This excerpt “Saplings in the Storm” by Mary Pipher, a clinical psychologist in private practice, talks about the difficulties adolescent girls face in their lives, including the mental changes as that their bodies change during puberty. It is very mysterious for adults to understand adolescent girls because their minds are swinging constantly, and they become hard to read. They also get moody easily and want to be satisfied or to have their way all the time. Their mindsets change from doing things for the sake of being their true selves to doing things in a certain way in order to please other people. In addition, Pipher gives a lot of comparisons between the behaviors of preteen girls and the behaviors of teenage girls under the same circumstances. She also discusses the common problems adolescent girls have with their parents. She makes examples from her clients who are primarily adolescent girls with eating disorders, STDs or suicidal thoughts seeking help through therapies. She describes how young girls get self-conscious about their bodies and spend too much time focusing on their looks. From these young problematic adolescent girls, Pipher generalizes that the problem does not occur only to adolescent girls who just enter puberty, but also to grownup women before menopause. In the end, Pipher concludes that the problem that is shared between adolescent girls and grownup women is the result of the cultural changes and influences as well as societal pressures and expectations on women as a whole.
As a girl in my late teens, I could not agree with Pipher more. I remember when I was little, I used to be carefree and fearless. I loved pink and glitters, and had to wear dresses and ballet flats all the time. However, dressing up did not restrain me from hanging on the monkey bars or playing in the sandbox with other kids. I was never shy. I raised my hands to answer questions in every single class whether or not I had the right answer. I was also curious and interested in doing almost anything.
I played many different sports, took piano lessons and attended dance classes. I was driven and had the energy that adults crave. I talked as much as I moved; coloring, reading, practicing piano, visiting a museum, going to an ice cream shop, building Legos and playing house all in one day. I did not have a dull moment or ever feel exhausted. I was just like Polly, the girl Pipher referred to as Tom Sawyer before junior high.
However, I could feel the drastic change in the behaviors of my childhood friends starting in junior high. Girls, even some of my friends who took adventures with me in elementary school, began to have affections for boys. They threw aways their old clothes, claiming they were too small to fit, and pursued a “different” style which resembles young Hollywood stars or Abercrombie models. They started to use their allowance originally for vending machine snacks to buy fashion magazines and read the “forbidden” fictions about teen romances. Flirting, kissing and making out scenes secretly occurred in the corner of the classroom. Their grades went down and they became anxious and self-conscious about their physical looks.
They were not happy all the time and all they wanted and waited for was someone’s compliments on their looks or outfits. This was junior high where things changed and relationships among boys and girls were awkward. I thought I was not part of the league but by the time I graduated, I realized that I had changed. My wardrobe was completely new and I became sensitive to how I behaved in front of boys and was paranoid sometimes about what people would say behind my back.
I think that this change in adolescent girls is caused by societal and peer pressure. In the society nowadays, social media lead rather a negative effect on teenage girls. Television shows like Gossip Girls,
or Hannah Montana portray the fictional glamorous lives of rich and popular teenage girls. By watching the show, girls get jealous and daydream about the lives of fictional characters. As a result, they begin to ask their parents for expensive and luxurious designer clothes or handbags to gear up and form a pursuit for everything stylish and over the top. Besides, there’s invisible and indefinite competition among girls or even grownup women. As of many fictions or movies have been showing us that rich and good-looking girls are always popular and usually get the best of all. They are portrayed as flawless and most of all skinny. Therefore average girls start to diet at a young age when their bodies are not fully developed. Illnesses such as eating disorders or anorexia thrive because young girls think that being skinny will make them look good in photos or televisions.
And just like Pipher has stated “girls stop being and start seeming” (286). As a result, unhappiness, or even depression, occurs because adolescent girls are still young and driven by their own believes that they do not understand that there is a gap between fiction and reality, imperfection and flawlessness.
Besides I find it interesting that Pipher says “Girls become fragmented, their selves split into mysterious contradictions. They are sensitive and tenderhearted, mean and competitive, superficial and idealistic. They are confident in the morning and overwhelmed with anxiety by nightfall. They rush through their days with wild energy and then collapse into lethargy. They try on new roles every week-this week the good student, next week the delinquent and the next, the artist. And they expect their families to keep up with these changes” (284). Adolescent girls do not know themselves yet. Their body images have changed. They feel like a new person. They have their periods and become curvy like women. It’s reasonable that they get shy and insecure about their bodies because they are new and not fully developed. So on one hand, they are curious about their bodies and eager to explore themselves more. And they feel like they are fully grown women finally and want to express their sexualities to boys and to flirt, kiss and have sex with them, which unfortunately can get them pregnant by accident and STDs. On the other hand, adolescent girls are stressed about their new responsibilities in the world. They lose themselves as kids and try to find who they really are as young adults. Many times, they are confused and overwhelmed by all these things that society hits upon them. They are pressured and scared. As a result, they get moody or have mental breakdowns because they have high expectations so when things around them or things they do do not meet their expectations, they collapse.
Overall, I like this article. It really gives good points on the physical and mental changes in adolescent girls as they step into adulthood. However, I am a little surprised at the fact that Pipher is surprised and sometimes confused by the behavioral changes in adolescent girls although she does show her understandings and her sympathies towards them. And I’m glad that in the end she says that “by late high school most girls are stronger and the winds are dying down” (288). Yes! After struggling to understand their new responsibilities and goals in life, adolescent girls no longer fumble for answer. They are indeed well-adjusted to the new lives that they are about to have. They’ve learned more both in school and from their mistakes. They become less moody but more confident in their own body images.