Before she even arrived at the Los Angeles club The Highlight Room on Wednesday, model Alexa Jay had anxiety.
Jay, 24, who is Black and plus size, said she has experienced discrimination at clubs, bars and parties since her freshman year of college. But she decided to push those concerns aside to attend her friend's birthday party. That night, she waited in the tightly packed corridor of the club's entrance alongside several friends, including curve model and influencer Ella Halikas. While some in their group were admitted to the club, Jay and Halikas were stopped by the bouncer, they said.
"He looks me head to toe, takes his time, up and down, and goes, 'Not tonight,'" Jay said. "That's when I knew exactly what was going on and I said, 'It's happening.'"
The two models said they believe they were turned away for being plus size. They said what happened is just one example of how people with bigger bodies are discriminated against.
A spokesperson for Tao Group Hospitality, the parent company of The Highlight Room, said in a statement Monday that it is “aware of the 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," the spokesperson said. "Our company does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”
Jay and Halikas confirmed they have been in contact with the club but said they have not received an apology.
The two decided Friday to share their story on TikTok, where a video on Halikas' page has been viewed more than 1.1 million times.
They said the humiliation they felt has inspired them to try to change the culture of how bigger bodies are policed in spaces like clubs.
“I said to my friend if it’s not me being discriminated against because I’m Black, it’s because I’m curvy," Jay said. "When does this end? Like, when does it end?”
The women also started the hashtag #NotTonight to encourage others who have experienced discrimination for being plus size to share their stories and to show the extent of the problem.
"This story isn't really even about me or The Highlight Room. Like, yes, I want an apology, but it's so much bigger than that. This is about all the girls who don't have a voice," Halikas, 25, said in a recent interview. "Even as a Sports Illustrated model myself, I could not get let into a club because I'm a size 14. That shook me to my core."
Some online — including body positivity advocates, fat empowerment activists and plus-size content creators — are sounding the alarm over a potential return to the “heroin chic” thinness of the 1990s and the early 2000s.
“I am of the generation of the first wave of this. We never fully recovered. I lost two decades of my life,” actor Jameela Jamil wrote on Instagram in response to a New York Post headline declaring “heroin chic” back in style.
“I’m BEGGING you to violently reject this, and to VIOLENTLY REJECT any people, or magazines or news outlets who are participating in the spread of this hell," wrote Jamil, who founded the “I Weigh” campaign, which encourages people to value themselves with qualities apart from their weight.
Jay and Halikas said they want to highlight how people with bigger bodies are treated offline.
They believe the bouncers at The Highlight Room should undergo sensitivity training.
Ultimately, they hope, the incident will lead to more inclusive spaces for people of all sizes.
It’s unclear how many people have used the #NotTonight hashtag since Halikas and Jay began promoting it. The hashtag shares the title of a popular EDM song, which has been used as a tag on TikTok.
The comment sections of both women’s videos have been flooded with remarks from others sharing stories about the times they also faced discrimination because of their size.
“I am the lead singer of a band and one time the bouncer of the venue I performed at TRIED TO TURN ME AWAY AT THE DOOR OF MY OWN SHOW,” one person commented.
Another commenter wrote: “I am that girl who doesn’t have a voice and I thank you both for this! It’s happened to me and I just walked away and cried in private.”