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Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher – A Discussion

The book Reviving Ophelia, by Mary Pipher, PH.D., is described as “An eye-opening look at the everyday dangers of being young and female, and how adults can help.” The main points of this book are to teach the world that growing up as an adolescent girl can be very hard, and while the outside world is changing around them, their insides are changing too. Between about 12-17 are especially hard ages for females. Mary Pipher describes the different reasons for this, mostly having to do with America’s “poisonous” culture, and how parents can help their daughters.

In Reviving Ophelia, Mary Pipher gives examples of many patients that she has seen over the years as a therapist. She writes about girls who have promiscuous sex, take drugs, smoke cigarettes, and abuse alcohol. She tells of girls with eating disorders, who refuse to go to school, and cut themselves. Dr. Pipher writes that in the beginning of her career as a therapist, she couldn’t really understand why the numbers of pre-teen and teenage girls have such severe psychological problems. Analyzing American culture, she concluded that we live in an age that poisons girls, and the images they have of themselves. She tells about girls (and women) sacrificing their true selves for a false self that will please others, and make them fit the role as a woman.

Mary Pipher takes on a few psychological perspectives in this book, none very strictly though. For one, she has some Sociocultural views. She writes about the poisoning culture of America. Saying that our world is a girl-hating, pain-inflicting place, she seems to be talking about our world as America, not including other countries. Maybe in other countries, girls feel better about themselves and grow up with less emotional and psychological problems, she does not bring this up in the book. Dr. Pipher also takes on some Behavioral views. She writes that when girls give up their true selves and take on a false self, they get a sort of reward from their parents and the world around them, which reinforces the denying of their true selves. While pleasing others, they are punishing themselves. Lastly, she takes on Psychoanalytic views. She analyzes many of the girls that she’s had therapy with, and their behaviors. She believes that the way they act and the person they portray themselves to be on the outside all comes from how they feel and what they are going through inside their minds. She believes that for the most part everything that happens with the girls has a deeper meaning. For example, if a girl has bad body image or an eating disorder as a result, she must be poisoned by the culture of fashion magazines with skinny models. Dr. Pipher could have taken on more a Biological perspective, saying that some of the emotional and mental problems that girls in this age group have are due to the chemical makeup of their brains. Also, mental illness sometimes is hereditary, so she could have looked at their parents to see if that had any connection to why they were going through these struggles.

Reading this book, I had mixed feelings. Dr. Pipher had a lot of good points, with information to back them up. She quoted many other psychologists, and brought in interesting stories of her own therapies. She wrote a lot about how our society and culture in America affects how girls and young women think of themselves. To a certain extent I think its very true, seeing skinny, tall and beautiful women day after day makes me want to be that way, but its not true for all girls. Just seeing these images, and thinking they are “perfect”, a girl wouldn’t necessarily develop an eating disorder or start to hate herself. To look at it another way, it’s almost like art. Though she made many valid points, some were repeated too much, and stressed more then enough. The one thing that made the book very interesting were the different personal accounts of her therapy patients. In a way, they were something I could relate to, and for that reason I would probably tell other girls to read this book. As for Dr. Pipher’s opinions on girls, and why they are the way they are at this time in America, I wouldn’t take everything she says as truth.

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