Model sisters start anti-bullying campaign

Posted at 8:59 PM, Jan 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-24 07:23:38-05

CINCINNATI -- Leah and Erin Eliopulos have posed for Nike, Vogue and Nylon Magazine.

It’s hard to believe the sisters have ever felt anything but glamorous, but the pair said they felt far from beautiful growing up.

Born to a Caucasian father and a Barbadian mother, the Eliopulos sisters grew up in West Chester and graduated from Lakota West High School. As children, they said they were often bullied for being biracial.

Leah, 21, remembers how difficult it was growing up in a predominantly white area.

"We were bullied, and it was very hard for a long time," Leah said. "I wanted to straighten my hair. I wanted to get a relaxer. I wanted to look like everyone else. I wanted to fit in."

Erin, 18, said she had a similar experience. She struggled with where she fit in while she was in high school.

"I was friends with black kids too, but I was in a predominantly white group, like none of my friends are black today that I still talk to from high school, which I think is interesting because I don't think the black community in my high school really accepted me, and I kind of denied who I was for the longest time," Erin said.

"I denied my blackness just because I guess I wanted to fit in with all the other kids."

Leah said she was also bullied through her teenage years.

"When I was about 14 years old this kid lit my hair on fire," she said.

Erin remembers getting teased for the gap between her front teeth.

"People would just say like, ‘She's pretty, but what about her teeth? Her teeth are ugly. Her teeth ruin her,’" Erin said.

Erin said she wishes she could tell herself what she knows now.

"I definitely always wanted to be like everybody else, but back then when we were little -- we didn't realize that wanting to be like everybody else and wanting to get rid of our differences -- we didn't realize that our differences
made us who we are today," Erin said.

"I like my gap. It's completely me. I don't know where I would be without it. It's just made my career what it is today. It's made me who I am today. It's made me tougher, stronger."

Now, the Eliopulos sisters have started their own campaign in the hopes that young people will embrace their differences.

Erin said their campaign, Diversity 101, is not limited to race and ethnicity. The campaign is about "everything that makes you different."

"We also want to bring attention to suicides by bullying and parents that don't pay attention to kids that are bullied," Erin said. "We also want to give people who have been bullied a platform to stand up and say something like, ‘I'm being bullied.’ Please help, because a lot of kids don't say anything, which is what we also need to bring attention to."

As a part of Diversity 101, they’re accepting essays from young people about how they can embrace diversity and stop bullying.

The Eliopulos sisters will award a $1,000 scholarship to the best essay from a graduating senior and a $500 scholarship to an 8th grader.

Click here for more information on the sisters’ scholarship foundation.