Model Citizens 9

Local Sisters Rise Against Bullying

When you look at Leah and Erin Eliopulos, it’s easy to see how they could become successful models at a young age. They’re beautiful, confident and charming. What you don’t see right away, until you meet them, is why these two West Chester sisters became models and how they’re changing our community—for the better.

Both girls were bullied as kids. Growing up in a predominately white community, the bi-racial sisters’ physical features made them stand out from their classmates. Older sister Leah, now 20 years old, remembers feeling isolated when she heard whispers in the hallway.

“I think I was the only kid in the school with hair like mine, so I was bullied relentlessly—over and over again. It was hard,” Leah says. “I wanted to fit in.”

She wanted to fit in so badly that Leah wore her hair in a tight bun or braids every day during elementary school.

She recalls, “Kids would call me poodle and they would pull at my hair.” Finally, in eighth grade, Leah’s friends encouraged her to wear her hair down for a day, and she smiles as she says she’s never looked back.

“It took years to accept who I am,” Leah says. “I can’t just shave my head; it’s going to grow back and it’s going to grow back as an afro. That’s just how it is. So I had to come to terms with myself and embrace my diversity. It took a long while and it wasn’t easy.”

Younger sister Erin, 18 years old, can relate. Having just graduated from Lakota West this past year, her experiences with bullying are a little more recent, but she wants kids to know that it doesn’t last forever.

“It does get better,” Erin smiles. “Once you start to grow up, you realize that not everything everyone says about you is true.”

“It does get better,” Erin smiles. “Once you start to grow up, you realize that not everything everyone says about you is true.”

It comes as no surprise that these unique sisters landed a modeling job at an early age, and they both recall that day like it was yesterday. The manager of a Cincinnati boutique asked if they would model her clothes for an online catalog. Both parents agreed because the proceeds from this opportunity supported the organization Dress for Success, which helps women re-enter the workforce.

From the very beginning of their careers, their father and manager, Nicholas Eliopulos, D.C., says he and their mother wanted the girls to use their talents to give back to the community. The sisters have started their own non-profit foundation, Diversity 101, with a goal of creating awareness and education surrounding bullying, and to provide essay-based scholarships to kids who have made a difference. So far, the money raised for the foundation has been a direct donation from Leah and Erin, as a result of their modeling careers.

Both girls found fast success modeling for major names in the industry—Leah for Ann Taylor and Erin for Nike, Calvin Klein Fragrance and MILKMakeup. With frequent opportunities to travel throughout the world, the girls say meeting new people, who are different from themselves, is their favorite part of the job.

“One day you’ll meet a photographer from Africa or a casting director from Hong Kong, and the next you’re meeting models from all over the world,” Leah says.

Erin adds, “Being able to travel the world is such a gift. I have friends in South Africa, China, Israel, Argentina…you get to break barriers with them.”

While the girls enjoy breaking barriers and traveling the globe, they still miss their West Chester home and look forward to coming back to supportive family and friends, who keep them grounded and feeling “normal,” as Erin puts it.

Even with the early success of their careers, both girls agree that bullies still haunt them on bad days, filling them with feelings of insecurity and doubt.

“I’m still learning to love my insecurities, like this gap in between my teeth,” Erin points out. “That’s something I’m working on…but at the end of the day I know that I’ll never get rid of it. It’s something that makes me, me. I’ll never be anybody else, and as long as I love myself then I can deal with it.”

It’s this strong and positive outlook that both girls hope to spread to other kids who have been bullied.

To support Leah and Erin Eliopulos’ anti-bullying foundation, Diversity 101, visit WCLFoundation.com.