Bookworm: Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls

When I was in graduate school, I was introduced to psychologist Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. Wow. It was perhaps one of the most important components of my graduate education. Why? Well, because it was transformative — in a stratospherically profound way, both personally as well as professionally.

As a result, every so often I revisit Reviving Ophelia as a reminder of the importance for women of all ages to stay true to themselves. Easier said than done, I know, but for the sake of our children and our friend’s children and our children’s children, it’s so worth the effort (herculean in my case)!

Pipher based her title on Shakespeare’s character Ophelia from “Hamlet” who suffers tragic consequences when she lives her life trying to be what others want her to be (which happens to explain my entire childhood!). In Reviving Ophelia, Pipher points to adolescence as the time when girls first “become ‘female impersonators’ and learn to be nice rather than honest”. When Pipher suggests that “girls are supposed to smile” if they are having a bad day, I thought that she was talking to me. Literally.

For many girls, transitioning from young adolescence to young womanhood involves no longer living to make themselves happy, but living to make others happy in order to feel accepted. Unfortunately, many women continue to stifle their creative spirit and natural impulses throughout their lives. The struggle with image, fitting in, being too smart, too fat, too easy, too prudish, too goody two-shoes is at an all-time high.

It took FBC (f-bomb breast cancer for new readers) for me to cease and desist living this way. However, I’m 41. It took that long and a life threatening disease for me to take off the cloak of “the disease to please” once and for all. The Silver Lining is that it’s OFF. For good.

The other Silver Lining is that reading Reviving Ophelia reminds me of my concern for and attention to Sweetly Six staying true to herself throughout her childhood and into adolescence (and beyond). This concern and attention is best, most effectively translated into calm acceptance.

In this book, I am also reminded of the importance for all girls, adolescents and women to make decisions based on the answer to the relatively simple question: “What truly makes my heart sing?”

So, what makes your heart sing?


  1. says

    What a Silver Lining to read this with preteen daughters. Having found it not yet having had Sweetly Six, I found it to be incredibly therapeutic to me and look so forward to the opportunity to instill such inspiration in Sweetly Six's life. Thank you for sharing, Kim!

  2. says

    I read Mary Pipher's book, "Reviving Ophelia", as a young mother for my book club. I remember having a very lively discussion on the book. We could all relate to the fact that so many of us were busy meeting other people's expectations. I would like to reread it to see whether I have become more true to myself and what I want and need.

    These ideas may have come a bit late for me, but I raised a very independent, (somewhat feminist daughter), who was coming of age at the time we were reading this book.

    Mary Pipher is a Nebraska native and resides in Lincoln, Ne. I live in Omaha and was honored to hear her speak at a Planned Parenthood dinner event some years back. I was my daughter's guest. That made my heart sing!

  3. Kim C says

    Read this book with my bookclub all those years ago when it was first published. It was an awakening for me too and very timely having three preteen daughters. Time to dust it off and pass it on to them, as they may have their own daughter's one day. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. says

    Excellent posting, Hollye. Just wrote the "calm" quote on the inside cover page of my day planner. Wanna remind myself as well as clients to answer the "what makes your heart sing?" question. Thank you. Pat


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