Ophelia Speaks: Adolescent Girls Write about Their Search for Self by Sara Shandler
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.
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.
Read an Excerpt
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 cute nose, 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. Catalogues 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.
It is important for young women to have as many places to obtain positive messages about growing up in our complicated society as possible. Ophelia Speaks allows all young women to realize that their struggles and challenges are not unique, that they are not alone in these challenges, and that there is a place they can go to get reaffirmation of this. (Mia Hamm, author of Go for the Goal: A Champion's Guide to Winning in Soccer and Life)
There's not one false note in the brave adolescent voices we find in Ophelia Speaks. These girls honor, enrich and inform us by speaking the plain truth about their experience. (Harriet Lerner, author of The Dance of Anger)