The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Flashing Lights

It’s quite common — and almost inevitable, some would argue — to have adolescent dreams of becoming famous. Whether it’s thoughts of movies, sold-out concerts, game-winning touchdowns or celebrity-bursting, camera-flashing, Cristal-poppin’ Hollywood parties, the desire for fame — in any sense of the word — is almost mutual amongst everyone.

For j

“I was so surprised,” she told me, thinking back on the afternoon that spawned her modeling journey. “It was just crazy … it was such a special moment for me.”

Throughout the five-year career that followed — a career that included traveling, photo shoots, runway shows, rigorous dieting, high-end parties … everything, really — she experienced a lifestyle most can barely even begin to imagine.

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Not to say she took it for granted, though.

During her time spent in the “glamorous life,” she learned, both personally and professionally, numerous lessons about hard work, the power of women, and, most importantly, the magnitude of leadership; all of which she plans to carry with her into her future goals.

Looking back, it’s almost ironic — and a bit cliché — that it all started with just a casual walk downtown.

“I was fourteen when I was discovered. My sister and I were walking down the street of Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. It was either autumn or summer … it’s been so long, I can’t even remember! …and this woman approaches me and says ‘Oh God! You need to model for me!’” Bershadskaya said. “My first thought was, ‘There are so many people in this street; how could you notice me out of everyone?’ It was such a unique and strange experience.”

The mysterious woman turned out to be Valentina Vidrashku, director of Moldovan agency Viva Models, who, as Bershadskaya recalls, was very persistent about getting her to attend a personal modeling school.

“At first I was skeptical,” Bershadskaya remembers. “I mean, modeling? It just didn’t seem right for me. I didn’t know what to say.”

Vidrashku — after some light persuasion — collected Bershadskaya’s contact information. Almost immediately, Bershadskaya’s home phone was ringing day and night with calls from Viva.

“(Vidrashku) was (really) trying to convince my sister to come to her school,” said Bershadaskaya’s elder sister Olga, who was present with Bershadskaya during the time of her discovery. “After one month of calling my mom and talking (for) hours about Lena’s potential in modeling, we all finally decided (she should) try it.”

The next week Bershadskaya enrolled in Vidrashku’s modeling school, attending it after regular school hours and on the weekends.

“A normal night (of modeling school) would have lessons on runway walking, back and forth. The main goal was to shape the walk one hundred percent, so we’d just walk and walk and walk …” she said. “Then, we’d have theatre classes. As a model, they taught us it was important to be artistic physically — you need your feelings to call action to people.”

Additionally, she said, students were required to take make-up application and dance classes.

Within the first few days at the school — which she now playfully refers to as “a beauty factory” — Bershadskaya found herself catching on quickly, picking up the techniques like second nature.

She was such a natural, in fact, that within just one week of attendance, she was invited to model in her first runway show.

“I remember it being in this huge hotel (in Chisinau) with tons of people watching,” she said. “I was modeling a dress by Viva. To be honest, though, it was a little strange …” (stops to laugh) “… I mean, it was very pretty, but it had all these holes in it. I felt like I was showing too much skin. After that, though, I realized that’s part of being a model — your role is to wear whatever they give you.”

Clothing aside, though, she said the experience was simply incredible.

“At first I was a little nervous, but for the most part, I was just excited!” she said. “I find that it’s good to be excited, because when you are, you know how to send your emotions to people … you’re just doing your absolute best.”

Following shortly, Bershadskaya’s career quickly picked up. She found herself traveling across Moldova, Romania and Ukraine for both runway shows — most notably, an invite to participate in the Moldova’s Viva Top Model contest — and shootings for magazines, which were published locally and in Bulgaria. Impressively, she did all of it while remaining a full time student.

“Lena always knew how to prioritize,” Olga Bershadskaya said. “She always managed to make her homework for the second day when having shows until 11 p.m. … I supported (her) in that she didn’t fall completely into modeling how other girls did, forgetting completely about studies.”

Aside from Viva clothing, Bershadskaya began modeling for Forever 21 and Irina Shrotter. She attended shows and parties with other models and Eastern European celebrities, including singer Dan Balan (of “Numa Numa” fame.)

With all the glamour and flashing lights, however, came a list of sacrifices.

“The lifestyle was certainly tough to adjust to; you were only allowed to eat vegetables, no fat food at all. All the designers were looking for your skin to be absolutely perfect,” she said. “Sometimes, when (we) would be working all day, the only food available was coffee — so that’s what we’d survive on: Lots of coffee and the occasional sandwich, if we were lucky.”

Models were typically expected to rehearse an entire day for a runway show — a show that ultimately took only ten minutes of actual stage time for each girl. Bershadskaya said she remembers everyone being exhausted, grabbing bites to eat when they could and stealing quick naps during breaks, even if only for a few minutes.

“You basically had to say goodbye to pleasures like good food and sleep,” she said.

As her modeling friends became more serious with the profession, she began thinking more about academia.

Soon — after a five- year modeling stint — she decided to apply for a scholarship, got it, and was selected to study at Eau Claire for a year.
“Ultimately, I chose to improve my education instead of focusing on modeling,” she said. “And now I’m here in the West. As a model, you don’t know your future; but now, I know what my future will entail, not as a model, but as Elena.”

Though she admittedly misses the modeling world, Bershadskaya says she’s much happier with her life as a student. Her family agrees.
“(My best) memory about her (Bershadskaya’s) modeling career was her excitement about what was going on,” said Barbershop mother Lidia. “She received a chance to test her personality, to see what she is capable of and to learn from that experience … she learned that in order to accomplish your dreams, you have to work hard and be flexible.”

Now at Eau Claire, Bershadskaya is enrolled in a variety of classes — ranging from marketing to photography — but ultimately has her mind set on a specific career goal.

“I’d love to become a PR manager for Philip Morris,” she said. “In Moldova, PR isn’t very developed, but I want to bring a future into the field. It’s essentially the basis of a company’s future; so why not be the first one to improve the situation?”

Since arriving in Eau Claire, she’s already embarked on a project to gain PR experience by representing senior Michael Jacobs with his photography work — a job, Jacobs says, that she’s doing well.

“Elena has a very unique and interesting spark,” he said. “(It) shows through her words, her work, and her person … I am very lucky.”
Although now a “retired” model focusing on a new career, she said she still holds a strong appreciation for fashion. When asked if she’d ever consider the American tradition of donning sweatpants to class, she just laughs.

“No way!”

In hindsight, Bershadskaya said she’s grateful she was able to experience what she did. It’s helped her learn the essentials of hard work and what it takes to be successful — all things, she said, that she’ll carry over into her PR profession.

“I’m so glad with what I’m doing right now,” she said with a smile that showed she’s sincerely happy. “I do miss the flashing lights and shows. I mean, back then when all the kids were at home studying, I got to travel and meet people. It was an experience worth living, not because of the ‘Oh my God, modeling should be what everyone wants’ thing … no, that’s not it. I’m grateful because it required creativity, a sense of achievement and a strong personality.

“Ultimately, it’s made me more feminine; I’ve learned what it means to behave ethically, how to work hard and be organized,” she went on to say. “Now that I’m busy with school, I can tell that modeling has made me more of a leader — and that is something I’ll definitely take into my future.”

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