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'We're Tired of Just Letting This Happen': Two Plus Size Models Start Mini-Online Movement After Getting Denied Entry at a Los Angeles Club The parent company of the club in question said it "does not tolerate discrimination of any kind."

By Gabrielle Bienasz

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Two women are going viral on TikTok for detailing how they were denied entrance to a club in Los Angeles earlier this month.

Models Ella Halikas and Alexa Jay said they attempted to enter the Hollywood-area club The Highlight Room, which is owned by Tao Group Hospitality, but were not allowed in by a bouncer — and the videos have since sparked a mini-online movement of discussing the various prejudices in nightlife.

@ellahalikas sharing our story to be the voice of so many others that experience this. we're here to make a change. @flexylexxxy ♬ original sound - ella

"It's not really even about us anymore. It's the bigger picture here," Halikas told Entrepreneur.

Since discussing their story on TikTok, Halikas said she's received direct messages and comments from plus-size women of all ages from Miami to New York City.

"We want to share our story with as many people as we can, to have that impact," Halikas added.

In the original video, the pair described being denied entrance to a club for what they said was clear discrimination against larger people.

'We're tired of just letting this happen," Halikas said in the clip. "We [were] clearly being discriminated against. It's very evident."

TikTok and The Highlight Room

Jay said she was with a large group and was "definitely the biggest in the group." They were meeting up for a birthday party and were getting let in by a promoter, she said.

"Right when it gets to me at the front, the bouncer puts the rope in front, looks me up and down, and says, 'yeah, not tonight,'" Jay said. She told NBC News it's not the first time she's experienced racism or fatphobia in nightlife, but that night, she had had enough.

Fellow plus-size model, Halikas, who Jay said she had run into in line, ended up going to the front of the line to figure out what was going on, and she was also looked up and down and told "not tonight" by the bouncer.

The two made a joint video on Halikas's TikTok page and both are active on the platform. Halikas has over 500,000 followers and Jay has 78,000-plus. Halikas has been a content creator for years and a signed model since 2019, she said. She has also been in Sports Illustrated. Jay is signed with DT Model Management, according to her Instagram.

"We're no longer letting this fly anymore," Jay said in the original video. They also advocated for a hashtag based on the bouncer's words, "Not tonight," which they said in another video had been commented on dozens of times on The Highlight Room's Instagram page (commenting is now turned off).

The club has faced a fair amount of online backlash. Besides Instagram comments, the company has negative reviews about discrimination (posted after the video) everywhere, from its Facebook page to Google reviews, at least according to the models. Halikas claimed in another video that the Google reviews were deleted.

"Absolutely awful. They discriminate against weight. They should be ashamed. Would never recommend this place to anyone. Terrible customer service and people skills," one Facebook user wrote on November 7.

People have also left negative reviews on a location of the same name, The Highlight Room in New York City, leading other people in the reviews to ask them to stop because it's not in the same city.

But Tao Group Hospitality actually owns that club in New York, along with several other clubs including TAO and Marquee.

Tao told Entrepreneur in a statement via email that it is "aware of Ella and Alexa's experience" and that, "the doorman on this particular evening worked for a third-party promotion company and we've removed this individual from the door effective immediately."

It further said that they have "made several attempts to resolve the issue directly with Ella and Alexa and even scheduled a meeting within days to address their experience which they unfortunately cancelled."

"Our company does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We are always appreciative of feedback on our operations and continue to work on how to improve our guest experience," the statement finished.

In response, Halikas told Entrepreneur that they initially decided to cancel the meeting with Tao — and that Jay has only spoken on the phone to them one other time — because they wanted to try and take the story bigger.

"I think if we met with them first, it would dilute our frustration, it would dilute the power, of the hashtag and what we're trying to do here," Halikas said. She further said they felt like the company was not "empathetic" in their outreach.

She also criticized the idea that removing the bouncer would help. "I mean I think it's a step in the right direction for sure," she said. But, it won't remove the individual from the club scene, in all likelihood, she said. "He's just going to keep bouncing from club to club," she said.

The pair also said in a follow-up video that they had spoken to the club but were not satisfied with the results.

@flexylexxxy #stitch with @ellahalikas #nottonight ♬ original sound - Alexa Jay

"So far we've been extremely disappointed in how Highlight Room is handling all of this," Jay said.

The duo has also said women have been publicly discussing their own stories about facing discrimination in nightlife, and that they hope to use the situation to pressure Tao and others about the larger issue.

At least one other person has made a video on TikTok discussing being evaluated by promoters and club staff. Halikas said via phone outline and IRL outreach over the incident has run the gamut from people commenting on her videos that they would never be allowed in her club, to meeting club owners who have promised to support her.

"We want to talk to the big guys at the top that are making these rules and hiring all these bouncers because, at the end of the day, this is on you," Halikas said in the follow-up video.

She said she hopes this TikTok moment goes beyond Tao. "Raise your voice and share your story and speak on it," Halikas said.

Gabrielle Bienasz is a staff writer at Entrepreneur. She previously worked at Insider and Inc. Magazine. 

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