Inspirational mum pays it forward with beauty

Jen Armstrong with her children Isabel and Harvey.
Jen Armstrong with her children Isabel and Harvey. Photo: Supplied

When her husband kicked her in the stomach when she was five months pregnant, Jen Armstrong knew she had only one choice.

"I ended up in hospital and this time I realised I had to get out," Jen says.

"The abuse had been happening for a long time. I'd been to emergency before, when he'd smashed my jaw and injured my wrists, but this time it was about protecting my unborn baby.

The Beauty Bank puts together gift packages for victims fleeing domestic violence.
The Beauty Bank puts together gift packages for victims fleeing domestic violence. Photo: Supplied

"Also [my daughter] Isabel was 10 months old at the time and she was starting to pay attention to what was happening, and I couldn't let her grow up thinking this was normal."

Jen's determination to save her children from a life of violence saw her leave her husband three years ago. She had few possessions and no idea where she was going to live.

Jen says the abuse she suffered was emotional, financial and physical, leaving her feeling "broken" despite possessing a strong personality before getting into the relationship.

"That strength was quickly worn down by domestic abuse to a point where I doubted myself and was embarrassed by what was happening to me," she explains.

"People say 'why didn't you leave?', but it's just not that easy when you're in that mindframe."

After finally leaving the relationship, Jen, from Sydney's Sutherland shire, found it hard to admit she was struggling to make ends meet. She relied a lot on the kindness of strangers.

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It was the generosity of those strangers who inspired the now 33-year-old to "pay it forward" by launching her own charity in the months following the birth of son Harvey.

The Beauty Bank calls on donations and puts together packages of luxury soaps and toiletries as gifts for victims of domestic violence.

Jen came up with the idea for The Beauty Bank because of the difference a seemingly simple gift made to her during the toughest of times.

"It was a Nutrimetics body wash that was thrown in as an extra with some baby items I received from the Dandelions charity soon after I left my husband," she says.

"It might seem really insignificant but I had nothing of my own at the time, and, as a mum, any money I did have was spent on my daughter or getting ready for my baby to be born.

"So the bodywash was my little treat. When I got Isabel to bed at night I would have a shower and use it and felt like such a luxury and restored my self confidence. 

"It made me think 'wow, for someone to give me something nice like this, they must think I am worthwhile and am doing the right thing'.

"It might sound simple to others, but receiving that bodywash was a real turning point for me."

Jen is keen to point out The Beauty Bank gifts are not crisis packages, but rather quality gifts.

"When you are in that desperate situation, you already feel bad about yourself. So we don't want to be giving someone a half used bottle of shampoo or hotel toiletries that will just make them feel worse.

"The packs we put together are proper gifts to make the recipient feel special, they are a gift that you would be happy giving to a good friend."

The Beauty Bank packs are delivered via refuges and crisis centres. Due to privacy reasons Jen never has any contact with the people who receive them, but she says she's had great feedback from social workers. 

"They say mum wasn't expecting anything for herself and started crying when she saw the gift pack."

The Beauty Bank has so far sent packages to 1000 victims of domestic violence. A further 160 packs have been sent out for Mother's Day this weekend.

"If just a few of those people get the boost in self-confidence that I got three years ago from the bodywash I received, then that makes it all worthwhile as far as I'm concerned," Jen says.

In addition to launching The Beauty Bank and raising Isabel, 4, and Harvey, 3, as a single mum over the past three years, Jen has also completed two diplomas and is half way through a university course.

She is part of the Advanced Business Leadership program at the University of Western Sydney, with a major in Sports Management, and is achieving excellent marks.

"It's not easy and I'm still dealing with the fallout of being in an abusive relationship," Jen says. "But I'm safe and I have two beautiful kids who are safe, and that's what's important."

Jen Armstrong is the winner of the Essential Baby Mother's Day Motherhood Stories competition and will be receiving a $200 Red Balloon voucher and a subscription to Bellabox.

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