Analysis of Marge Piercy’s ‘The Barbie Doll’ Poem
Since its debut in 1959, an unconceivable molded plastic statuette named Barbie has become an icon for little girls everywhere. The product line is one of the most successful in the history of the toy industry by selling over a Billion Barbie dolls worldwide throughout history in over 150 countries, with Mattel, Barbie’s inventor claiming that at least three dolls are sold every second. Barbie however has caused some controversy; many parents from around the world have argued that Barbie’s ultra-slim figure represents a ridiculous standard for a body shape and could give their child the wrong idea about what their body type should be like as they grow up.
In the poem Barbie Doll, the author Marge Piercy suggests that an American Barbie Doll typically presents herself as being the “perfect” woman and this leads to people being jeered at for their appearance and expected to have a Barbie-doll-like figure. The doll is symbolic of the ways that women themselves have been made to think that’s what they should look like and what they strive for.
A Barbie Doll can mislead children at a very young age and feel pressured to look and act in ways such as this unreal figure. When the word Barbie comes to mind, one usually thinks of her unrealistic body type-busty with tiny waist, thin thighs, and long legs; yet less than two percent of American women can ever hope to achieve such measurements. Who wouldn’t want to be all of that? As we grow up we realize it is all unrealistic and unachievable but as a child and young adult it can be misleading to girls around the world.
Piercy uses four short stanzas to provide a sarcastic but brutal review of the cultural and societal expectations that American culture places on children, particularly young girls. The entire poem is written with a tone of depression and sadness. The young girl lives her life wishing to be someone else and apologizing about her culturally unacceptable image, which is actually normal and healthy.
In Stanza one, the speaker sets the tone of the poem by starting with a happy beginning, describing the girl playing with her new Barbie doll and how it can do everything such as pee-pee on its own and has her own mini sized appliances such as GE stoves and iron; which symbolize the duties an ideal mother is thought to perform. She wears makeup that represents confidence: “wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy” (Piercy 236). The red lipstick shows how sexuality is introduced to the child too early in life.
All of these things mentioned are qualities that any girl would want to have. The doll presents an idealized image of the body. Line five is about what happens to a girl when they hit puberty; you gain weight and your features get bigger; “Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:/you have a great big nose and fat legs” (236). “The magic of puberty” (5) may be a sarcastic way of describing the maturing of a young woman. Nobody wants to go through that and would rather stay perfect and look like a Barbie doll.
Stanza two is about the girl growing up. She gets a normal check-up at the doctor and was told she had good qualities, was intelligent, healthy and was strong. Everything was normal with her and was what a girl her age should be. The girl is intelligent; much like Barbie is supposed to be. Barbie has had many occupations that require good educations, such as teacher, doctor and veterinarian. She is healthy and has healthy arms and a strong back, but that is not similar to Barbie.
Based on Barbie’s measurements if she were a real person (29.5 cm tall, 13.5 cm bust, 8.5 cm waist and 12.5 cm hips) she would more than likely be anorexic. The girl has very low self-esteem and when the she sees herself she feels the need to apologize because she thinks she has a fat nose and thick legs, although she was growing up healthy and average. “Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs” (P 11). This statement shows the reader how society does not look at what is on the inside of a woman and what her abilities are. Instead, society judges her only by her appearance and what is on the outside.
In the first line, the speaker reveals that society advises the girl to “play coy” (12). Barbie could also be described as coy since all she does is smile, never saying a word. The girl was encouraged to “exercise, diet, smile and wheedle” (14). In other words, society encourages and wants the girl to keep her body in great shape all the time, always smile, and make others happy. The girl tries to please everyone at first and be happy with herself, but soon “Her good nature wore out”(15). She can no longer live up to society’s pressures to be like Barbie or the perfect woman.
In the stanza following, Piercy brings the main idea together: the girl with low self esteem because she felt she could no longer face societies pressures to be perfect, committed suicide. As the dead girl lies in a casket with fake makeup and fake clothes on, the people of society are finally happy with what they see. “Doesn’t she look pretty? Everyone said. / Consummation at last. / To every woman a happy ending”(23-25). Ironically, the author says that finally, the girl has received acceptance to the people of society. The “happy ending” (Piercy 25) is ironic because it is not happy at all but rather a sad thing because a girl has committed suicide from trying to live up to others standards.
The standards that some girls set for them are too high to achieve and can lead many women of any age to fall into depression and have low self esteem. This poem teaches the reader the horrible things that can exist in women who feel they need to be perfect to be accepted by society and what can happen to them. The poem is successful in showing the extremes that can happen from a plastic figure. Parents around the world have gone as far as arguing that the Barbie doll, a non-existent figure, has caused their children to develop an eating disorder from trying to maintain Barbie’s figure. I think that may be a little intense, but as long as the parents educate them about Barbie it shouldn’t be a problem.