“Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy is all about unrealistic norms and expectations that our materialistic culture and demanding society impose on our children, especially young girls. From a very young age they are given Barbie dolls to play with. A Barbie doll is what every girl dreams to be- pure perfection! She has a perfect body, perfect hair, perfect smile, perfect outfits and perfect life style! So, what if you don’t look like a Barbie? Will you still be accepted by your society? Will you be equally successful as your Barbie like peers? There lies the ugly truth! No, you will be harshly criticized and eventually rejected by the society that praises fake beauty and fake ideals.
This is exactly what happens to the protagonist in the “Barbie Doll” poem. In the beginning everything seems pretty normal. The girl is born and typical girls’ toys such as Barbie dolls, toy household appliances, and, of course, make-up, surround her. She is expected to grow up and fit into a stereotypical female role. She takes care of the household while looking pretty. When the girl in the poem reaches puberty, she is described as “healthy, intelligent, with strong arms and back, abundant sexual drive, but with a fat nose and thick legs”. Unfortunately, her peers are not able to see any of her inner beauty or potential, and are only focused on her flaws. In order to become accepted, she has to abide by their rules. The author writes,
“ 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”.
Poor girl is not allowed to embrace her qualities and be the person who she is but tries hard to please the society. While doing so, “her good nature wore out.” In other words, she loses herself and is not the person she once was.
The end of the poem is extremely sad and ironic. Not being able to cope with peer pressure, she kills herself. It is not before she dies that she becomes accepted by the society. She has a fake putty nose on, “dressed in a pink and white nightie,” and everyone compliments her looks. Ironically, people often fail to see someone’s true beauty but are rather immersed in anything that’s fake.
While reading the poem, I found a parallel with Monster that Frankenstein created. He was also judged based on looks and considered an outcast by the society. Unlike the girl who killed herself, Monster took a different path. He went on a killing rampage in search of revenge!