Marge Piercy's "Barbie Doll"
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.
Despite not yet being dead for 300+ years, Marge Piercy rocks! I love the intensity of this poem. The enjambment of "cut off her nose and her legs / and offered them up" works so perfectly for me. I find it really difficult to describe why a poem works for me without going on at length (a problem when I teach poetry classes!), but the imagery here, and the short cut lines, especially some lines, I find really strong. I also love the line "consummation at last" for all the meanings of consummation.
I love the way she uses the iconic Barbie Doll here in the title to set up the problem of how an individual girl's experience plays out.
I find the poem painful, but in a good way, I suppose.
I worry sometimes about self-destructive attitudes and behaviors in college women, about literalizing the metaphor of cutting, about hurting themselves cruelly because they don't see alternatives.
And yet. I had a great discussion today in my body class about the introduction to Thomas Laqueur's Making Sex, and the ways female orgasm is mis/understood culturally, and how our concepts of sexuality work into our experience of self. Despite the difficulties of the readings, I think they actually got into them. So I have hope.