"Barbie Doll," a poem by Marge Piercy, focuses in on the transition of a young girl into society's stereotypical woman.
”Barbie Doll," a poem by Marge Piercy, focuses in on the transition of a young girl into society's stereotypical woman. Through symbolism, Piercy conveys how women change their outward appearance to match the standards of society.
The beginning of the poem describes how a normal girl is pressured, even as a child, to fit into society's stereotype. At the beginning of the poem Piercy states, “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). Symbolism is used to represent the importance of remaining feminine. The word “girlchild” is used to amplify the importance of the child being a girl. This is done primarily to begin the poem in a feminine way. By saying “girlchild,” Piercy is emphasizing femininity from the beginning of the poem. Next, Piercy introduces “miniature GE stoves and irons” to the girl. Stoves and irons are items women use to cook and do chores with. Women are automatically associated with using these household objects, therefore, the girl is presented objects women use to learn the role of women. This is done so that the girl can learn to be feminine. The “miniature GE stoves and irons” act as a symbol of what the girl should be using once she grows up. Piercy states that this is learned at a young age by introducing the topic at the beginning of the poem and by using the word “miniature” to describe the objects. Lastly, the girl is introduced “wee lipsticks” to portray femininity. Lipstick is a highly feminine product, and it is rare to be introduced to a child at the same time toy stoves and irons are introduced. Piercy introduces the lipstick and small toys at the same time to symbolize the importance of learning to be feminine at a young age. The lipstick is also described as “wee” to point out that the lipstick is presented to the girl when she is young.
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The middle of the poem describes the girl's transformation into society's stereotype. Mid way through the poem Piercy states, “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” (7-11). Symbolism is used to express a need for women to have a certain look and fit a certain mold. The girl is described as healthy, intelligent, and strong, but those features are not acceptable enough for society. Being healthy and intelligent are both characteristics that people can’t see. They are two extremely important factors of life, but they are not what society is looking for in the girl. Health and intelligence act as symbols for the perfect girl, minus looks. The girl is also described as having “strong arms and back.” Ordinarily, being strong would be socially acceptable, but being strong is a symbol of masculinity. Society is looking for a certain type of person that only has certain features, and possessing “strong arms and back” is not what is socially accepted. “She went to and fro apologizing” supports the idea of these features not being socially acceptable. The girl feels the need to apologize for traits that don’t make her fit the perfect mold. Piercy then states, “everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.” Even though the girl apologizes for the unimportant features not fitting a certain mold, society still notices the unattractive physical features. The girl has completely normal and good things about her that should be praised, like health and intelligence, but society chooses to point out the girl’s legs and nose. The legs and nose are both a symbol of the girl’s physical appearance itself. They represent the fact that society is not concerned about the good features that should matter and that they choose to stay focused on insignificant and meaningless qualities like legs and a nose
The end of the poem describes how the girl has been formed into society's stereotypical woman. Near the end of the poem Piercy states, “Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said. Consummation at last. To every woman a happy ending” (23-25). Symbolism is used to show that women are ultimately supposed to gain the approval of others. Even though the girl is dead, society is still judging her by pointing out how she looks. Being pretty is a symbol of how society wants the girl to look. Therefore, the girl is still attempting to look pretty to please society. Piercy states, “everyone” is pointing out that the girl looks pretty to show that every person in society is still critiquing her. By saying “everyone,” Piercy symbolizes the pressure the girl feels from all of the people while having to be pretty on her deathbed. Piercy states that every woman feels “consummation at last,” to show that everyone feels fulfillment and perfection about the girl's appearance. Once the girl is dead and can’t do anything else to please society but lay dead, society is happy. A “happy ending” is present for society because the girl looks pretty. Piercy says, “to every woman a happy ending,” to symbolize that every woman is finally content with how the girl is supposed to look and act. The girl has ultimately gained the approval of others.