Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls

ISBN: 1594481881
ISBN 13: 9781594481888
By: Mary Pipher

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Reader's Thoughts

Matt

My interest in this one is kind of hard to pin down: in part, like everyone else I'm curious and concerned about what young women go through-- this is probably just curiosity, mixed with a recognition that I'd like to understand my students a little better. But at the same time, I think that "teen girl" as a category is kind of a political football, a screen through which people wage these kind of political turf battles-- in other words, disparage the culture for its effects on teen girls. Teen girls are kind of the ultimate silent witnesses to pretty much anything you want to say about them, and I was at least a little curious what this book would say, since it was so well-received when it came out, and I think it still has some resonance, at least among fogeys like myself.Pipher, or at least her book, kind of pushes back against my expectations in the sense that she really doesn't over-reach as much as some books from the right and left. It's true that she says at one point the love and boundaries, what is essentially the conservative parenting route, seems to work better for adolescent girls. But she is quick to add that this causes problems when the girls mature and need to make their own way. Maybe I'm missing something, but I felt like the book was really balanced in terms of how it approached girls here.Lots of the stories are interesting, just in terms of the lives some people lead, and Pipher's explanation of her treatment style, while not in-depth (the book as a whole is short on depth, really) seem plausible and even the kind of thing you might be able to suggest without a clinical background. Her description of the differences between bulimics (disorganzied) and anorexics (controlling) was interesting, though I feel like I've seen in before. I wanted more insight, maybe, into cutting, but it wasn't that kind of book.All in all, I felt like this was a good read, though not as challenging, scary, or eye-opening as I'd thought it'd be. I don't know what that means, but part of me thinks that it at least suggests things are that much more dire than they were fifteen years ago when this was published-- what was news then really does feel like a given now. And that can't be good.

Laura

This book is targeted at parents of girls in the 90's. While I think it had many good things to say, it was also very repetitive and could have been edited into a much tighter and more to the point read. Also, a little updating is in order. When Pipher wrote this book, things like "myspace" and "facebook" weren't even in existence. I imagine that many parents in the 00's and beyond would probably appreciate some tools for dealing with these new intrusions into family life.Some parents might take issue with some of Pipher's sentiments. This book is not written from any particular religious standpoint and thus some pluralistic views are in place. She does also take the stance that some experimentation with "chemicals" in adolescence is normal and to be expected. As a mother of a soon to be teenaged stepson...I don't agree with this view!All in all though, this book does drive home the amount of influence the culture at hand can have upon a child. Pipher deals with the cultural impact on girls' psyches in the main, but even parents of boys should take note of the negative impact that their son's can experience as well.

Julia

I've been meaning to read this for ages, since it's the book that directed the media's attention to the troubles faced by adolescent girls. Since it was written two decades ago, it's definitely dated. Some of Pipher's concerns might even seem laughable to girls and young women today - I snickered a bit at the "crack is being sold in our suburbs!" bit, especially considering drugs like meth are today far more of a concern in Pipher's midwestern community. Despite this, the book has aged pretty well. The feminist concern that young women lose themselves in order to please others is still a major social issue, although I think there are some encouraging signs of progress. Pipher's argument that women are overemphasizing decisions to dress sexily as "feminist," rather than examining the social pressures that lie beneath this desire to be desirable, is even more necessary today. Pipher writes clearly and compassionately about a range of young women, including her troubled clients and several successful and happy young women she interviewed. Anyone interested in the intersection of feminism and psychology should read Reviving Ophelia because of its influence and insight.

Jaclyn

This book has opened my eyes to the complications of adolesence that my daughter is just on the cusp of. Although the book is 10 years old, and I am significantly younger than the author, I found the topics to be very relevant even today. I personally relate better to the author, who was a child in the 50's, and feel that the problems girls were beginning to face in the 90's are worse than I faced in the 80's and are still very much a probem today, probably more so. Reading about all of the challenges my daughter is about to face in this new stage of her life was vey helpful and opened my eyes to things I would not quite have understood if I hadn't read this book. I related to the author's admitted naivety until college (for me it was late high school), and recognized many of the problems the girls faced in the book as problems still rampant today. It actually saddened me that 10 years later we have made so little progress toward protecting our young girls and educating our young boys. This book spurred many conversations between my daughter and I, by helping me see the questions I should be asking, the red flags I should be looking for, and brought me to a more understanding and open minded approach in these regards. Hopefully, having these conversations at an early age, and frequently going forward, will help ease the painful transition through adolesence for my daughter and I, and protect her from some of the bigger problems many girls now face due to lack of education and a constant feeling of misunderstanding.

Marc

Overall, a pretty scary summation of the pressures affecting our growing daughters (especially for a father!). Though a bit dated, I'm sure many of the trends have only gotten worse since the 1990s. As a parent of a bright child, (and someone trying to familiarize myself with pressures and upcoming challenges), I hope we'll be able to mediate some of these!My only real critique is her constant comparison to boys and how they're raised. Pipher seems to be saying that only girls can have complicated feelings and face tension/mixed messages from cultural values. I think all people (boys and girls) face these challenges, just in different ways. That's the problem with artificial social constructs of values. She does mention that her work is done with girls so she doesn't talk about boys' experiences--but then I wish she would have just left it at that instead of using boys' roles/expectations as some sort of standard to measure the girls' experiences against.

Jessica

This is a biased and thoughtless review, based on vague memories of a cranky adolescent's insensitive snap judgment, so you shouldn't pay any attention to it. It's definitely more of a statement about me than it is about the book, which I don't really remember anyway.I read this in the mid-nineties when it came out, and I remember feeling, as a teenage girl, annoyed and offended. I felt at the time that it was making too much of girls' helplessness and sort of encouraging us to feel sorry for ourselves and to wallow in a sense of victimization, blaming our parents and "the media" for everything. Honestly, though, I'm sure this is a gross mischaracterization of everything in this book, which I honestly don't remember one bit. Raising girls -- raising anyone! -- not to be all screwed-up around here -- around anywhere! -- is hard work, and parents deserve all the help they can get. At the same time, I do have some basic belief that adolescence is supposed to be kind of miserable: that's called "growing up," and it hurts. I mean, obviously girls shouldn't be cutting themselves or trying to commite suicide, but adolescents feeling bad a lot of the time seems normal to me. I engaged in a lot of behavior as a teenager that on paper sounds pretty pathological or at least disturbing, and I'm not saying that's ideal or that I want my kids doing all of it, but I did make it out the other end, you know? As did a lot of other girls I know who had much more extreme problems. Now we're grownups, and we've got the stories.Again, I don't remember what this book said, but I do remember my basic reaction. I felt like someone was characterizing me as being way more screwed-up than I felt I was, and I was annoyed by some of the case examples, especially where they reminded me of troubled friends of mine who, I felt, were not well-served by a therapeutic culture that I saw at the time as potentially iatrogenic (though I hadn't learned that fancy word yet!).It might be interesting to revisit Ophelia now, since I always have infinitely more sympathy for groups of which I am not a member. If this book enlightened parents about issues relevant to raising girls in a materialistic and misogynistic culture, then the more sensitive, kinder adult me is all for it. I do not envy the parents today, as I think popular culture has gotten exponentially more threatening to girls' developing a healthy sense of self.Of course, if I were fifteen today I'd probably say that was crap. I would sneer at any suggestion that Paris Hilton or reality plastic surgery shows had any effect whatsoever on my development, and then I'd run off to drink beer in a bush with my similarly indignant peers.

Jessica

I read this book when it first came out in 1994, when I was 13. I had just been busted by my parents for stealing prescription drugs from their medicine cabinet (I think the plan was to kill myself...hazy), and this book appeared on my mother's nightstand soon after. I remember approaching the book like an army general who has gotten his hands on the enemy's battle plans, only interested in it as far as it could reveal to me what plan the adults were hatching this time so I could fortify my defenses and plan a counterstrike. The book also appealed to me because there was a thin, attractive white girl of about my age on the cover who, I assumed, wanted to commit suicide like Ophelia in a pool full of flowers. This encapsulated my two main desires at 13: To be thin and attractive, and to commit suicide. I failed at both.Alas, "Reviving Ophelia" didn't quite keep my attention at 13. If it had, I think it would have helped me understand that the intense pain I was suffering was not just my own hell but a part of a nationwide epidemic. I don't know if this would have helped me, but it might have. Instead, all I remember thinking was that Pipher, like many adults, seemed disproportionately concerned by body-piercings. Revisiting the book now, 16 years and a few million miles later, I still don't think nose rings are as big of a deal as Pipher makes out. I am struck, however, by her prescience at identifying a trend which no one else up to that point had made much of: Girls in the early 1990s were literally losing themselves. Young girls have always had a rough time of it in American society, but suddenly the troubles hit the white middle class like a tidal wave. At 13, I didn't have the maturity to connect Pipher's thesis with what I indeed experienced regularly: Friends in the last phases of anorexia having heart attacks in the shower, almost everyone else an anorexic wanna-be, relationship abuse, drug abuse, suicides, crippling depression and self-hatred. Now, as an adult, I can appreciate Pipher's commitment to showing the world that these were not isolated problems, problems that happened only to girls from fucked-up families, or just weird girls. This was a catastrophe that struck almost every girl I knew growing up. It has still not been fully examined, although many of the problems that blighted my generation are starting to wane (and new ones are rising - try buying your female toddler something that does not resemble a porn star costume at Target). While I think that Pipher oversimplifies too much, and that she is ill-equipped to make sense of many of the cultural changes of the early 1990s, her thesis generally stands today: Our culture poisons adolescent girls, transforming them from children to sex objects, from active participants in their own lives to passive spectators. And most bizarrely, these problems are distinctly post-women's liberation/post-feminism. I don't think it's entirely ridiculous to wonder if the daughters of the women who won liberation in the 1960s paid for their mother's gains via some sort of cultural backlash.

Natalie

I thought this book was really really interesting. It is about the negative effects our culture has on teenage girls (too much emphasis on beauty, too much encouragement to be passive in order to please others, etc.). One of my favorite points she made is that our society spends tons of time and money educating women on self-defense, but wouldn't it make much more sense to educate young men on how to be respectful and non-violent towards women? I do have some reservations about the book, though:1) The author is a bit of a man-hater. Sometimes I think she blames all the world's problems on men.2) She uses case studies to make her points. In her case studies, the women who stay at home with their kids and take on traditional female roles are all weak/don't have a clue who they are/depressed. The women who completely abandon the traditional roles, however, are her strong examples of women who have overcome our poisonous society and saved their "selves." I think she is pretty biased in her writing on these points.Those things aside, I enjoyed this book and think it had some pretty good/valid points.

Katherine

Approximately 1/3 of the way into this book, I nearly quit. It was highly repetitive; I felt like a lengthy magazine article could have covered the same material. As I got further into the problem-specific chapters, though, I began thinking more and more about my own experiences. I was 13 when this book was first published. I am very much a product of the culture Pipher was addressing. Her insights on family relationships in particular got me thinking. I found some of her cultural observations less interesting, more melodramatic. Overall, though, Pipher wrote an interesting book dotted with useful bits of advice without sounding like a self-help book or being overly preachy. I particularly appreciated her objective stance on adolescent drug and alcohol use--that not all of it is problematic or to be pathologized.

Beth

I have been meaning to read this book for years and finally got around to it. The beginning of the book is almost depressing because it highlights all the hardships that girls encounter as they enter puberty and how it crushes their vivacious, independent spirits of childhood. But I liked how Pipher gives a framework to how to see things from a girl's perspective while giving her tools to help her through the hard times. Self-reflection, handling stress, choosing limits for yourself, etc. I appreciated that she believes that a strong family structure and positive women influences can help girls through--although it might not be easy to see that anything is helping until later adolescence. I enjoyed the wide variety of anecdotes because she shows how the culture affects almost all girls while still showing that each situation is different and is changed by many variables--home situation, parenting styles, environment, school friends, talents, looks, etc. Since this is about adolescents growing up in the 1990s, it is probably now considered "old," but I think most of what she has to say still holds up today, perhaps even more amplified than in the 90s. I would love to see this book updated with more about how social media and the omnipresent cell phone and internet have affected the culture that girls grow up in and the messages that are being thrown their way.

Jonna

I maybe could give this book five stars. I read it my freshman year of college and then again last month and it was interesting how my perspective has changed. I still agree with the author's basic premise, though, that society is very damaging to young girls and women in general. She talks a lot about the effects of the media, peer pressure, goes into eating disorders, violence against women, etc. I would recommend it to anyone with daughters.

Natali

I won't lie: this book scared the shit out of me. Please Lord, never let my daughter become a teenager! This is a serious topic that not enough research addresses: the confusing messages confronting adolescent girls and how little understood they are in our culture. I wanted to read it in order to understand the challenges my daughter will face, although it was written when I was a teenager so it helped me understand a lot of the things I went through as well. I wanted to gain an adult's perspective so that when it is time to face these issues, I can be ready to do so with empathy. I highly recommend this book to anyone raising girls. She addresses the dangers of body image, sexuality, drinking, drugs, and the importance of the relationship with both mother and father in separate chapters. Most of our daughters won't face the extreme circumstances as the case studies in this book - I hope!! - but we can learn from them and hopefully use this knowledge to make the world a better place for all of our children.

Myria

The author has good intentions and I agree with her on some things but…. This was horrible. I don’t even know where to begin! I really don’t. I understand parents wanting to protect their kids from these kinds of things but I hope any parent does not live by this book. Please do more research. A LOT! I don’t know if it was just me but the way Mary worded some things, it came off as she blamed men for this problem. WHATEVER. This just reminds me of a joke that Katt Williams said about woman blaming their self esteem on men. As he said “It is called SELF esteem! It is the esteem of your M***** F***ing self!” If it wasn’t that then it’s all about the media or peer pressure. Maybe I just don’t get this whole peer pressure and media thing bc growing up, I was too hard headed to be fooled by any of that. Everyone goes through peer pressure through all stages of life but there is a thing called personal responsibility. Being a girl does not give you a free pass at it. She also acts like girls can’t protect themselves or don’t have any inner strength or common sense. And as a parent, you don’t need a book like this to tell you that you should teach your child that. You don’t just pop out a kid and then that’s it. That is the role of being a parent! Giving them a safe, happy home to live in, helping them, guiding them and teaching them. That right there helps tremendously with giving your child good roots, confidence and a good head on their shoulders. And if you need ANY book to tell you that, then maybe you shouldn't be a parent.NO parent is perfect and we all make mistakes, of course, and your child will deal with challenges through life (you can’t keep them safe forever) but that’s life! Blaming this kind of stuff on social trends, does not cut it. At all!!!! Parents need to pay attention and do some homework on this subject. And by SUBJECT, I mean= *raising a bright kid *how to be there for them *not raising an air head *and understanding that self-esteem issues stem from MUCH MORE than just what the author liked to point her fingers at. What I DON'T mean= is finding ways to blame everything else but your parenting skills and/or lack of self responsibility.

Kathleen

This book deals with the lives of young girls and their struggle with eating disorders. I read this when this was an issue in my own family, and I found it to be a great resource.

Caris

When I look at my daughter, I see a beautiful little human who means more to me than anything I could have ever imagined. She smiles at me when she wakes up. She holds my finger as we watch TV. She explains the most elaborate and convoluted things to me in a baby language I can't quite comprehend but certainly get the gist of. I have an intense feeling of responsibility for her well being, which, I assume, will last for the rest of my life.The thought that she will grow up causes me physical pain. It's hard enough seeing her gain an ounce every few days, but adolescence? I think back on it and cringe. It was awful. Embarrassing and painful. And I was (and am) a boy. Things were easier for me.Pipher singles out my fears of my daughter's future, and prods at them with a crudely sharpened wooden stick. She watches as they writhe in agony and makes sure that I never get used to the torture. It's like the tenth ring of Dante's Inferno, specifically reserved for fathers of girls. Eating disorders. Self-mutilation. Alcoholism. Drug use. Sex. Violence. It's awful, but it's necessary. For the parent who is willing to face such issues head on, this is a must read. Not only does it describe a great many of the issue being faced by teenagers, it provides suggestions for dealing with these problems. In a case study format, Pipher introduces the reader to a variety of common problems faced by teenagers from many different backgrounds. She advocates parent-child relationships based on respect and understanding and she provides good ways to gain trust to get healthy dialogues off the ground.That said, the text is dated. In another ten years, the pop culture references are going to be incomprehensible. She references the lyrics of 2 Live Crew and Madonna as major influences on teenagers. Every few years, this book deserves a new edition or else it runs the risk of becoming a time capsule. The "dialogue" that happens between Pipher and her teenage clients also comes across as false, likely due to the combination of real life cases that make up each case study. Coming from a social science background, this was easy for me to understand (every one of my college textbooks was the same way), but I worry about teenagers coming to this as a self-help text. It seems likely to me that they're not going to believe it's real.In spite of all its flaws, this book is a must read for parents of teenagers. It addresses all of the information bombarding teenagers (media, peers, parents, school) and how best to deal with the overload. It offers tips for good socialization and gives advice for how to weather the storm.But, if you're anything like me, don't read it if you want to sleep.

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