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Is Barbie the Ideal Woman?

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Is Barbie the ideal woman? For generations she’s been the doll that little girls have aspired to be–a party girl, career woman and bathing beauty all wrapped into one . In Marge Piercy’s poem entitled "Barbie Doll," the title underscores the theme of the poem, which is that girls are ultimately and fatally entrapped by society’s narrow definitions of feminine behavior and beauty. By comparing the young lady 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 about what is happening. The poem is told in a matter-of-fact way, much like a Barbie storybook or movie. 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 culture’s feminine ideal. Yet less that two percent of American women can ever hope to achieve such dreamy measurements. By using similes, symbols, and a fairy tale-like tone, the author creates a cosmos starring a suicidal young lady instead of Barbie, the glamorous sex symbol the girl is compared to throughout the poem.

In the first stanza, the poem begins in a fairy tale-like fashion. By stating events in order, using pleasant and unpleasant images, and invoking emotion in the reader, the speaker begins his or her comparison of the character’s life to a Barbie doll’s life.

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.

The speaker sets the tone of the poem in this 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 a young girl 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 "girlchild[�s]" 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 "dolls that did pee-pee" symbolize the young girl’s being introduced to the aspects of motherhood. Barbie has been sold along with tiny dolls representing her children. The tiny dolls wear little diapers for Barbie to change. Even in Barbie’s world, females are expected to have children and take care of them. The miniature stoves and irons symbolize the duties an ideal mother is thought to perform. By being presented these items, the young lady 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 lady in today’s world. The dolls, stove, iron and lipstick are all traditional playthings for young girls, but they are also markers of an identity in the making, the things that young girls grow to identify with their own social roles). Barbie has her own line of pink kitchen sets equipped with pots and pans for her to scrub, a stove that buzzes, and even an iron for her to iron Ken’s shirts with. The “cherry candy" lipstick the young lady is presented sounds innocent and fun to play with. 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 shows how sexuality is introduced to the child too early in life. Even though many Barbie dolls possesses pink lips, some wear bright, red lipstick like the girl. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines red as "a color whose hue resembles that of blood [ . . .]."

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