Reviving Ophelia – Be everything, be nothing

“Adolescence is when girls experience social pressure to put aside their authentic selves and to display only a small portion of their gifts.” 

“Girls struggles with mixed messages: Be beautiful, but beauty is only skin deep. Be sexy, but not sexual. Be honest, but don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Be independent, but be nice. Be smart, but not so smart you threaten boys.” 

― Mary Pipher, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls

Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, PH.D. is a powerful book.  It should also be read by every parent of daughters, preferably while the child is young.

The cover says it’s about saving “the selves” of adolescent girls but really, I would add “souls”… because it’s how it made me feel to read it. Oh, how I wish I’d had this book as a mother to my own teenaged girls. My girls were teenagers when it came out – in 1994 – but I was busy learning how to parent them (and our son) from the church. Let’s not go there. 😦 <<< I wish I hadn’t. I mean that literally and figuratively.

I’d like to also add that I wish I had it when I was a teenager… but… I’d never have read it. The author knows that. And make no mistake, it isn’t written for teenagers, it’s written for the adults in their lives.

Pipher mentions in the introduction that she could not compare her teenaged years in the 1960s to the girls she was seeing in her practice as a therapist in the 1990s. I could say the same… and we can say the same again today. The only saving grace these days is that people are opening their minds and mouths in movements like #MeToo. But I want to be clear… this book is not about sexual violence… though there is a chapter on that specifically… and the book would not have been complete without it.

This book is about “the everyday dangers of being young and female”. Think it’s not needed today? Think again!

Teenaged girls have shared many of the same characteristics for hundreds of years. How those characteristics are handled may have changed (mostly for the better) but some have not… or perhaps I should say… some people have not changed. Some people seem to be stuck in the dark ages, when it comes to understanding teenagers – and all humans, for that matter.

Reviving Ophelia is so extensive and incredible that I’m sure it’s treated as a textbook for some college classes! It covers developmental issues, families, mothers, fathers, divorce, mental health (depression), weight (an issue all on it’s own), drugs and alcohol, and finally, as mentioned above, sex and violence. There is more than a passing nod about gender and sex-typing. These days, that seems more important than ever before!

And of course, there are stories of strength and blossoming… where girls get good messages and parents will feel validated and hopeful.

I typed a bit of a commentary on “kids today” and realized I was talking out my butt. Kids today are really like kids yesterday, last year, twenty and a hundred years ago. Yes, there is more technology and knowledge… but the bottom line of this book remains the same … adolescent girls have it more difficult than most, when it comes to figuring out “who they are.” It’s no wonder they grow up to be women like me… ever searching.

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