Analysis of Barbie Doll by Marge Piercy


Marge Piercy was born in March of 1936 in Detroit, Michigan, to a working-class family. Piercy studied at the University of Michigan. She was inclined with the Students for a Democratic Society and many groups affiliated with feminism, environmental policy and anti-Vietnam War protests. Much of her work focuses on social issues, written from a feminist position. One of her most popular works, He, She, and It, published in 1991, won the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

“Barbie Doll” first appeared in Piercy’s collection of 1973 “To Be of Use”. The very image that she uses in this poem is a bold rebuff to the social standards that American society maintains in forcing women to adopt stereotypical feminine behavior.


Title: Barbie Doll, the symbol of a modern girl (or the ideal woman figure considered by American society in early eighties) signifying physical attraction, feminism, subservience, and a tool of enjoyment which can be read as a parable of what often happens to women in a patriarchal society.  

Form: a four stanza poem written in free verse.

Diction: is occasionally archaic creating an effect of timelessness, suggesting that the instance of modern women modeling themselves after Barbie Dolls is only the latest in the history of women’s oppression.

Tone: Barbie Doll features a variety of tones: at first, the tone is a bit juvenile; the speaker uses words like “pee-pee”. But as the poem progresses and the speaker grows, the vocabulary also grows. There are words like “dexterity”, “exhorted” and tone grows critical and ironical.

Theme: The society’s commercialized standards (established for the benefits of certain individuals, and where the women are treated as mere toys of entertainment.) Gender discrimination, the man’s patriarchal system (which demands women to observe complete obedience to social conventions which hinder their identity.) Women’s rights and activism and how society continues to oppress women.

Narration: Third person, the speaker, narrating from an outsider’s perspective, as someone who is not drawn in by the ideologies of human society.

Main techniques: visual imagery and irony


Deep end Analysis

This girlchild was born as usual

and presented dolls that did pee-pee

& 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.


passive structure: was presented dolls (assignment of gender roles – girls are given dolls to play)

allusion: girlchild (is an archaic word used throughout history as a derogatory term, as if one kid, a boy, is worth more than another, a girl.)

enjambment: incomplete syntax at the end of a line; the meaning continues from one line to the other. Usually used to show the continuity of the subject matter discussed. (notice last three line of the poem differ from the usual structure.)

visual imagery: wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy, a great big nose and fat legs.

metaphor: magic of puberty (physical and psychological transformation of a girl when she reaches the age of adolescence)


The society assigns a gender role to a child when he or she is born. Girls are given dolls, stoves and irons to shape her future expectations as a woman who is handling household chores and taking care of babies. Providing lipsticks to beautify dolls teaches the girls about their duty to be physically attractive. The girl mentioned in the poem faces the same treatment from the social norms. When she is physically changes at puberty, she has to face the first criticism from the society as her physical appearance does not conform with the ideal type - though it is beyond her control. 


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.


metaphor: strong arms and back (arms represents her reach or capabilities while back represents personality suggesting that this girl possesses a good potentiality as a person) abundant sexual drive (physical attractiveness) manual dexterity (skillfulness at work)

visual imagery: a fat nose on thick legs (provides a distorted image of a freak)

kinesthetic imagery: she went to and fro apologizing


However, her actual potential as a person is submerged by the expectations of the society. They judge the quality of womanhood by her physical conformity to a pre-set model. Though she possesses a good intellectual capacity, skillfulness and personality as well as enough attractiveness as a woman, everyone sees the slightest physical disconformity she wears that differ from the Barbie doll type. The poignant fact is that she has to keep on apologizing for something beyond her control which is never a fault of hers.   


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.


paradox: She was advised to play coy, /exhorted to come on hearty, (It is obviously contradictory how to act hearty while acting coyly; both may be contradictory to her real self.)

passive structure: shows the pressure laid by patriarchal society upon women.

simile: Her good nature wore out/like a fan belt (when the fan does not function properly, the engine of a vehicle heats up stopping its functioning. Similarly, this explicitly describes the process of internal-destruction that the young girl was passing through due to the excessive social pressure laid upon her.)

kinesthetic imagery: she cut off her nose and her legs /and offered them up (it is quite disturbing visual image that a person mutilating her own body parts)


She was instructed by the social conventions to act submissively to cover up the so called imperfections imposed upon her. The use of paradoxical terms show the internal confusion created by such agents of conformity. While trying to adapt to the role imposed upon her, her evident potentialities as a person disappear. The culmination of her internal confusion is she giving up succumbing to death. She mutilating herself to achieve the features of a Barbie Doll is a critical remark by the poet to show the adverse effect of nurturing social norms which can force some people destroy their selves. The sad irony is that none tries to nurture her good values but looks for her imperfections.   


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.


parallelism: The Barbie Doll in a box arranged for selling and the girl in the casket (both are lifeless, painted with cosmetics, put into display)

visual imagery: pink and white nightie. / a turned – up putty nose

irony: consummation at last. / To every woman a happy ending (The girl could achieve the perfect Barbie Doll features at the end. However, she had to kill herself to achieve that.)

Last three lines end stopped. (last three lines are loaded with meanings thus can be considered as three stanzas. The weight the poet put upon the lines shows the gravity of the predicament of social stereotypes casted upon women. The poet is critically ironical at this phase.)


People accepting the girls dead body in the casket as the ideal type of beauty shows the hollowness of social standards which consider only the outer beauty of women rather than their inner beauty. Poet satirizes the mindset of people in such a society which can cause traumatic effects on some women pushing their lives into an abyss. Finally, an undertaker could mould her shape using false-cute-turned up nose and with a thick layer of cosmetics and a satin-pink-and white nightie. Everybody accepts the transformed body as a pretty figure. This is a mocking gesture at the commercialized world - where the sellers use the figure of women to sell their products introducing some social idols. The poet is critical about the introduction of Barbie Doll which could have an impact on many a generation of young girls. This facetiously optimistic ending to this depressing narrative emphasizes further the absurdity of what is expected of women.

Though the poem was written in early eighteenth, the poem is still valid to the modern world where the society still expects certain standards of beauty from women. What do you think? Please leave a comment to share your valuable thought about this. Share the post if you find it useful to others.

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