"Barbie Doll" by Marge Piercy Analysis

Essay by trait47College, UndergraduateB, November 2007

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In 1973, Marge Piercy wrote a poem that follows the life of a young girl growing up with modern expectations that she struggles to conform to. "Barbie Doll" uses different aspects of a woman's life to express the different pressures on women today. The first aspect Piercy uses to emphasize the stereotypes attached to women are images, colours, and toys that are traditionally associated with girls; the main character of the poem, is given gifts that are very feminine. The other aspects Piercy utilizes are the 'magic' of puberty, and she also uses the popular children's doll Barbie, as seen in the title of her poem, to highlight society's expectations on women, the main character at the end of the first stanza is ridiculed by a peer because of her looks. Stereotypes of how a woman 'should' appear and behave like have always been around in some shape or form.

These 'ideals' are instilled in girls at a young age. These 'ideals' however can be very difficult for women that cannot or wish not to conform to this 'norm', as like the main character in the poem who in the fourth stanza has taken her life because she couldn't fit in. Piercy relates diverse portions of a woman's life to effectively connect Barbie doll expectations of women and her subject.

Piercy strategically uses traditional and nontraditional items, and colours associated with women to point out what society deems feminine qualities to contrast the feelings of her subject. In the first stanza the subject is given gifts conventionally given to young girls: a doll, a play stove, an iron, and lipstick. These items are picked by the author to illustrate that, even from a young age; women are being molded into becoming homemakers. Women have been traditionally expected to have children, cook for the family, clean for the family and yet still look beautiful for their husbands when they come home. In the third stanza, the subject seems to be wearing out like a fan belt: "Her good nature wore out/ like a fan belt." (Lines 15 - 16). A fan belt is a car part, cars are traditionally considered very masculine. Piercy uses a masculine item to express her subject self confidence and happiness seemed to cease alike a car with a broken fan belt. Piercy also perhaps wants to show her subject might be good at other things other than the status quo things that women are thought to be good at such as car mechanics.

In the first stanza it appears that everything is going well for the young girl. Then, as ironically stated by Piercy the girl undergoes the 'magic' of puberty. Puberty is an awkward time for all. During this period of time is when boys usually start to take notice of girls, being it in a good context or bad. Piercy closes the first stanza: "Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said: / You have a great big nose and fat legs." (Lines 5 -6). Society seems to be so wrapped up in what people look like on the outside, they often disregard what the person has to offer emotionally or intellectually.

The subject in the poem just wants to be accepted for who she is, she feels anonymous. In the poem Piercy does not give the young girl a name, this creates two angles for Piercy to use. The first angle is that the young girl is nameless because all people see of her was her large nose and fat legs. The second angle is that Piercy wants express that during puberty all girls undergo ridicule. Piercy uses the main character's anonymity to unite her female readers; all women have endured some sort of societal pressures while growing up and during puberty.

The title of the poem "Barbie Doll" derives from the popular doll Barbie which is manufactured by Mattel Toys. The dolls are often associated with femininity and beauty however; girls might try and emulate the unrealistic standards they set which can be discouraging. In the second stanza, the author shows her audience that although the girl is not traditionally pretty, she was still in good health and had other positive attributes: "She was healthy, tested intelligent, / Possessed strong arms and back," (Lines 7 - 8). When you think of a Barbie doll, you do not think of a doll with muscular arms, having a strong back, or being overly clever. Barbie looks as though she may be anorexic, she is rigid, she does not step out of line, she just smiles and does not talk, and she does whatever her puppeteer wants of herIn the third stanza it seems as though the girl is reaching out for help to coincide with society's Barbie like expectations of her: "She was advised to play coy, / exhorted to come on hearty, / exercise, diet, smile and wheedle." (Lines 12 - 14). The main character in this stanza is struggling to find out as to why people will not accept her for who she is. The girl was looking for an answer that society wouldn't give her, she had to conform to the Barbie like 'norm' or be herself and unhappy.

In the fourth and final stanza, the subject is dead and is in her casket at her funeral. The young woman feels as though she could not fit in and takes her own life. Although the girl doesn't feel she fits in, she is ironically dressed in a pink and white nightie in her casket. Pink is traditionally associated with womanhood, and white is often associated with purity. I feel that Piercy chose to have the subject dressed this way to express that even in death the girl was still expected to be very feminine and Barbie - esque.

Piercy's Barbie Doll is a well written representation of modern expectations of women. The author strategically uses traditional girl's gifts and colours to represent the standards pressed on women. Piercy writes her poem as the girl grows through puberty. The author specifically decides to keep the main character nameless to show how the girl felt like she was nothing but a big nose on big legs. The author also contrasts the popular doll Barbie and the stereotypes of what women 'should' look and act like according to what the doll represents opposite to her main character. Using these different affects Piercy has written an effective poem highlighting society's unjust pressures on young women.