49 pages 1 hour read

Mary Pipher

Reviving Ophelia

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1994

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Summary and Study Guide


Reviving Ophelia was written in 1994 by Mary Pipher, a psychologist who works with women and teen girls, studying the ways cultural norms impact their mental health. The book comprises a collection of Pipher’s essays, which are based on the interviews and focus groups with adolescent girls she conducted with her daughter, Sara Pipher. She wrote the collection to bring awareness to the cultural trauma and dysfunction experienced by adolescent girls and to assist girls and women around the world with their healing process. The book changed the way many psychologists, teachers, parents, and teens themselves viewed the struggles of adolescence and the sources of teenage depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. The 2019 edition was revised to include the changes that occurred over the past three decades and to examine what is still the same. It includes both original stories and new additions. The current edition is co-written by Sara Pipher, who became a writer and refugee advocate as an adult. Pipher and her daughter express concern for the wellbeing of girls in the age of sexualized media, substance use at younger ages, and constant pressure to be everything at once. They assert that girls in Mary Pipher’s generation in the 1960s, her daughter’s in the ’90s, and adolescents of today all share a common need for love, nurturing, and simplicity in their culture.

Plot Summary

Pipher opens Reviving Ophelia by talking about her cousin Polly, a girl who was vibrant and bold in her childhood but who lost herself in the challenges of adolescence. She writes this book for girls everywhere who are struggling with adolescence and their parents, who are best equipped to help them through it. She describes adolescent girls as saplings who can be blown over by the storm of youth. She then explains the concept of the self and how this self can split and be masked by a false self in adolescence. The pressures of culture, social acceptance, and adulthood loom large over girls, and many lose who they are in the process. Pipher explains the developmental considerations for adolescent girls and how it is important for therapists, parents, and anyone else who works with adolescent girls to try to help them from an empathetic and understanding perspective.

Next, Pipher compares the lives of adolescent girls across the decades. She focuses on her own youth in the 1960s, her daughter’s and most of her clients’ youth in the 1990s, and adolescent girls from 2010 to 2019. She uses her own experiences, the experiences of girls she interviewed and worked with in therapy, feedback from a focus group held in the 2010s, and statistics to form her argument about the cultural impact on teenage girls. She describes the family as the root system, or support, which an adolescent girl, or sapling, must have to be healthy and happy. She explains the influence of mothers and fathers on their daughters as well as the impact of divorce.

Pipher discusses the issues that plague adolescence both in the 1990s and today. She includes descriptions and anecdotes, focusing on topics such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-harm. These are the most common mental health issues among adolescent girls and have been for many decades. Pipher also discusses the issues of drugs, alcohol, sex, and violence and what happens when they mix, explaining that youth is a time for exploration but not necessarily for addiction or submission. She concludes her book by sharing what she learned from three decades of therapy with adolescent girls and imparts a long list of possible ways to help them flourish. She asserts that cultural and political change are essential moving forward, stating that prevention is far more effective than treatment or therapy for the wellbeing of adolescent girls.

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Related Titles

By Mary Pipher