“Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy is about a girl who is a normal child growing up; playing with dolls, miniature kitchen items and pretend make-up. It quickly takes an interesting turn when a pubescent child makes fun of her nose and legs and she was advised to exercise and diet despite the fact that she was intelligent and healthy. The poem continues on by the girl cutting her legs and nose and a bizarre visual of her laying in a casket with an ending that states “to every woman a happy ending”( Piercy 791).
This poem was written by Piercy in 1969 a year in which many women liberation groups were forming and the breaking of womanly roles was taking place. The poem “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy, describes the challenges that women of all ages face when they can not fit into society standards of being a woman and how it can be detrimental to them. Women in the 50’s at a young age are taught to look and act a certain way, they are sexualized at an early age and not to mention the idea of a women’s place are subconsciously taught to girls at a very young age.
For instance, they were “presented dolls that did pee-pee and miniature GE stoves and irons” ( Piercy 791). As these young girls are being brought up, they are given little baby dolls and everything that resembles the duties and characteristics of a woman. Such as raising children, cooking and cleaning all characteristics of women according to society in the 50‘s. In addition, beauty is also emphasized in the early age of this particular little girl. For example, Piercy strategically adds the line “ . . . wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy” ( Piercy 791).
From an early age girls are raised with toy cosmetics and are encouraged to dress up and thus a time where many standards are being set forth for women on how to be a woman. As the poem continues, the girl is growing up and feeling the pressures of becoming an adolescent. For example, the stanza states that “. . . in the magic of puberty a classmate said: you have a great big nose and fat legs” ( Piercy 791). She goes through puberty, and her body is developing new changes and physical development is taking place.
The classmate in this poem is a metaphor for society and how through puberty both sexes go through changes and become more aware of one another as well as pass judgment between both sexes, particularly more in women. The girl realizes that standards have been set for her and she needs to look a certain way to be beautiful. However, according to society she is just a girl with “ a great big nose and fat legs” and thus affecting her emotionally which has negative effects on her self-esteem and putting pressure on her emotionally ( Piercy 791).
Beauty has been the focal point throughout the poem. Throughout the poem Piercy emphasizes the “big nose and fat legs”( Piercy 791). Society can be very shallow; only looking at the appearances rather than the person as a whole. For example, one particular stanza states that “ she was healthy, tested intelligent,” ( Piercy 791). Though she did not fit into the mold of what society called beauty, she was smart a quality that her critics overlooked. She also possessed other physical qualities such as having “strong arms and back” ( Piercy 791).
Society was so superficial that they didn’t see other attributes the young girl had. As the girl continues on to grow up she is continually facing challenges with her confidence and thus affecting her emotionally and physically. For instance, one of the line states that “ she went to and fro apologizing “ ( Piercy 791). She lacked self-esteem and consequently always giving a reason for why she looked the way she looked and why she was the way she was; never really accepting herself just the way she was. Another stanza states that, “she was advised to play coy, exhorted to come on hearty” ( Piercy 791).
Even though she was emotionally struggling people would tell her repeatedly how to act and how to carry herself as a woman; and not just any woman but rather act as to what her critics believed was an attractive facade. Some of her critics went as far as to telling her to change her appearance by physical exercise. For instance, she is advised to “diet, smile and wheedle” ( Piercy 791). There was rules and standards set for her and even if she did not meet what society was telling her how to be she should still pretend and try to be confident and beautiful.
Once again society only finds ways to improve yourself physically rather than mentally and just a person as a whole. With all the criticisms of society the girl is weighted down, and makes drastic measures to change her appearance in hopes of making everyone around her happy. One part in the poem states that, “ her good nature wore out like a fan belt ”( Piercy 791). She was already tired of apologizing and trying to meet the standards that society created for her. Consequently, she then “cut off her nose and legs and offered them up” ( Piercy 791).
Somehow in her mind, she had decided that those were the two main things that were keeping her from being beautiful and thus solving everything. Incidentally, she would end up taking her life; “in the casket she lay with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on” ( Piercy 791). The author makes a visual emphasis describing the funeral seen because it is then when people seem to love and accept her rather than judging her. Some of her critics said, “doesn’t she look so pretty? . . .” ( Piercy 791). It was here when she was all painted and made to look pretty that everyone saw beyond her “ . . big nose and fat legs” ( Piercy 791). “Barbie doll” the title is used strategically in this poem to describe the little girls’ so called imperfections. For example, Barbie dolls usually all are made with the same mold. They all look the same; they are tall and slender with a small waist, beautiful hair, and always with a smile, they are perfect. However humans are all unique, with flaws and different attributes. Society also tries to make a mold for how women are supposed to be and look like. The girl could not fit into the Barbie doll image that was stressed to her.
While she lay their in her casket she was wearing a “pink and white nightie” ( Piercy 791). Usually Barbie dolls wear pink while the white is a representation of the girls innocence . Her death was the product of criticism and constant pressure of wanting to be beautiful. No more shall she see her great big nose but rather a “turned-up putty nose” ( Piercy 791). Hence the climax of the poem because alas she has fulfilled everybody’s expectations and thus making her happy because she had achieved acceptance from society.
In conclusion, this is a story of a girl facing the stereotype of women in the 50’s and the underlying effects it has on women growing up. Though it is written to seem that it is about a girl, it embarks many underlying issues that women need to deal with in our culture. Such as filling the roles as housewives with duties that are considered particularly for women according to society and not to mention the pressures the world puts out on being beautiful . The girl in this poem could not fit into the Barbie doll mold.
In final consideration, nothing was gained because she lost her life. But in the eyes of that girl everything was gained with the response of “consummation at last” meaning that finally everyone that now sees her lying there, they will only see her beauty ( Piercy 791). The poem takes an interesting ending by stating, “to every woman a happy ending” meaning that you should do whatever you need to do to be happy. The girl took her life in order to make those around her happy and thus making her happy.