud of how far I’ve come in a short amount of time, but I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface, if that makes sense. There’s so much more inside of me that I want to share and give and do that I feel I really am just getting started.
I feel the same way, yep.
Yeah. I don’t want to settle and I think that’s such an amazing aspect of a lot of entrepreneurs and stuff. I’m a dreamer, I have all these big dreams and stuff and I’m so proud of where I’ve come. I’m trying to learn to be more present and be very appreciative, but I just have such big, crazy dreams that I’m, “Okay, buckle up. I’m just getting started and I don’t want to just accept this as my end goal.” I would say I’ve made it far quickly, especially from where I came from. I never came from money, I never came from fame, I never came from financial stability really or connections or a famous boyfriend. I’ve really just been doing out here alone.
But I think with that builds so much character and strength. I think you talk a lot about it on your other episodes too, I never wanted to rely on someone for financial stability. I’m single and I love that. I’m just so focused on my career and I never want to put all my eggs in one basket and have to just rely on a man ever for that, because the second they might break up with you or leave you, it’s like I never want to be stressed. I want to have my own.
Or you have the option of leaving them because you have money. You have the option of getting out of a relationship. Yep, totally.
Totally. I think that’s really cool with being a boss, I’d like to say. I think, even with my parents, I think I never had that stable support financially from them as much. I think, at a younger age, I learned to be independent and knowing, “Okay, if I want something, I’m getting on my own. Daddy’s not just going to give me the money. We got to do it.” It’s been cool though and I’m grateful for my journey.
You mentioned that you’re getting messages from girls, from women saying that you are their Ashley Graham. If they’re listening, what message do you have for them?
That’s a good question.
If you could send each and every one, the voicemail that you got from Ashley Graham, what are you saying to them?
I would say just knowing that you are so enough and that you have everything that you need already inside of you. You don’t need to seek for external validation or seek anything outside. Everything you really need in life is within you, and I think just knowing how special a
nd unique you all are individually, I think, is so powerful and to try so hard to not compare to anyone else because the grass isn’t always greener and everyone always has a struggle on going through something. I would say focus on yourself, take it day by day to focus on becoming like the best version of you and that looks so different than everyone else, and just know how we all have a purpose within all of us, and there’s a reason why you’re here listening to this today. I just want to give people that motivation to go after what they want, go after their dreams and be that confident badass that you are because literally no one else is like you, is what I would say to them.
I love it. Where can people find you? Where can they learn more about your confidence coaching? Plug away.
Yeah. Right now, you can find me on Instagram and TikTok @EllaHalikas, and I will be launching some fun other projects, hopefully very, very soon that I’m working on. If you are someone that wants to join my community, hit the follow because there’s some special announcements coming up with confidence coaching and I just would love to work with you guys more as a group and one-on-one.
Amazing. Thanks for being here and thank you for your vulnerability.
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, you were great. It was nice learning about you and meeting you so fun.
Thanks for having me.
Thank you. Oof. I love this episode today. It was so good. Thank you once again to Ella for joining us and sharing her story and her experience so candidly. The story about her messaging Ashley Graham gives me chills every fucking time, it’s so good. We love when women, it makes me so happy. Make sure to follow Ella on all of her social platforms. We’ll have her links in our show notes. If you’re loving these conversations or if you have a topic you’d like us to cover or again, no one’s said they’ve spotted Timothee Chalamet, and I know one of you has, so feel free to leave us a voicemail, leave us a review. Reviews are one of the best ways to support the show as well as we just love hearing your voices. We love hearing you engage with our podcast and ask us good questions and they’ve inspired future episodes.
We really appreciate, again, not only your support, but also your questions, your reviews, it makes the show better. Feel free to share the show with your friends, your family, and on social media and make sure to tag us @financialfeministpodcast on Instagram. As always, we have so much information in the show notes, so if you want to engage further with some of the topics we’ve talked about today, if you want to go back in the archive and listen to old episodes, all of that is available either linked in our show notes or just by scrolling back on your favorite podcast platform. Thanks for being here as always, catch you later, financial feminists. Have a good one.
Thank you for listening to Financial Feminists at Her First $100K podcast. Financial Feminist is hosted by me, Tori Dunlap, produced by Kristen Fields, Marketing and Administration by Karina Patel, Olivia Coning, Cherise Wade, Alina Helser, Helena Isaac, Sophia Cohen, Valerie Oresko, Jack Coning and Anna Alexandra. Research by Ariel Johnson, Audio Engineering by Austin Fields, Promotional Graphics by Mary Stratton, Photography by Sarah Wolfe and Theme Music by Jonah Cohen Sound. A huge thanks to the entire Her $100K team and community for supporting the show. For more information about financial Feminist, Her First $100K our guests and episode show notes, visit financialfeministpodcast.com.