EXCLUSIVE: Haley Kalil didn’t hesitate to break down when she saw her photos for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit.

The Minnesota native first made her modeling debut in 2018 as part of the first-ever open casting call and was named the co-winner alongside Camille Kostek. Now the former Miss Minnesota, a self-proclaimed “nerd” who is studying biomedical sciences and psychology, is featured in the 2020 issue on newsstands now, which features Kate Bock, Olivia Culpo and Jasmine Sanders as this year’s coveted cover girls.

For the current issue, Kalil headed to Scrub Island where she proudly soaked up the sun in front of cameras. However, the star admitted she wasn’t expecting to see how she would look like in the final shots. After getting over the emotional shock, Kalil is now hoping to spread some love in a new project launched by SI Swimsuit and Vita Coco called the “Feel Good” challenge. She, along with Kostek, and Brooks Nader, are encouraging women from around the globe to post images of themselves “feeling good” for a chance to earn a spot in the magazine.

Haley Kalil is featured in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit's 2020 issue, which is on sale now.

Haley Kalil is featured in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s 2020 issue, which is on sale now.
(Josie Clough/Sports Illustrated)

Kalil spoke to Fox News about why she cried after seeing her photos, being “laughed out of a room” for wanting to be a model, and the heartfelt advice she would give to her younger self.

Fox News: How does it feel to be part of SI Swimsuit’s 2020 issue?
Haley Kalil: Oh my goodness, every single year that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit invites me back, it’s like the cherry on top of my year… It’s honestly an honor to be a part of this family.

When they first told me I’d be going to the British Virgin Islands, I was super excited. I had never been there before. I’ve heard these islands are gorgeous. And we went to this one island with really cool caves mixed with these pools that you can just walk straight into. It’s straight out of a movie or one of those gorgeous Instagram photos.

And I remember when we first entered into the cave, there was this white sand, this spotlight of light coming down. The water was sparkling. It was that perfect SI Swimsuit moment where you kind of pinch yourself and you go, “Oh my gosh, I am shooting for Sports Illustrated. I’m in the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, and this is going to be awesome.” So, that’s kind of my mood the entire time during my Sports Illustrated shoot.

Fox News: SI Swimsuit’s Instagram page revealed you cried “happy tears” after seeing your photos for the first time. Why did you get so emotional?
Kalil: It’s something I didn’t expect out of myself because I’m normally a logical person. I have two parents that are engineers. So I grew up in a house that was a lot more logical than it was emotional *laughs*.

But when I was growing up, I was always kind of a nerd. I was always teased for what I looked like. Whenever I would tell anyone I wanted to be a model, I was laughed out of a room. So this has been a long time coming for me. And as women, it’s really hard to see ourselves the way other people might see us.

We pick out our flaws so much easier than our friends or family or even people who don’t know us. So to see yourself through the lens of somebody like [photographer] Josie [Clough] or any of the [other] photographers that shoot Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, you kind of see yourself in a way that you’re not used to seeing yourself.

And then it makes you rethink like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so hard on myself, 24 seven.” And then to see me like this in a way that’s celebrated. Every inch of my body is celebrated… You can see yourself the way that you wish you could see yourself all the time. So it was really a magical moment for me.

Fox News: What advice would you give to your younger self?
Kalil: I would tell her just to not be afraid to take up space. I think as a woman, especially a younger woman, you’re intimidated by people. So you think that you have to go inside yourself and… not truly be yourself. I would tell her don’t be afraid to take up space and don’t be afraid to be your true self. I’m a weirdo, I’m a nerd. I’m crazy. And that’s OK. Embrace who you are because all those things about yourself are what make you, you. Don’t bury that in yourself.

To envision me as a [SI Swimsuit model] was so hard because you have all those internal hurdles of you not being good enough. Or, you’re not pretty enough. You’re not confident enough… But if you push those boundaries, and you really want something, and you work so hard for it while staying humble, amazing things will happen to you.

Fox News: How did you physically prepare for your shoot?
Kalil: One of the coolest things about Sports Illustrated Swimsuit is that you can go there with any type of body and they’ll be like, “Oh, damn you look good!” *laughs* And it’s just really encouraging because you don’t have to, like, fit into a certain size. They’re just expecting you to shine on set. That’s it. They just want to capture who you are.

So for me, I worked out in the gym, like I normally do. I’m blessed that I have my mother’s genetics, she’s tiny. So I just ate normally. It’s not like I cut calories. I wanted to represent my natural body because I don’t want to put an image out there for women that is unachievable. So I just embraced the way that I live. I just tried to stay more towards the healthy side, instead of like my quarantine diet, for example, *laughs*.

Fox News: But how do you stay in shape all year long?
Kalil: I wasn’t a model before all this. So I moved to New York and every model was like, “You have to try Pilates.” And I thought, “Man, I don’t know.” Then I tried it and I’m obsessed. I love it. It’s a great workout to strengthen your muscles without feeling super burned out. But if I’m in the gym, like in Charlotte or somewhere else that isn’t New York City, I’m always doing just weight training. So body weights, small weights, five pounds, 10 pounds, and just a lot of reps so that you can keep that muscle strong, but keep it long.

Fox News: You and Camille Kostek were previously co-winners of SI’s Swim Search. How has your relationship with her changed since winning together?
Kalil: It’s like gaining a sister. I got to watch her grow from entering Swim Search to us shooting together. And then she got the cover. It’s been an incredible process of watching somebody that you admire so much and achieve the biggest dream in the world to you.

When we were shooting together, I remember how she talked about how she wanted to get the cover one day. She has always wanted to represent the idea of women celebrating their bodies. It’s been incredible. It’s really like a sisterhood and it’s been fun to stay connected.

Models Haley Kalil (L) and Camille Kostek (2nd L) attend Sports Illustrated Swimsuit new issue launch and model search winners celebration at Encore Beach Club in Wynnn Las Vegas on March 24, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Models Haley Kalil (L) and Camille Kostek (2nd L) attend Sports Illustrated Swimsuit new issue launch and model search winners celebration at Encore Beach Club in Wynnn Las Vegas on March 24, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
(David Becker/Getty Images for Wynn Nightlife)

Fox News: Tell us about the “Feel Good” project launched by SI Swimsuit and Vita Coco.
Kalil: We’ve been doing this posting challenge where girls will post something that makes them feel good. So I’ve been tagged in so many photos with dogs, which I’ve been loving. I’ve been tagged in photos of girls eating their favorite food, girls with their families, girls telling stories about maybe their past of dealing with anxiety and depression, and now coming out of that.

It’s been really cool just to see all these joyful photos roll out of Instagram at a time… You don’t need to be in a swimsuit. You can be in whatever you’re comfortable in… These photos are all about something that makes you feel good. And in turn, then we can all see kind of a little bit more about who you are.

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