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Marge Piercy's "Barbie Doll"

In the poem “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy, the title gives no clue to the literal themes found within the poem. Although it does signify the poem is about a female, the title alone leads one to believe that the poem’s content is light and gay and refers to the pleasures found in childhood by little girls who play with the popular toy dolls. In contrast, the body of the poem depicts the stark reality of a girl as she comes to understand that she is not perfect (like a Barbie doll) yet flawed with a nose that is too big and legs that are too fat, “Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said: You have a great big nose and fat legs”. Marge Piercy's Barbie Doll

Facts about Marge Piercy’s Barbie Doll:

  • Written in 1973
  • The style of poem is narrative
  • The complete poem is only 25 lines
  • Barbie Doll is a free verse poem

The poem is one that deals with the politics of girls accepting their body’s as beautiful, even when they are not perfect. As the term Barbie doll itself has come to signify perfection to millions around the world, the title leaves the reader unprepared for the true message hidden within the poem. Therefore the title provides a literal meaning only and leaves it up to the reader to understand the poem’s true message.

The narrative of the poem allows for the story of life and death to be played out for an American girl. Beginning with the gift of a doll, the symbolism within the poem is blatant. The lipstick and kitchen toys reflect gender expectations of the girl as well as what is dictated to be appropriate for her appearance. The girl’s entire life is then mirrored in society’s expectations of her rather than her positive traits. As the girl goes through he life meeting and conforming to social expectations, she is unable to find happiness. In the end, she is beautiful but dead and cannot enjoy her happiness.

Written at a time in which self-doubt permeated women as they tried to conform to society’s expectations while branching out on their own in the workplace and home, Piercy’s poem focuses on one woman’s inability to achieve super-model status. Psychological study and social research confirms that this struggle to conform is extremely harmful to young girls. Even today, almost 50 years after the beginning of the feminist movement, parents are still pressuring young girls to conform. Piercy’s poem illustrates the catastrophic effect of social pressures that steal a young women’s individuality and personality. While society seems to have moved beyond the Barbie expectations, there are plenty of examples of dramatic instances of Barbie-like conformity. For example, beauty pageants, thin super-models, rows and rows of make-up products at the drug store, and fashion that is more form than function. While women are willing to engage in the behavior’s that conform to society’s expectations, Piercy’s writing warns us that perhaps we should look out for them more closely.

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