Is “Barbie” a benchmark for all the girls?
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.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.
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.
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.
In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.
The poem, Barbie Doll, is about a girl who has to deal with all the stereotypes around her. The moment she is born, from the kind of toys she is gifted, “dolls that did pee-pee and miniature GE stoves and irons”, it is apparent that people think that she will have to take care of babies and be a homemaker. It is clear from the other gift, “…wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy,” that she also will be taking good care of her appearance. The line, “Then in the magic of puberty…”, tells us that the girl is growing and her body is going through usual changes. People around her have started to take notice of her unappealing parts, “…big nose and fat legs.”
It seems from the line, “…healthy, tested intelligent, possessed strong arms and back, abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity…”, that she is a grown woman now and is capable of doing everything; still she is “apologizing” for things she is not responsible for. It gives an impression that she is forgetting her real strengths and skills.
In the lines, “…play coy, / exhorted to come on hearty, / exercise, diet, smile and wheedle” she has been advised to be shy which is not one of her characteristics, lose weight because she has heavy legs, and smile even if she does not feel like, so she could persuade some guy into marrying her. Eventually, she gets exhausted of trying. From the line “Her good nature wore out like a fan belt”, it is evident that she is tired of struggling to get accepted in the society. When she gets tired of everybody judging her for her appearance “…she cut off her nose and her legs and offered them up.” To fit in she decides to remove the parts of her that society did not like.
In the end (“…the casket displayed on satin…”), she is lying dead in her casket, like a Barbie doll. The line, “Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.”, seem to be poet’s sarcasm of how the girl is now been accepted by the society, after her death, for somebody she is not. I found the last line, “To every woman a happy ending,” ironic, as now the society have stopped nagging but she is not herself anymore, so how can she really be happy.
I really like the way Piercy has addressed the issues a female has to face throughout her life. The poem was written in the year 1969, but the problems she refers to still exists. Why does the world think it is okay to pressurize a female to do the ‘so called’ feminine stuff (cooking, taking care of the babies), look pretty, please her man, etc.? Does that mean the human race has not evolved enough yet? Or there is no hope and this perspective is never going to change?