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“Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy Essay

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Updated: Sep 23rd, 2021

“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.”

This is the tale of a poor little rich girl we shall call Barbie. Her birth was nondescript. Nothing would indicate anything extraordinary except that she was born into a wealthy family. Apparently, her parents loved her dearly; they didn’t just buy her expensive toys. They presented her with dolls that were almost human (that did pee-pee). They came with a dollhouse complete with all the accouterments of daily living, with “miniature G.E. stoves and irons and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.” In short, Barbie had everything money could buy. With all the conveniences surrounding her, she seems to have had a happy, normal childhood. Until tragedy struck! “In the magic of puberty,” the storyteller relates, “a classmate said, ‘you have a great big nose and fat legs.”

Why the magic of puberty? Because it denotes a drastic change in life. The child becomes a teenager on the road to adulthood. His/her body undergoes not only physical but psychological change. People no longer regard him as a child. His hormones begin to rage and even his attitudes alter. Where before, having a bulbous nose and fat legs didn’t count, now they do – a lot!

Despite the changes that were taking place, the girl Barbie was tested and adjudged healthy and intelligent. She was strong and dexterous with an abundant sex drive that needed to be appeased, but of course, couldn’t since the young woman was unattractive. The poet tells us, “Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.”

Could anything be done about the situation? To all appearances – nothing- poor little rich girl! Even if she went about apologizing to everyone for what was not her fault in the first place. She was rich, she had parents who doted on her and she had friends, but nothing could be done to camouflage her ugliness. She took the advice of people around her. She tried playing coy or hearty accordingly. She exercised, dieted, smiled, and wheedled, but nothing worked. Until her good nature wore out “like a fan belt.” Nothing is more frustrating than a fan belt that gives out, to a driver on a long journey.

In her total exasperation, Barbie ended her life. She could have committed suicide in some other way other than cutting off her nose and legs, but we do not discount the mutilation of the face. In any case, the desired goal would be attained – Death! This time, with the expertise in Cosmetology connected with his trade, the undertaker came up with a work of art. Barbie now looked pretty – for the first time and also, Alas! -for the last! The great big nose was gone – reconstructed more artistically from putty. The fat legs were hidden from view under the pink and white nightie – a fitting costume for the young woman’s final public appearance.

The poem ends with the lines, “Consummation at last/ to every woman a happy ending.” After such a long time of struggling and undergoing much suffering and disappointment, Barbie achieved what she had long been hankering for – acceptance from a society that puts more weight on appearances than what the person really is on the inside!

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