Margaret Ann Lipton was born into an upper middle class Jewish family in New York City on August 30, 1946, the daughter of artist Rita Benson (1912–1986) and corporate lawyer Harold Lipton (1911–1999). Her paternal grandparents were from Russia, and her mother was born in Dublin, to parents from Latvia. Lipton was raised on Long Island with her brothers, Robert, who became an actor, and Kenneth. She attended Lawrence Junior High School and the Professional Children's School. Sexually abused by an uncle, Lipton was a nervous and withdrawn child with a stutter so bad that she was sometimes unable to say her own name. In 1964, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Lipton became what she called a "Topanga Canyon hippie" who explored meditation and yoga.