"Reviving Ophelia": What every mom doesn't want to know about girls- but needs to
I remember all too well the morass of being a fifteen-year-old girl. Exponentially misunderstood, according to my own ill-informed estimations. I hated being in my skin, and couldn’t foresee it ever expanding enough to provide wiggle room. In that angst-overloaded period of growth, everything sloshed around messily just beneath my surface as I tried desperately to look, be, and feel as I thought I should. I can’t recall feeling as alone before or since.
As I watched a preview of the upcoming Lifetime Original Movie Reviving Ophelia the other night, the company I shared in my isolation came into sharp relief. Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle, Raising the Bar) and Kim Dickens (Treme, The Blind Side) shine a light on what it means to be an adolescent girl, and what it means to love one. Reviving Ophelia, premiers on Lifetime Monday, October 11, at 9 pm ET/PT.
The movie is inspired by the best-selling book by Dr. Mary Pipher. It tells the story of two sisters facing the rigors of raising their adolescent daughters.
The seventeen-year-old, Elizabeth, struggles with dating an abusive boy. She’s played by Rebecca Williams, who was born in Liverpool, England, and moved to Canada when she was four years old. She turns in a brilliant, though chilling, performance as a smart girl turned stubborn by devotion.
The sixteen-year-old, Kelli, acts out against what she sees as a hypocritical ideal of pure and passive girlhood. Kelli is played by Carleigh Beverly, a bright young talent from Toronto.
What, exactly, DOES a good girl look like these days? Some of the insights from Reviving Ophelia may surprise you. What makes smart, well loved, privileged girls choose the path sure to annihilate them- and then doggedly cling to it?
This movie paints a picture that is both baffling and hugely instructive in how we interact with adolescents. After all, they ARE too old to simply be bossed heavyhandedly, no matter how badly we wish that course of action would work. And the more scared parents get, the more dictatorial their tone becomes- which leads to more pushback. It’s a vicious cycle. So what are the options?
Reviving Ophelia doesn’t offer pat answers, nor does it shy away from the complexity of parent/child relationships as a girl prepares to sink or swim with the weight of her own choices.
As I watched the storyline of the abusive boyfriend unfold, I kept flashing to one of my children’s preschool teachers. She died three years ago this October, at the age of twenty-two. She was killed by her husband, who then committed suicide. She wasn’t any older than Elizabeth when she met her husband.
He spared their twin daughters, then three, who are now being raised by grandparents. I think of how her family recounted his systematic breakdown of her support system- but how all interventions were rebuffed. Of how no one thought it could be happening to her- so bright, so accomplished. She had a Masters degree, for goodness sake. Surely she was fine.
One day, it was too late, and she was gone. The film illustrates so clearly how that can happen and how a girl or woman can relegate herself to that isolation in the name of “Love”.
I won’t give away the ending, but will say I wish every woman wondering if her beloved’s actions are her fault could see this movie. And run as far and as fast as she can until she’s safe.
When I see teenaged girls now, some look so together that I can scarcely believe they’re living through the mess we call adolescence. But some are so obviously pitching about in the stormy sea of hormones and solitude that I lived through that I wince and think, “Oh, Sweetie.”
But fifteen doesn’t want to hear “Oh, sweetie”…in fact, fifteen will spit in the face of “Oh, Sweetie”. Any well-meaning advice or solicitousness from an adult who has crossed that chasm into grown is met with an eye roll and a silent (or not) dismissal.
This is what makes Reviving Ophelia so riveting and powerful to watch. We’ve all been the girls in the story, and many of us are now their moms. But no matter how good our intentions are, and no matter how much we love our girls, they have to forge their own path in a society where scantily clad models protruding ribs face them from every bus side and mall advertisement.
The conflicting messages of what’s expected from modern girls/womanhood have only grown murkier in the fifteen(ish) years since I faced them, and I look at my six-year-old girl with trepidation. By the time she’s twelve, will they still make pants that don’t say “Sweet Muffin” on the bottom? I really, really hope so.
I’ll definitely have to re-watch Reviving Ophelia on her fifteenth birthday. And I’ll try, really try, to just listen.