Matilda Reviews: Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher


Genre: Nonfiction, Pyschology


As a therapist, Mary Pipher was becoming frustrated with the growing problems among adolescent girls. Why were so many of them turning to therapy in the first place? Why had these lovely and promising human beings fallen prey to depression, eating disorders, suicide attempts, and crushingly low self-esteem? The answer hit a nerve with Pipher, with parents, and with the girls themselves. Crashing and burning in a “developmental Bermuda Triangle,” they were coming of age in a media-saturated culture preoccupied with unrealistic ideals of beauty and images of dehumanized sex, a culture rife with addictions and sexually transmitted diseases. They were losing their resiliency and optimism in a “girl-poisoning” culture that propagated values at odds with those necessary to survive.

Told in the brave, fearless, and honest voices of the girls themselves who are emerging from the chaos of adolescence, Reviving Ophelia is a call to arms, offering important tactics, empathy, and strength, and urging a change where young hearts can flourish again, and rediscover and reengage their sense of self.

My Thoughts

Reviving Ophelia is written by Mary Pipher, a clinical psychologist who has treated and worked with many adolescent girls in her lifetime. She has written nine books, but her most famous is Ophelia.

In Reviving Ophelia, Pipher posits that, around age 10 or 12, many American girls experience a drastic dip in self-esteem, happiness and sense of self due to the pressures of society. As soon as adolescence sets in, their former strong selves are lost in the barrage of outrageous standards impressed upon them by their peers and by the media. They’re often coerced into being sexual before they’re ready, to drink and/or do drugs, and to be thin and feminine.

Pipher backs up her claims with anecdotes of her own clients. I liked these anecdotes a lot–they were interesting, revealing and pretty varied. Many of the girls had experienced trauma: rape, domestic violence, abuse, racism, poverty. Some had divorced parents. Other had severe eating disorders. Pipher used these stories to illustrate the ways in which outside forces work to break down adolescent girls.

I suppose the point of the book was to highlight the difficulties of female adolescence, but this book is still a downer–it leaves you feeling as though there’s nothing but trouble awaiting young girls.

I found Reviving Ophelia to be a bit outdated–it was, after all, written twenty years ago–but many of the issues faced by adolescent girls in the ’90s remain problems today. Unfortunately familial drama, sexual assault and the pressure to be thin, feminine and sexual are still very present in our culture today–and still very negatively affecting girls. Reviving Ophelia is still a valuable book that sheds light on the the difficulty of being an adolescent girl. It calls for action: talk to your daughters, find your niche, find positive ways to cope, teach boys not to rape. But more than anything, it’s an eye-opener for parents who may be in the dark about what their daughters are going through.


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