Marge Piercy’s Barbie Doll

Marge Piercy’s Barbie Doll

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In Marge Piercy’s, “Barbie Doll,” we see the effect that society has on the expectations of women. A woman, like the girl described in ‘Barbie Doll’, should be perfect. She should know how to cook and clean, but most importantly be attractive according to the impossible stereotypes of womanly beauty. Many women in today’s society are compared to the unrealistic life and form of the doll. The doll, throughout many years, has transformed itself from a popular toy to a role model for actual women. The extremes to which women take this role model are implicated in this short, yet truthful poem.
The poem starts with the line, “This girlchild was born as usual,” which suggests that as soon as a girl is born, society already expects her to learn the role she will soon play in when she hits puberty (1). Thus, showing why we are given dolls as little girls to illustrate how we should act and appear according to society. After we learn all the roles we will soon take part in, “the magic of puberty,” hits and girls immediately begin applying the ideals to their own lives (5). As if this attempt to conform is not enough we have other people telling us we are not to perfect. “You have a great big nose and fat legs,” says a classmate to the girl (6). This type of pressure can slowly but surely destroy even the little confidence women do have in themselves.
In the second stanza, Piercy describes the girl as healthy, intelligent, and strong (7-8). Yet these positive equalities alone, could not keep people from criticizing her, so the girl feels inferior. “She went to and fro apologizing,” which demonstrates her collapse of confidence with the people she is surrounded with, who kept putting her down (10). She gives in to the hurtful things people say about her: “Everyone [kept] seeing a fat nose on thick legs” (11). The girl thus lets people push her in the direction of society’s standard of beauty, instead of affirming her own unique beauty.
The third stanza starts off saying, “She was advised to play coy, / exhorted to come on hearty, / exercise, diet, smile and wheedle” (12-14). In the girls’ mind she is becoming completely fake to herself to make society happy; this in turn makes her dissatisfied. She soon grows tired of pretending and, “cut[s] off her nose and her legs (17).

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She decides to get plastic surgery, obviously to her nose and thighs, to make her pretending a reality and to try to be accepted. These features were the ones always being criticized by her peers, as a young girl, which shows what an effect the stereotypes of idealized feminine beauty have had on her mental being as she matures.
In the third and final stanza, the girl apparently takes her own life, because she does not love herself as she was. Piercy says, “In the casket displayed on satin she lay / with undertaker’s cosmetics painted on” (19-20). Even though she is now gone, her physical body still shows the ideals of putting make-up on to not look ugly. Before her death she had much more surgery done to her face, because she had “a turned-up putty nose” (21). Through numerous surgeries to restore her confidence, she still was not pleased with herself. Although “everyone said” she looked pretty in her casket, she was not alive to hear and enjoy the compliments herself (23). Was this “Barbie Doll” role model worth following to death? No matter what women do to look pretty, they are only as pretty as they feel inside.



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