Last week I read the book Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Ph.D., and this week Jim is reading it. For anyone who hasn’t heard of this book, you’ll nonetheless recognize the phenomenon it describes — the adolescent girl’s loss of self.
Just think of a typical 10- or 11-year-old girl. Gangly, unconcerned with how she looks, willing to speak her mind without fear of embarrassment, curious, brash, silly. Now picture the same girl at ages 12, 13, 14. She’s moody, sometimes sullen, often preoccupied with saying just the right thing or saying nothing at all since nothing can’t be judged as “dumb” by her peers.
I’m reading Reviving Ophelia because in the short time Dee’s been in middle school, I see subtle changes in her and her small group of friends. I also see big differences between them and some of the other girls their age. I figure Dee is heading to where those other girls are, and I’m hoping I can help guide her journey there.
I’m also reading the book because friends of mine who are therapists working with girls this age suggested I read it. I’m taking their advice because I love who Dee is at her core, and I want to do what I can to help her be faithful to her true (goofy, in-awe-of-nature, big-hearted, mischievous) self.
It’s a lot harder to navigate the halls of adolescence today than it was when I was a kid. Yes, we had peer pressure and parents (like mine) who weren’t always overly involved in our lives. We had pot, and we had beer, and we had Annie Greensprings. But at least our media-influenced “ideals” were mostly about long, straight hair and white teeth (a.k.a. Marsha Brady and Laurie Partridge).
Today, tweens have the temptations of drugs, alcohol, and sex, plus they’ve been bombarded with images of a narcissist heiress leaving prison in skinny jeans and Marcello Toshi shoes, a genitalia-shaving-and-flashing drunken celebrity who parties and rehabs, parties and rehabs, and who else? Lindsay Lohan?
Dee and her peers live in a world of tube tops and breast implants and nose jobs. They’ve got girl-bashing music and sexualized everything. When last did they hear that it was en vogue to be kind to unpopular kids, to care about the poor, or be concerned by global warming?
This is not a now-that-she’s-in-middle-school revelation. Dee’s first day of second grade: A fellow seven-year-old arrives at our house wearing black mini skirt, black boots to her knee, red-and-black off-the-shoulder t-shirt, and black fingerless gloves that go past her elbow. She looks like a baby hooker.
You can say (I did) that that girl’s parents weren’t on the ball. That they were at fault for buying their daughter that get-up. But the point is, that get-up was available at stores everywhere! That and t-shirts touting bad girls and sexy girls and spoiled girls. Elementary-aged girls can wear their own versions of the same high heel shoes that adult women wear.
Reviving Ophelia isn’t about anything we parents and others don’t already see and know, but it is a wake-up call to something for which I’ve become inured:
We are going backwards.
The other day, Dee brought me a Halloween circular from Party City. “Who’s this,” she asked, pointing to a woman with tall pinkish-white hair. “That’s Marie Antoinette,” I said. Then I started to study the image.
I’ve included it at the end of this post. Take a look. They’re all women, and every one of them, without exception, is a sex kitten. This is the front cover; the back cover is just like it.
Alarmed, I rifled through the rest of the mail. I came across a postcard for a rug-cleaning company. I’ve included the flier’s image at the end of this post, too. Look at it. Tell me what you see. How old do you think the girl in the photo is? And what exactly does her near-naked body add to the notion of rug cleaning??
Wake up fathers, mothers, aunts!
Tell the 11- and 12-year-old girls in your life about lookism. Point out to them what it is society thinks they should be. Encourage them to choose different options. To be individuals and independent thinkers. To resist what has become the norm for girls and women today.
Explain that they might be shunned, but help them be strong. Be there for them. Guide them through choices they have to make.
Dee is not ours for much longer, but for the time we have her, we’re going to do our best to show her a different way.
Party City circular featuring Halloween costumes. Three pages filled with women as sex objects. October 2007.
Serafian’s Oriental Rugs postcard flier featuring a young woman lying naked except for loose fabric, promoting rug cleaning. October 2007.