Dena Tayler owns Dena’s Boutique in Walnut Grove where people who stop by the store also get to meet Chester and Tikka. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance)

Empowered at Any Age: Langley business owner rebuilds shattered life

The Langley Advance presents a special publication sharing the stories of several local women.

You never know what burdens a stranger carries on her heart.

In this special publication, Empowered at Any Age, the Langley Advance would like to introduce readers to some incredible people in this community.

These are women who took charge of their lives – whether it’s their personal or professional lives. There’s commonality in their lives – perseverance, the value of being surrounded by supportive people, and an ultimate optimism.

“It’s about women feeling empowered at any age,” explained Advance publisher Lisa Farquharson. “What does [empowered] look like, how did they get there, how can they mentor others… how do they empower other people?”

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements served – in part – as the inspiration for what you will read in the following pages. The movements are creating a seismic shift in society.

“It’s not just about men perceiving women differently,” she said. “It’s about women raising up women.”

The struggles may be different from person to person, but the fact is, everyone faces challenges throughout their lives.

“I think the 80-year-old person is going to come from an interesting perspective, different than the 30-year-old,” she commented.

Farquharson hopes the stories will inspire people to be more, do more, and give to others, find mentors and be mentors.

“More than anything else, I want people to read this and feel

inspired,” she said.

• Taking back her power

#MeToo has a deeply personal resonance for one Langley business owner, Dena Tayler.

“It’s just so great that women are overcoming their fears and banding together,” Tayler said. “It’s taken so long to get here.”

As a young woman working for a high-end fashion retailer in Vancouver in the early 1980s, she was excited to be invited on a buying trip to Seattle with the store owner.

But there was no buying convention. The trip was the owner’s excuse to get her alone in the hotel and rape her. She recalls feeling powerless, humiliated, demeaned, and in shock.

Like most rape victims, she didn’t go to the police.

“The one things I did know, he’s powerful, he’s got a lot of friends, and he’s got lots of money,” she said.

Still reeling, she sought stability in work, but the owner stripped away her duties until she finally had an outburst and told others what had happened.

“They didn’t believe me,” Tayler said. “They were trying to save face.”

She left the job and had an epiphany, wondering about many other young women she had seen come and go from the store. She started phoning around and found she was not the only one he had hurt.

Eventually there was a police investigation into another incident and Tayler was contacted as part of an investigation that included 17 other women. The man was never convicted.

It wasn’t the first adversity she had encountered in life. From the outside, her family appeared to have it all. Her mother was a former fashion model, often compared to Liz Taylor.

But behind closed doors, Dena lived a life of abuse. The home was rife with violence, and parents who abused alcohol and prescription drugs.

“I used to run away a lot,” she said.

She moved out at 18 and found work in the high-end retailer, working long hours to learn the business. She thought the buying trip was a reward for her hard work.

Struggling with the aftermath of the sexual assault as a young woman, she found help from an unlikely source – a street vendor in Vancouver who introduced her to a support group for adult children of alcoholics.

That helped her get her bearings.

She went on to work for fashion designer Alfred Sung for more than a decade starting the in mid-1980s.

But in the midst of it all, her brother was diagnosed with AIDS and she became his caregiver. The family splintered (afraid of the disease at a time when so little was known about it).

“That just put me into a tailspin,” Tayler said of his death.

She “nosedived” into depression and made a choice that proved to be a mistake.

Tayler took a job on a cruise ship to get away from everything, and not just any cruise ship, but the Pacific Princess. Anyone old enough will know that boat was used in the TV show The Love Boat.

The experience isolated her. She wished someone would have told the women employees that they would be under constant sexual pressure from the men on board.

Filled with inner struggles, she looked outward and thought she found love with an Italian man. Later she would realize she turned her attention to him to ignore what was going on inside her.

“I wanted to save him, because I couldn’t save my brother,” she said.

After they married and came to Canada, he became abusive, mentally, emotionally and sexually. It left her drained and all cried out, and marked the start of about two years of severe depression.

Because of her parents drug use, she was loath to take antidepressants but hit rock bottom and agreed to try them. That allowed her to climb out of a deep emotional chasm.

Her husband started to become physically abusive. Because he was not Canadian, she had sponsored him and was responsible for him for a decade. But after he kicked in a door, she talked to Canadian Immigration. She packed her bags, and moved to a women’s shelter, ending the five-year marriage.

“That was the best thing I ever, ever, ever did,” Tayler said.

She would spend the next decade dismantling and rebuilding Dena Tayler.

Tayler would have every reason to hate people who hurt her in her past, but her self-reflection has given her compassion.

“I was never angry at them,” she said. “I never saw myself as a victim… It’s their sickness. What’s going on for them that they’re like this?”

For her mother, it was the hardships of living through the Second World War, and having been raped by her own father. Her ex-husband was sexually abused as a child.

Around 2005, Tayler tried internet dating and met Gino, who lived in the Fraser Valley. Finding love would mean a move to Langley.

“It was love at first sight,” she said.

Now he supports her and encourages her to be her best. Tayler noted that he and his business partner are the ones who encouraged her to open a clothing store.

“Having the right support around you makes all the difference,” she said.

She is the Dena of Dena’s Boutique in Walnut Grove, where she prides herself on doing more than putting clothes on people’s backs.

“I’ve worked with a number of customers with similar backgrounds to mine,” she noted.

Tayler welcomes the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, believing they will bring about a major shift to a more humane culture.

“The younger generation is really going to have a lot more awareness,” she said. “It’s a good time for women, but it’s a good time for men, too.”

EMPOWERED AT ANY AGE STORIES:

• Tara Teng

• Shauna Browne

• Carol LaJeunesse

• Martha Metzner

• Mary McCarthy

• Barbara Boldt

 

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