Ophelia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Write about Their Search for Self


At age sixteen, Sara Shandler read Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia, the national bestseller that candidly explored the unique issues that challenge girls in their struggle toward womanhood. Moved by Pipher's insight yet driven to hear the unfiltered voices of today's adolescent girls, Shandler yearned to speak for herself, and to provide a forum for other Ophelias to do so as well.

A poignant collection of original pieces selected from more than eighthundred contributions, ...

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At age sixteen, Sara Shandler read Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia, the national bestseller that candidly explored the unique issues that challenge girls in their struggle toward womanhood. Moved by Pipher's insight yet driven to hear the unfiltered voices of today's adolescent girls, Shandler yearned to speak for herself, and to provide a forum for other Ophelias to do so as well.

A poignant collection of original pieces selected from more than eighthundred contributions, Ophelia Speaks culls writings from the hearts of girls nationwide, of various races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Ranging in age from twelve to eighteen, the voices here offer a provocative and piercingly real view on issues public and private, from body image to boys, politics to parents, school to sex. Framing each chapter are Shandler's own personal reflections, offering both the comfort of a trusted friend and an honest perspective from within the whirlwind of adolescence.

In these pages, you will see your best friend, your daughter, your sister — and yourself. At once filled with heartbreak and hope, in these pages Ophelia speaks.

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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
When Sara Shandler was 16, she read psychologist Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia. "Horror stories of eating disorders, self-mutilation, abusive relationships floated across the page," Shandler writes of Pipher's book on adolescent girls. "Pipher equated our contemporary adolescent experiences to Shakespeare's ill-fated Ophelia." Shandler identified with the emotional experiences described in the book. "However," she explains, "I did not feel simply spoken to, I felt spoken for."

With courage and unselfconscious audacity, Shandler decided to speak for herself. She had her friends write reflections on subjects such as eating disorders, sex, drugs, and child abuse, and scored a book deal. With the help of her publisher, HarperPerennial, Shandler sent queries for firsthand adolescent accounts to high school principals across the country, asking them to enlist the help of English teachers, parents associations, school psychologists, etc. (This letter appears as Appendix A in the book.) Not too shabby for a kid who only recently started getting serious about studying, and drinking lots of coffee.

Ophelia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Write About Their Search for Self is the result of Sara Shandler's crusade. Her goal was to bring real voice to Reviving Ophelia. She succeeds. The voices are raw and young and jarring -- sometimes adult-like, sometimes childlike, and more often both, like Shandler's voice.

Shandler introduces each chapter -- "Intoxication," "Rape and Sexual Abuse," "Questions of Faith," "Diverse Sexualities," "Mothers, Feminist Pride," etc.-- with personal anecdotes of her own. Through these introductions, it becomes clear that Shandler is like any modern American teenager: She has experimented lightly with drugs, had sex at an early age (one month shy of 15), is mildly infatuated with her weight, and was at one point pretty depressed (as in, the thought of suicide once crossed her mind). Pretty run-of-the-mill teen stuff. Somehow it is surprising that nothing "worse" ever happened to Shandler. It seems too simple that her only motivation to complete this project was to help other teens feel less alone. Then again, maybe it is too simple to think that all books of this kind must be written by damaged teens or once-damaged teens.

By definition, Shandler's carefully selected contributions are young words for young ears. But they are also an intense reminder for older ears: When all you have lived is 16 years, thinking once of suicide feels like the biggest thing ever. This is not to belittle Shandler's impressive compilation or her honesty. She is very, very honest. In a chapter entitled "Broken-Hearted Independence," she explains how she got through the tragedy of breaking up with her first love. "[W]ith our separation I forced myself to face the dependence that left me alone and broken with our breakup. That confrontation was frightening. I was not brave in the usual sense. I cried often and hard. But instead of lonely isolation, I read and wrote and thought and thought. I buried myself in Virginia Woolf and Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood and Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath and Toni Morrison, and I wondered why women I had never met knew me so well. With these women I was not so alone anymore."

Each entry in this book is this bare, this open. Which is why Ophelia Speaks works as a book for teens by teens, but also as a tool for parents who want to know -- or remind themselves -- of what lies just around the corner. (Alexandra Zissu)

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Inspired by Mary Pipher's 1994 bestseller Reviving Ophelia, which shed new light on the problems of contemporary female adolescence, Shandler, currently an undergraduate at Wesleyan University, set out to give voice to the real Ophelias, America's teenaged girls — herself included. Just 16 years old when she started this project, Shandler enlisted the help of hundreds of educators, counselors, pastors and administrators to find other girls who wanted to write about the issues most important to them. Ranging from problems with body image and self-mutilation to difficult relationships with parents and other family members, to intense academic pressures, the book is organized by subject and includes entries from dozens of girls across the country. We see girls in distant communities facing similar struggles as they attempt to navigate the pressured and competitive world of adolescence. Judging from the hundreds of contributions Shandler received, the issues these girls raise are weighty ones that our whole society needs be concerned about. Many of the girls write in an intensely personal style, but their concerns should not be written off as diary angst. Shandler has done an admirable job of shaping the disparate pieces into a disturbing mosaic that reveals the seriousness of teenage problems.
Library Journal
Shandler, an undergraduate at Wesleyan University, envisioned this book as a response to Mary Pipher's national best seller Reviving Ophelia (LJ 4/1/94), and it certainly lives up to her expectations. Shandler collected writings from adolescent girls all over the country on topics that include sexuality, eating disorders, feminism, family dynamics, and friendship; their words, framed by Shandler's own reflections, are riveting and revealing. The viewpoint presented here is very different from what the media have led us to believe are adolescent girls' concerns--it is their own voices we hear instead of advertising agencies' copy. The acerbic wit and insight found throughout are apparent in this excerpt from Emily Carmichael's "Fight Girl Power": "Some woman or other, who's the editor of Jane...said something like, `We need to remodel feminism into an attractive, marketable concept so we can make money off it....' So they did, and they called it Girl Power. So far, they've made bundles." Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.--Sheila Devaney, Peace Coll. Lib., Raleigh, NC Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780606182003
  • Publisher: San Val, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/1/1999
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Sara Shandler is currently a student at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. A former president of the Connecticut Valley Region of B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, she has led, represented, and influenced large numbers of adolescent girls. She is a native of Amherst, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

Ophelia Speaks

Adolescent Girls Write about Their Search for Self
By Sara Shandler

Turtleback Books Distributed by Demco Media

Copyright ©1999 Sara Shandler
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0606182004

Media-Fed Images

I was a media-fed child. I can't remember a time when the television wasn't my favorite baby-sitter, my most reliable companion, my preferred role model. The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Head of the Class, Different Strokes, and Fame jumped out of the fluorescent tube and planted expectations in my preadolescent mind. Every Thursday, in health class, the After-School Special offered a "realistic" view of years to come. For years I wished my name was Sam because I positively idolized Samantha Miscelli on Who's the Boss. Then, after years of preparation, of longing to talk on the phone, go out with my friends, and wear mascara, I finally became a teenager.
Adolescence is not what I thought it would be. Happy endings aren't inserted conveniently before the last commercial break. The peer pressure isn't unrelenting, the wild parties aren't dangerously tempting, the first loves aren't thrillingly perfect. But, more unsettling than the unforeseen tedium, my face isn't blemish-proof and my stomach isn't immune to bloating. I was fed a cookie-cutter standard of beauty, and I do not invariably meet the media's image of perfect. As a media baby, I'm a disappointment.
I do not have a cutenose, perfect skin, long legs, a flat stomach, or long eyelashes. My awareness of these facts makes my body a backdrop for my everyday life. My stomach, back, skin, knees, hair are always in my peripheral vision. Never my sole focus (I'm too healthy for that!), but always just tickling at my consciousness. I sometimes catch myself comparing my body to those of actresses, models, women walking down the street. Then I remind myself: Healthy, happy, normal girls don't notice, don't envy, other women's small frames or sunken cheeks. They don't find pride in the comment, "Wow. Your collar bones really stick out." They don't feel guilty for not being as thin, or as muscular, as the star in the magazine clipping. Oh, they don't, do they? My mail tells a different story.
Judging from the writing of adolescent girls that I received, I'm not alone. When I sent out my invitation for contributions to Ophelia Speaks, I never suggested "The Media" as a topic. Yet, nearly twenty girls sent me essays specifically blaming the media for their poor body image. Countless others mentioned its negative effects on their self-confidence. One girl described cutting out the body parts of models from magazines and piecing together her "goal" body. In self-asserting anger, Elizabeth Fales wrote, "Someone making millions of dollars has decided to play on every adolescent girl's feeling of inadequacy. Insecurity is 'in,' confidence is 'out.' In American culture, there's always room for improvement. The blond-haired, blue-eyed size four, as-close-to-Heather-Locklear-as-possible look is the social norm, and the people who fail to qualify don't even get a consolation prize in the game of adolescence." With a courageous admission of a media-fueled anxiety attack, a teenager who calls herself Laverne Difazio wrote, "All of a sudden I'm insecurity-laden, nervous, and dedicated to becoming Miss Skin 'n' Bones Teen USA."
I wish I couldn't relate to letters I received--to standing in front of the mirror poking, squeezing, and sucking in. I know I don't work out just because it makes me feel healthier. In tenth grade, I pulled away when my then-boyfriend touched my stomach. Shocked, he shook his head in disbelief, and asked, "Do you know practically every woman in the country would kill for your body?" Now, some three years later, I do not remember the words he used to describe my intelligence, to encourage my artistic talent, to support my ambitions--but I do recall that one compliment, word-for-word.
These confessions will come as a surprise to many who know me--most of the time I walk around with a genuine air of confidence. Just as often, I'm glad braces made my teeth straight, platform shoes make my legs look longer, and makeup covers my blemishes. I owe my confidence in my physical appearance to what the media-inspired world offers me to achieve the "look" I desire. I owe that "look"--long-legged, clear-skinned, bright-eyed--to the same media that inspired my self-destructive desire to achieve it.
The three contributions to this chapter honestly and insightfully reflect the feelings and thoughts of so many girls. The first short piece, Catalogues, poignantly articulates our frustrated desire to possess the media's "ideal" body. The second, Looking Through a Magnifying Glass, personalizes how the media leaves its impression on our body image. The last, Mirrors, is a startlingly honest portrait that looks past the facade, revealing how the media hurls us into self-loathing. In Mirrors, one of the most astute pieces of writing I have ever read, Charlotte Cooper speaks with such emotional nakedness that she exposes the truth for many of us. When I shared Charlotte's poem with friends, all were stunned by its accuracy. Her image of us standing before our mirrors sets the stage for the next chapter, Eating Disorders.
By Jessica Bulman, 17, from a small town in the Northeast
Searching through catalogues
you wish you could order
the bodies not the clothes.
Looking Through a Magnifying Glass
By Olga Levinson, 15, from a suburb in the Midwest
"Isn't she soooo pretty?" Tamara would ask, pointing at a stick-thin model with a Barbie-doll body, in delia*s catalog. "I'd love to look like her. She's so skinny." She'd say and continue flipping through the magazine. We had been down this road many times before.
"You already do!" Lindy and I would say in unison. And she did. At five foot six, she had a small body frame, small arms and thighs, small hips, narrow waist, and a flat stomach. She had the athletic body figure all the models seemed to have--the type of body millions of girls only dream of.


Excerpted from Ophelia Speaks by Sara Shandler Copyright ©1999 by Sara Shandler. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2003

    Sun through the tears

    Anyone who hasn't read Ophelia Speaks is missing out on an heartbreaking, yet touching book. I read it cover through cover and cryed with almost every story. I felt that the girls who wrote it were not strangers, but close friends confiding in me what problems they had. Being able to feel so close to someone so far is an awesome feeling. I honor the girls that were brave enough to write in.

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