Society’s idea to be attractive is to be nothing less than ideal. To lack perfection is not acceptable in society. Also society tells people how to dress and act, having people be and look a certain way to be accepted. The desire to be accepted can destroy ones’ self-esteem and many lose sight of their own true beauty. Many will do whatever it takes to not be, say, or do what society thinks is disturbing. Marge Piercy’s poem “Barbie Doll,” written in 1973, is a powerful poem about society’s pressure on a young woman.
The name carries a lot of meaning because a Barbie doll has long been an icon in society. Although it is a children’s toy, a Barbie doll demonstrates a woman with a perfect body and pure beauty. The poem portrays a summary of a life since birth to the end of life at a funeral. The main character in the poem never has a chance to live life to the fullest because she is always trying to please others and be accepted, which leads to a life of unhappiness. Piercy uses form, diction, and imagery throughout the poem to help imagine the “perfect” woman in the eye of society and the price one may be willing to pay.
The form of the poem was written in free verse style. It consists of four stanzas and each stanza tells a different part of the girl’s life. The girl goes from life being simple, playing with toys and having friends to growing up, worrying about looks, what others think, and being judged. These pressures on a young girl growing into a woman can be extreme and change their whole life. The poem begins with the description of a normal child no different from any other child, “The girl was born as usual” (1). There is a transition in the first stanza lines five and six, where the girl goes from young and happy playing with Barbie’s to an adolescent girl being judged by society.
The second stanza explains how no matter how perfect the girl is society makes her feel flawed. The third stanza shows how the girl is willing to do anything to be accepted even if it means not be true to her self. The last lines of the third stanza shows the girl pays the ultimate price to be accepted into society, “So she cut off her nose and her legs/ and offered them up” (17-18).
The last stanza is the conclusion where the only way society accepted the girl was if she was perfect and made over. The formation shows the audience step by step explanations why a young girl with self-doubt issues would take such a drastic ending decision.
Piercy’s poem uses imagery to convey the theme and help the reader picture this woman going through changes to become perfect in the eye of society. Imagery is dominant in this poem; Piercy uses very strong words and sentences that are very descriptive. For example the first couple lines in the poem “presented dolls that did pee-pee and miniature GE stoves and irons / and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy” (2-3). Piercy makes it very easy to imagine the Barbie accessories that the children play with. Playing with these dolls has instilled a visualization of what the perfect woman is like and the girl is already learning her place in society.
The poem was written in 1973. In this time period woman were seen as objects and not really people. Their place was in the kitchen, cleaning, and taking care of the kids. Piercy has painted an image to the reader of a little girl playing with toy stoves and irons and wearing red lipstick to make herself pretty. At the end of the poem Piercy shows that society finally accepts the young woman because she has been made over even though it’s not truly herself. The young woman is prepared to rest in her casket, with makeup and dressed in pretty pink, “Doesn’t she look pretty? Everyone said. / Consummation at last. To every woman a happy ending” (23-25).
The diction in the poem “Barbie Doll,” is very important to the story because it makes a distinction between an innocent poem about dolls and an intense message to society. The message being that people idolize the Barbie doll and will do whatever it takes to be just like her. Piercy’s use of “presented dolls that did pee-pee/ and miniature GE stoves and irons” (2-3) presented meaning that they were not just given to the little girl as a present but as plastic representations of the gender-specific role of motherhood, a position that is being given to the “girlchild.” In the very first line of the poem, Piercy refers to the girl as a “girlchild,” which reveals that what happens to her could happen to any young girl. The use of “lipsticks the color of cherry candy” (4).
Instead of simply, lipstick is that is associated to a specific kind of woman. A lot of women wear lipstick but only the most beautiful, perfect woman would dare to where cherry red. The diction used to describe the main character is perfectly normal, “She was healthy, tested intelligent, processed strong arms and back” (7). The woman’s qualities are just undermined by “everyone’s” perception of her physical flaws, the use of “everyone itself is symbolism of societal pressures.
Within our society there is an extraordinary want and need for women to be perfect on the outside. There is too much importance and too much anxiety placed on women to surrender to the image of being or becoming a Barbie doll. The girl in the poem represents all girls. It represents all girls in that there is one time or another that we do not feel accepted or perfect. The Barbie doll gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “if looks could kill.”