Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011...7:30 am

Beauty products that heal: Prostitutes & addicts transformed by Thistle Farms

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We all love hearing about a new for-benefit company, where a business has built its concept around benefitting a social cause. Most for-benefits are based in Africa or other impoverished countries, which is completely awesome — but there’s something especially impactful about hearing about one in my own country. It hits closer to home, literally.

Thistle Farms is a bath & beauty company based in Nashville, Tenn., that sells products handmade by women recovering from lives of prostitution, addiction and violence. It’s the social enterprise of the Magdalene project, and on average, women in the project range from the age of 20 to 50, were sexually abused as pre-teens, started using alcohol or drugs by their teens, have been arrested an average of 100 times and have spent about 12 years on the street prostituting.

In America.

The Magdalene program offers women two years of basic needs and beyond — housing, food, medical, therapy, job training and education — without charging for it or taking any government funding. About 30 women at a time are split among six homes, where they learn to care for each other as well as themselves according to 24 spiritual principles inspired by the Benedictine Rule.

The paper labels on the bath and beauty products are made from thistles, which is also handmade by the women, and is symbolic to their lives. Magdalene founder Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest, told NPR about thistles: “It grows in the places that are abandoned and kind of forgotten, and it also has a history of survival by brutality — but it also has this beautiful deep purple center.”

Magdalene is for women like Penny Hall, a lesbian, who was homeless and would get high to prostitute herself to men for money. She told NPR, “I never thought I’d be at a place making healing oil,” but that Thistle Farms and the Magdalene program have been her saving grace.

Seventy percent of the women who join Magdalene are clean and sober 2 1/2 years after starting the program, and they’re well-equipped to start a new life. The project offers a matched savings program to help prepare for economic independence upon graduation, and women who remain in recovery two years past graduation are eligible for a new home buying program.

Both donations and Thistle Farms profits help fund Magdalene. The project regularly has a waiting list of 80-100 women, which we can all help whittle down by purchasing products or donating.

“Magdalene was founded not only to help a subculture of women, but also to help change the culture itself. We stand in solidarity with women who are recovering from abuse, addiction, and life on the streets, and who have paid dearly for a culture that still buys and sells women.” — thistlefarms.org

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