Is Barbie the ideal woman? “For generations she has been the doll that little girls have aspired to be a party girl, career woman, and bathing beauty all wrapped into one” (Cain 1). In Marge Piercy’s poem “Barbie Doll,” the title emphasizes the theme of the poem, which is that girls are ultimately captured by society’s narrow definitions of feminine behavior and beauty. By comparing the young woman in the poem to a Barbie doll, the author reveals the irony of the title.
In the poem, the speaker is a person aware of the events taking place in a young girl’s life.
However, the speaker is not aware of her feelings. It is obvious that the author uses Barbie in the poem to symbolize society’s views of what the perfect female should aspire to be. “Barbie’s unrealistic body type busty with tiny waist, thin thighs, and long legs is reflective of our cultures feminine ideal. By using similes, symbols, and a fairy tale-like tone, the author creates a suicidal young woman instead of Barbie, the glamorous sex symbol that the girl is compared too.
The speaker sets the tone of the poem in the first stanza by starting with a happy beginning. Like many of the books and cartoons Barbie has starred in, which feature material possessions such as sports cars and endless shopping bags full of goodies, the poem too is filled with nice things for a young girl to play with such as dolls, miniature stoves, play irons, and lipstick. These items are not only gifts that young girls would like to have but are also things that are considered feminine.
However, the items used in the first stanza show how nice and feminine the “girl child” (Piercy 1) world may seem. The items symbolize the gender role that a young girl possesses very early in life. Much like a Barbie doll, all girls are expected to be a certain way and enjoy activities thought to be feminine. The miniature stoves and irons symbolize the duties an ideal mother is thought to perform. By being presented these items, the young girl in the poem is already practicing for the future tasks of a housewife.
Whoever presents her with the gifts is presenting the child with the subtle social norms for a young woman in today’s world. The dolls, stove, iron and lipstick are all traditional playthings for young girls, but they also are markers of an identity in the making, and the things that young girls grow to identify with their own social roles. However, red lipstick is a very sensual addition to any woman’s make-up collection. The fact that the young girl in the poem applies a sensual shade of lipstick to enhance her lips hows how sexuality is introduced to the child early in life. The next image presented in the first stanza is puberty. In the fifth line of the poem, the speaker makes puberty sound wonderful by referring to the change in a woman’s body as “magic” (Piercy 5). However, in the preceding line, the speaker creates a scene at school with the young lady and a classmate in which the classmate insults the young girl’s body, which has undergone magical changes. The word “magic” (Piercy 5) can also be interpreted a different way.
Because the girl’s heart would have obviously been broken by the classmates statement, “the magic of puberty” (Piercy 5) may be a sarcastic way of describing the maturing of a young woman. The way the little girl is presented to the reader shows that she could be compared to Barbie. However, the last line of the stanza shows that she struggles already with the guidelines society sets for the ideal woman. The author shows how the girl possesses gifts and may have been unique. However, she is forced to confine herself to what society wants her to be.
However, the fact that the girl is healthy and has healthy arms and a strong back is anything but similar to Barbie. Based on Barbie’s measurements, if Barbie were a real person, she would more than likely to look anorexic. In line ten, it is obvious that the girl in the poem is giving in to the way society wants her to be. When the speaker says, “She went to and fro apologizing” (Piercy 10), he or she implies the sociological notion of face-work, the efforts of people to maintain the proper image and avoid embarrassment in public.
By apologizing for having above-average intelligence, the girl shows that she is conforming to society’s view that women are inferior to men. Finally, in the last line of the second stanza, the author recaptures the disgust society has for the girl. In line eleven the speaker states, “Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs” (Piercy 11). This statement shows how society does not see what is on the inside of a woman and what her abilities are. Instead, society judges her only by her appearance.
The expectations society has for the female in the poem are obvious. In the first line, the speaker reveals that society advises the girl to “play coy” (Piercy 12). In other words, the girl should be shy, quiet, and timid. This is exactly the way the creators of Barbie present their doll. Barbie could also be described as coy since all she does is smile, never saying a word. Even though a few models of the doll have possessed voice boxes in the past with pull strings that allow them to speak, most Barbie dolls are mute.
The line in the poem tells the reader that the girl was encouraged to “exercise, diet, smile and wheedle” (Piercy 14). In other words, society encourages the girl to be in great shape, smile all the time, and charm people. After all, Barbie has an amazingly thin body. In addition, Barbie always has a smile on her face and charms America by being a highly valuable collector’s item. The person that the girl child could never be is the person appearing in the casket, after a makeover by the undertaker.
After the female’s suicide, she is laid in a satin coffin. She is decorated with make-up, a putty nose, and a white nightie. These are symbols the author uses to symbolize society’s view of the perfect female. It’s ironic that society, symbolized by “everyone” in the poem, says she is pretty. Even though she is dead, society finally views her as pretty because she now has an acceptable nose, even though it is made of putty. She is also accepted because she is wearing make-up and a nightie in the colors that represent purity and femininity, pink and white.
In line twenty-four, it is obvious that only in the girl’s death does society view her as perfect. The final line of the tragic fairy tale-like poem implies that the ending is a happy one. However, the irony is that the ending is sad and shocking. The “happy ending” (Piercy 25) is ironic because it is not happy at all. Because the ending is described as happy, one can only see how “every woman” (Piercy 25) could view the girl’s death as a happy conclusion because the female in the poem is no longer alive to challenge a woman’s place in society.
Marge Piercy has ironically tied together a suicidal girl with a well-known little girl’s toy known as Barbie. By giving the poem the title “Barbie Doll,” Piercy shows how society expected the girl in the poem to possess the desired qualities of a female. The author created cosmos that allows the reader to see inside the world of a troubled young girl who differs from the norms society has set. From this poem, one can conclude that society compares women to Barbie dolls, which in turn reflects the qualities society values in women.
Piercy has done a wonderful job of showing society’s perspective on the perfect woman. The symbols, tone, and comparison between the girl and Barbie allow the reader to see how society expects certain traits from females. Works Cited Cain, Angela. “Barbie’s Body May be Perfect, but Critics Remind Us It’s Plastic. ” Albany Times 22 Mar. 1996. 7 Apr. 2002. Piercy, Marge, Barbie Doll. Booth, Alison, and Kelly J. Mays, eds. The Norton Introduction To Literature. Portable 10th ed. N. p. : W. W Norton &, 2011. Print.
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