Friday, September 08, 2006

Back with Friday Poetry Blogging - "Barbie Doll"

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.


  1. I had forgotten this poem. I read it a long time ago. I remember how hard that second verse hit me -- how it didn't matter how smart a woman is, how strong she was, how good she was. All that mattered was her fat legs. I remember (I was about sixteen when I read this) sitting in the hallway of my high school sitting reading this trying to get past that verse and not being able to.

  2. I'm taking this poem now at the university in a poetry course among more than 57 poems!

    I'm an external student and I study by myself. So that's how I dropped in here, searching the net for some free notes!