I grew up the only child of a poor single mother who, because of her own demons, couldn’t give me the attention that every child deserves. When I was seven, a man offered to let me attend his sleepaway camp for free. Imagine how overjoyed I was. Up until then, I’d lived in low income housing, surviving on food stamps. This was a chance to experience nature and do all the fun things that every child should experience.
But why would a grown man, a complete stranger, make such a generous offer to a little girl he didn’t know? Because he knew I would make the perfect victim.
For the next six years, I was abused by him. It would take years of therapy before I got my smile back. When my own daughters turned seven, it was a very difficult time for me. In them, I saw babies. How could he have done such a horrible thing to me? I became more convinced than ever that my two girls who have the childhood that I never had.
I decided I wanted to sew them a beautiful twirly dress. As a child, I never felt carefree enough to twirl around in a pretty dress. Never. The abuse took that away. I felt ashamed, ugly, invisible, and unworthy of feeling that much joy. I took some classes and came up with a design for a reversible twirly dress. Because I lived so close to the Los Angeles Fashion District, I was able to find some really amazing fabrics. They were super soft and bursting with childhood joy. The construction technique I used was very labor intensive, and the fabrics were pretty expensive. But so what? This was a special gift. Not just to my two daughters, but to little girl I once was.
My kids loved their dresses and wore them every day. Soon, other moms at their school were asking if I would sew them for their daughters. At first, I sewed them all on our dining room table, but when a local store discovered them, I hired local sewers to keep up with demand. Then I put up a website and people all across the world started buying them. I called my new business TwirlyGirl.
One day, I was approached by a major department store. They wanted to carry TwirlyGirl, but in order for us to be profitable, we would have to lower our prices. To do this, we’d need to stop sewing in America and outsource overseas. We’d also have to use less expensive fabrics and cheaper construction techniques. I was at a crossroads. On the one hand was a great opportunity to build a business. But to do so, I would have to compromise everything that was special about these dresses. And like I said, this was never about starting a children’s clothing business. I didn’t realize this at first, but it’s obvious to me now: When I go to work every day, I’m not just creating dresses. I’m creating the childhood I never had.
It really didn’t take long to make my decision. I knew what felt right to me. Creating TwirlyGirl had been so healing for me and I didn’t want that to change. I love reading all the wonderful customer comments on our website. And on Facebook, I get so much pleasure from the photos of all the beautiful TwirlyGirls wearing our designs. Seeing their happy smiles, and knowing that they get to enjoy something that I didn’t, gives me so much pleasure. And because of our success, we’re able to donate a portion of all sales to Childhelp, a national non-profit that helps abused children.
This is the meaning that I’ve created from my horrible past. It doesn’t fix it, but it does give it value. Bad things happen to all of us, but they don’t have to define us. Create a new story. And when you do, invite the world to share in your joy. This is your triumph. This is how YOU twirl.