Crystal Rivas October 1, 2010 ENG 330
Close Reading of Marge Piercy’s “Barbie Doll”
Marge Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” is a poem about what society deems as the perfect female image. Throughout the poem Piercy presents the “female role” in society, highlights the subjects attributes, and even uses the symbolic Barbie doll in the title of the poem to emphasize the impossible ideals that society has placed on women. The moment a female is born in to this society she is immediately subjected to the “female’s role” and manipulated into believing that societies’ standard of the ideal beauty is the only kind of beauty and anything that does not meet those standards is immediately rejected.
When a female is born she is immediately enrolled into societies’ idea of a woman’s role. Piercy uses the very first stanza of her poem to present this idea as she begins the poem with, “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…”(1-4). The tone of this stanza fails to demonstrate any severity over the issue of societies expectations. It is very mellow and relaxed as if the narrator were writing a simple story of an event that occurs regularly. The tone is very instrumental to the poem. The fact that the tone is very simplistic gives the impression that the information the narrator is providing is well known amongst its follower. In fact, most people already know and acknowledge the problem with societies standards, yet these standards continues to be accepted and un-challenged. The mood appears to be light and relaxed as if the topic of the poem weren’t as important as the poem itself. She uses the mood and tone of the poem to subtly express how easily we all accept societies standard as if it were the norm. From the moment a girl child is born she is provided with stoves, irons, dolls and cherry red lipstick, enforcing within her the idea that women are to be the primary caregivers and spend their days at home in the kitchen, all while keeping up with societies’ ideal beauty. Dolls, GE stoves and irons, are symbolic of the traditional role women occupy in society.
Piercy uses repetition of the words nose and legs to emphasize societies’ obsession with the ideal female physical standards. If even one part of a female does not fit into the standard image of the ideal woman then such a woman will be ostrasized. A woman can have everything in the world going for her except her legs and her nose, but she will be immediately down cast. Piercy list all of the wonderful qualities that the female protagonist with the poem possesses, yet the only thing that matters are her physical features. This can be seen in the second stanza of the poem, “She was healthy, tested intelligent, /possessed strong arms and back,/ abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity... /Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs"(7-11). It is ironic that a woman can have so many excellent qualities attributes, but because one or two features that do not fit societies’ standards such as one’s nose, could destroy your chance of being beautiful not only through societies perspective but through your own perspective as well.
The iconic Barbie doll has been societies standard of beauty for years. Piercy entitled this poem “Barbie Doll” and yet no where in the poem does it say Barbie doll, instead what you may find is a description of a Barbie doll image. Barbie has been the ideal perfection that society strives for, but will never achieve. Society only sees what women aren’t and never what who they are. Piercy seems to find it unnecessary to place the word Barbie doll” within the poem even though it is the very symbol of societies’ unrealistic expectations; society has shown to work in the same way. Society never actually stated that Barbie is the standard image of beauty, yet it is understood amongst everyone.
The narrator reveals how women are constantly pushed and “advised” by society in how to “improve” themselves. “She was advised to play coy, exhorted to come on hearty, exercise, diet, smile and wheedle”(12-14). Everyday in every which way society tells you how to be their impossible ideal image. A woman is constantly trying and struggling to live up to their standards by trying to weight less, and even changing her entire personality resulting in damaging if not destroying the woman you are or could have been.
In Marge Piercy’s “What Are Big Girls Made of?” she continues to immerce herself in the battle over societies’ ever changing ideal image which women strive for, versus who they could really be. The last stanza of Piercy’s poem states, “When will women not b compelled to view their bodies as science projects, gardens to be weeded, dogs to be trained? When will a woman cease to be made of pain?”(77- 82) Women themselves are apart of society and we place these torturous, tactless ideals of beauty upon ourselves. The symbolic Barbie doll continues to grace the homes of little girls every where from the moment they are born, and societies’ ideals continue to reign.
“Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy illustrates that when a girl is born society quickly submerges her in to the “female’s role” and manipulates her into believing that societies’ standard of the ideal beauty is the only kind of beauty and anything that does not meet those standards is immediately rejected. Piercy’s use of the tone, mood, symbolism and irony helps to emphasize unreachable standards placed on women by society. Piercy presents societies impossible standards by the starting of a female’s life and reflecting that no matter how many wonderful qualities a woman may have, if one aspect does not fit the standard then like for a woman is filled with social judgments and criticism.