To her thousands of online fans, Baylee-Rose O’Halloran seemed like the quintessential party girl – beautiful, bubbly and confident, with an infectious enthusiasm for life. But beneath it all, the former bikini model’s self-esteem was so fragile that she twice attempted suicide – the last time just a year ago – due to a barrage of cruel comments on social media.
Since then, after quitting booze and developing a passion for kickboxing, Baylee-Rose has bounced back and is speaking out to help other young women who are bullied online. “I know a lot of my friends will be shocked as I always have a smile on my face,” says the 26-year-old, who has nearly 45,000 followers on Instagram.
“But in many cases, it’s the people you don’t suspect who are most at risk because there are no signs, so there is no way of knowing and helping them.”
Now a professional fighter who has represented New Zealand around the world, she is also exploring a career in TV after landing a small role opposite Rhys Darby in the TV series Short Poppies and becoming friends with Kim Dotcom.
In fact, she introduced the internet mogul to Playboy model Amy Lee Summers – who famously broke the multimillionaire’s heart when she rejected his marriage proposal in 2015 – and was one of the few women to see the inside of his bedroom in the former Dotcom mansion.
“No-one got to go there,” says Baylee-Rose. “He had a lap pool in there, underneath murals of himself. It was just incredible! I did a few bikini shoots there and there was always security around. I’ve got a lot of respect for Kim. He’s cool. He was lonely, though.”
Baylee-Rose’s mum Michelle was just 15 when her daughter was born. She was dealing with a raft of drug and alcohol problems, which she has since conquered, but which left Baylee-Rose to be raised by her father and stepfather.
Growing up, she had to “tread on eggshells” around her parents, and she spent much of her teenage years sleeping on friends’ couches and living on state handouts. “But I was so determined to finish school and go to uni – absolutely nothing would stop me,” tells the qualified vet nurse.
Bitten by the modelling bug after being approached by a scout in her late teens, Baylee-Rose started entering bikini competitions, winning several titles. It was while competing in a Miss Auckland pageant that she woke up to discover that half her face was frozen, the result of a condition called Bell’s palsy.
“I was devastated but carried on with the competition, even though I knew I wouldn’t place,” she tells. However, the barrage of abuse on social media that followed hurt. “They would call me ‘retard’ and ‘you ugly bitch’.”
In early 2014, while drunk and alone at a friend’s house, she had her first suicidal impulse. She recalls, “All I could think was, ‘I can’t deal. What’s the point?’ I wasn’t thinking about how it would affect anyone else.”
Baylee-Rose woke up in a hospital bed, surrounded by tearful friends. “I was like, ‘What have I done?’ I couldn’t bear seeing my friends so upset. After that, I decided to talk to people about my feelings more. It helped a lot.”
However, her confidence had gone and she piled on 20kg, moving from modelling in bikini competitions to judging them, which only fuelled her body issues. A year and a half later, she became the target of social-media trolls once more and attempted suicide again.
“Mum freaked out when she found me,” Baylee-Rose remembers. “She told me, ‘I can’t lose you. You are my only child.’ As I recovered, she told me I needed to do something to help myself, something active, something I was passionate about.”
Baylee decided on kickboxing and was hooked after her first class. “It felt really good,” she explains. “It also inspired me to quit drinking because you can’t drink and fight. And I changed my whole diet. Now that I don’t drink, I eat healthy and I’m disciplined, my skin has cleared up and I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.”
Over the past year, Baylee-Rose has lost 20kg and become a professional kickboxer, recently spending half a year training and fighting in Phuket, Thailand. While there, she also applied her veterinary skills at the animal charity Bodhi Shelter Clinic and raised $1500.
“My followers gave so generously,” she tells. “I brought over medicines, trained some of the staff and was able to give them a cheque from everyone who donated. They bawled their eyes out. It was the best feeling in the world.”
Baylee-Rose – who also counts feisty Bachelor NZ contestant Nazanin Khanjani among her friends – is now on a mission to encourage girls to use social media positively and ignore the negative.
“I want to raise awareness and give the issue a voice because I have a bloody massive voice,” she laughs. Her top tip? “Don’t engage with trolls. You can block them.”
Now gearing up for more international fights, Baylee-Rose can’t believe how far she has come in the past couple of years. “Suicide is not the answer,” she declares. “It’s a cliché, but there’s always good stuff around the corner.”
Words: Carmen Lichi