This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out
like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker's cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn't she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.
In the poem “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy, an unnamed girl is reared from birth in the ways of “true-womanhood.” As she endures the scorn and criticism of the society around her, she is ceremoniously provided with all the tools and toys that any conventional girl would need to understand her preordained gender role. From dolls that “pee-peed” to “wee” cherry lipsticks, her paradigm and place in the world begins on a self-critical and self-destructive path. Through colloquial language, parallel diction, and gruesome hyperbole, Piercy warns us of the potentially tragic destinies of any girl who attempts to grow up in the midst of society’s overpoweringly stereotypical pressure.
Piercy’s tone throughout her poem is modern, blunt, and to-the-point. Rather than leaving the reader to ponder and question what the meaning to her tale is, her language usage is meant to send the same chilling message to everyone. The unnamed girl is provided with many modern things that girls continue to be enamored with today, causing a disturbing connection between female readers and her main character. In description, it is made clear that she has a “great big nose and fat legs,” which ultimately becomes more important to the critical society around her than her more enduring traits: good-health, intelligence, wit, and plentiful sexual drive. Because of the description, we fully understand both sides; the general public cruelly negates all that is good about her as an individual, which wears her down into a state of constant apology for that which once made her unique. The modern language used in “Barbie Doll,” creates a connection to our modern world, where the story of a degraded girl becomes a means by which Piercy can effectively teach everyone how fragile the human mind can become under too much criticism.
Parallel diction is used throughout “Barbie Doll” to emphasize Piercy’s main points. In the beginning, the phrase, “You have a great big nose” demonstrates the lack of approval in the girl's appearance. By and by, “everyone” sees her physique as an issue. Eventually the]is overarching disapproval of her peers leads the girl to becoming so overly concerned about her minor physical differences, that she ends up committing suicide over them. The repetitive use of the word “everyone” and the phrase “fat nose and fat legs,” illuminates the true meaning behind Piercy’s satirical poem: we can’t live a happy life if we try to please all of the “everyone’s” in our lives. Much like the girl whose confidence was worn away like a common fan belt, when people conform by changing who they are for the sake of their peers approval, they will end up losing and destroying themselves.
The image of a girl cutting off her both her legs and her nose is both extremely disturbing and grotesque. However, the extremities of such brutal imagery leads us as readers to reflect on the extremities and lengths that society can go to itself to force us into conformity. At the closing of the poem when the outside pressures of the world have ultimately caused the girl to kill herself, we fully understand the levity of humanity when it comes to how utterly we can destroy each others’ confidence. The sad ending of “Barbie Doll” leads us to question ourselves and the way we are living: is being “fat” honestly the worst thing we as humans can be? Is trying to look perfect or please everyone truly more important than the gift of life itself? As we visualize the case of this poor girl who finally ends up cutting off her limbs in a final and desperate attempt to make everyone else happy, the answer to society's’ questions become rhetorical.