Haley Kalil is as brilliant as she is beautiful – as a Model, Scientist, and Activist for Women In STEM. This year, she will be featured for the 4th year in a row in the forthcoming 2021 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Haley first starting working with SI Swim in 2017, after attending her first-ever open casting call on a whim (with no agency backing her and no prior modeling portfolio). Now, she is utilizing the momentum of her career and budding platform to support women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). A cause near and dear to Haley’s heart, as an accomplished Scientist herself – who previously earned a collegiate 4.0 in Biomedical Sciences and Psychology, with a minor in Chemistry.
To support her mission, Haley is launching “#NERDHERD” – an organization that empowers women to love their bodies and their minds while working to educate and empower the new generation of women in STEM. Haley will be releasing a collection of #NERDHERD loungewear later this year, donating 100% of the proceeds from the first launch to organizations that help young women get involved in STEM at an early age. #NERDHERD will be partnering with non-profit organizations such as Black Girls Code, which is dedicated to teaching girls ages 7-17 about computer programming and digital technology.
BELLA got to know Haley and her inspiration for empowering women + young girls…
Congratulations on your 4th year with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit! What has that journey been like?
My journey with SI Swimsuit has been nothing short of life changing. I submitted a 60-second video on Instagram in the hopes of meeting MJ Day (the editor-in-chief) and the SI Swimsuit team during their first-ever open casting call. I never could have possibly imagined that one 60-second video on social media would change my entire life…. but it did. I went from a lab nerd with no modeling background who was turned away from every agency in my small town…. to a full time model who just shot her 4th year for the iconic SI Swimsuit issue. My journey with SI Swimsuit has opened so many doors for me and has provided me with an international platform to speak about my passions, charitable alignments, and now The Nerd Herd.
You have an impressive modeling resume and are a former Miss Minnesota USA. Were these things you always dreamed about as a kid? How did you get your start in the industry?
Modeling was always a huge dream of mine… but growing up in Minnesota, I never thought it was possible. I was always the “awkward, nerdy” kid… so modeling seemed like an impossible dream. I am also the daughter of two mechanical engineers – so pursuing modeling at a young age was out of the question. My entire life prior to my breakout in the industry with SI Swimsuit was based solely around my academic achievements. My mother taught me that there is nothing more powerful than an intelligent woman and I am so thankful for the confidence by academic background instilled in me… because the modeling world is not easy. After a hard day, it’s a wonderful feeling knowing I was raised to know I am so much more than what I look like.
As an accomplished Scientist, with a 4.0 in Biomedical Sciences and Psychology, and a minor in Chemistry, you are truly the definition of beauty and brains. Share with our readers your passion for science and how you’re supporting women in STEM.
I have been drawn to science and math ever since I was a little girl. I remember excelling in the sciences from a very young age. I had a fascination for the human body. I begged my mom to let me take courses about anatomy online when I was in middle school. I had a thirst for knowledge about how our bodies worked, moved, and thrived. I do remember being teased for liking science and math because it was a “man’s field.” Thankfully, my mother would tell me stories about being the only girl in her upper level physics courses in college… so I felt seen and heard in my passion for science. My mother paved the way for me to become the woman I am today. I want to be that woman for another little girl with the same passions who doesn’t have the role model I did growing up. I want to invest whatever I can into the new generation of women in STEM – women who I believe will change the world.
You recently launched #NERDHERD – an organization that empowers women, especially the new generation of women in STEM. Tell us a little more about the organization, its mission, and how it was born.
The Nerd Herd is a place for women to feel safe expressing their passion for knowledge, science, math, etc. – while also loving and embracing every curve of their physical bodies. We are taught as women, from a very young age, that we have to choose between loving our minds or loving our bodies. When I was working in the medical industry, I was scared to post photos in my swimsuits on vacation because I thought one photo may lose me the respect of my coworkers. This should not be the case in the 21st century.
I want to live in a world where female doctors can post a bikini photo without being shamed… a world where a female engineer does not have to worry about posting vacation photos because her sundress may appear too short…. a world where a female attorney doesn’t have to wonder if wearing the wrong top will lose her the respect of her coworkers or even her job. I started The Nerd Herd as a safe place for women to express every piece of who they are and embrace the multidimensional nature of their bodies and minds.
I am so excited to announce that I will be releasing a special loungewear line later this year through The Nerd Herd. With 100% of the proceeds from the first drop donated to organizations that help get women involved in STEM at an early age – organizations like Black Girls Code. I have always been passionate about the sciences. It has always given me meaning and purpose. I want other young women to feel the same. I want them to embrace the power of their minds while simultaneously embracing the beauty of their bodies. Hopefully, they will be the next generation of astronauts, doctors, engineers, and researchers that change the world…. and I will work tirelessly until they are able to do so without all the current restrictions society places on women in these fields.
You have also partnered with non-profit organizations like Black Girls Code. Where does your affinity for supporting and empowering women and young girls derive from and how do you manage to juggle all of these endeavors?
I am so unbelievably thankful for the team of people I have working with me every step of the way. You can’t change the world on your own…. it takes an army. It takes a group of people to tackle issues these large and so deeply engrained into our culture. Thankfully, there are incredible organizations like Black Girls Code that are encouraging women into STEM fields at a young age and providing them with the necessary training and knowledge to foster that passion. I want to be the reason a little girl decided to become a computer scientist or an immunologist… despite it being a male dominated field. I want to be the reason a young woman followed her true passion. I want to be the reason a young woman embraced herself fully and unapologetically… even the nerdiest sides of her. I want to be the reason a young woman loves everything about herself and what she’s passionate about.
Any advice for women in the beauty industry, women in STEM, or just women in general, who may be battling issues with body image, gender bias, or overall mental health?
You are not alone. You are not weak for feeling this way. You are beautiful just the way you are and you are FULLY entitled to happiness. I’m sorry if anyone has made you feel less than because YOU ARE MORE. I have battled with body image and confidence my entire life but, with age comes knowledge, and I have learned I have the right to take up space in society. I have the right to be who I am. I have the right to love my body just the way it is. I have the right to my passions, body, brain, and life. It’s a long journey to self-acceptance…. but it’s a journey that is worth the ups and downs. And if you ever feel like you can’t do it alone, reach out for help!! It’s one of the strongest things a person can do.
Where can people follow you on your journey or support your mission with #NERDHERD?
For more information on the #NerdHerd and all the excited things we have planned for release… follow our Instagram page @thenerdherd. The more people we have supporting this movement, the more powerful it will be!
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